John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tea Party, please note


The New York Times has an article on the accelerating collapse of ACORN, the grassroots community-organizing group, which appears to be on the brink of bankruptcy:

Over the last six months, at least 15 of the group’s 30 state chapters have disbanded and have no plans of re-forming, Acorn officials said. The California and New York chapters, two of the largest, have severed their ties to the national group and have independently reconstituted themselves with new names. Several other state groups are also re-forming outside the Acorn umbrella. …

But wait, there’s more:

[T]he organization was dogged for years by financial problems and accusations of fraud. In the summer of 2008, infighting erupted over embezzlement of Acorn funds by the brother of the organization’s founder. Some chapters were also found to have submitted voter application forms with incorrect information on them during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, leading to blistering charges from conservative organizations linking Acorn’s errors to the Obama campaign.

The extent of sheer incompetence, tinged with possibilities of corruption, does indeed give off a bad smell. But before conservatives indulge themselves in the shouting of hosannas, there is this to consider.

The Tea Party movement, like ACORN, includes many impassioned and well-meaning people who are not part of established groups and whose expertise in setting up and maintaining a national political organization is unproven. There are fledgling organizations within the movement whose goals and tactics may turn out to be inconsistent. And there appear to be large sums of money floating about – and conservatives know as well as anyone that when the money is flowing many people will be tempted to dip their own buckets into the stream.

Both ACORN and the Tea Party movement have their origins in citizens’ disenchantment with the existing political parties and lobbying operations, which they have found ineffective, unresponsive, or susceptible to corruption – or all three. Unfortunately, good intentions do not guarantee immunity from bad decisions, or protection from lurking rascals.