Inside that Conservative Tea Party

For those of you who think that conservatives are Luddites and only liberals have really mastered the tools of the digital age, listen to what happened to me on Friday.

Sick as a dog, I was lying in bed around 6 PM with my BlackBerry watching the chat on Twitter. I’d been following Newt Gingrich for awhile and I noticed he’d been chatting with Michael P. Leahy, the founder of something called Top Conservatives on Twitter.

As I lay sneezing and wheezing, Leahy was, before my eyes, using Twitter to organize dozens of rallies across the country to protest the economic policies of the Obama administration all under the heading of a National Chicago Tea Party. The reference to the Windy City is, of course, a homage to Rick Santelli’s cri de coeur. Leahy notes that other conservatives had been toying with the idea of a tea party, pre Santelli, including Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds and the Managing Editor of the American Spectator J. Peter Freire. But it was Santelli’s screed combined with Twitter that brought it all together so quickly.

The speed with which Leahy found people to sponsor events, design a logo,even come up with Revolutionary War reenactors was startling.

Just a week later, on Friday, conservatives will gather in about 35 cities across the country to fight what they see as profligate policies that reward irresponsibility.

I spoke with Leahy this afternoon. He was at his home near Nashville. Raised in an Irish Catholic family in Oswego, New York–he tells me that he’s actually third cousins with Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat–the 54-year-old went to Harvard undergrad and Stanford business school. An entrepreneur, he worked in enterprise systems and computer marketing and became a conservative in the mid 80s having grown up in a JFK-admiring home. Now he’s published a few conservative tomes and devotes considerable energy to Top Conservatives on Twitter.

By now everyone knows Twitter but what’s less well known is the so-called hashtag or tick tac toe symbol that often accompanies Twitter messages. It’s used to identify a message so that it can be easily grouped with other like minded souls. On Sunday, for instance, I Twittered some comments about the Oscars and ended each post with “#oscars”

In the conservative world, #TCOT is the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Karl Rove uses it regularly. So does Newt. If you want to be in the conservative dialogue that’s where you go. It’s now the most popular hashtag on Twitter. All of this makes Leahy an important facilitator in the conservative movement.

I’m not sure what will become of these rallies. I know I don’t agree with Leahy’s claim that Obama is “moving us toward European socialism.” I think Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs and the Bush administration started the government interventions and any president would have continued them in this climate. And I don’t really see how tax cuts and less government will get us out of this mess. But the ability to fire up a nationwide protest movement so quickly is impressive to me and should be a reminder that liberals have no monopoly on technology and innovation.

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