Critics of President Barack Obama's handling of the economy are planning nationwide "tea parties" Wednesday — and not for the sake of polite conversation.
Coast-to-coast demonstrations against Obama's big-spending economic stimulus package are promised for the day that is also the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.
Whether Republicans -- in disarray since losing the presidential election last year -- can deliver is open to question.
Pro-Republican organizers say they are plugging into widespread popular anger at Democrat-led Washington.
An even bigger claim is that the catchy "tea party" idea and heavy use of Internet tools like Facebook, YouTube and blogs signals a historic first attempt by Republicans to rival Obama's renowned e-network.
"Conservatives may be catching up with their liberal counterparts in building a Web-driven, grassroots campaign to push their agenda," the Fox News television network said on its website.
Skeptics point to Republican disunity in the wake of last year's electoral defeats and pan the protests as a skillful fake.
"The tea parties don't represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They're AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects," liberal economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman said Monday.
The protests are named after the 1773 Boston Tea Party in which disgruntled Americans rebelled against British colonial taxes, an iconic moment in the path to US independence.
This time, ire is directed at Obama's 787-billion-dollar anti-recession stimulus package and the projected ballooning of the budget deficit.
The man credited with sparking the idea is CNBC television's spectacularly loud-mouthed commentator Rick Santelli, who called on air from the Chicago Board of Trade for a "Chicago tea party."
Santelli's earlier tirade in February against government bailouts for mortgage defaulters, which he said encouraged "bad behavior," has been viewed on YouTube more than a million times.
But what makes the tea party protests stand out is the use of Web-savvy marketing, something barely seen in John McCain's unsuccessful battle for the White House against Democrat Obama.
Online sellers report a roaring trade in tea party T-shirts, bumper stickers and, of course, tea mugs.
Taxdayteaparty.com boasts a YouTube video that ends with a shot of a blonde girl wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: "Obama, get your hands out of my piggy bank!"
There's an eye-catching initiative to deliver a million tea bags to officials in Washington.
"In 1773, a handful of men dumped tea into the Boston Harbor. That one act set in motion a chain of events that birthed the greatest nation on earth," says the website millionteabags.com.
"Just like our Founding Fathers, we're tired of the way our government is behaving ... That's why this April 15th, we're heading to the nation's capital to dump 1,000,000 tea bags."
The jury's out, though, on whether reality will match the hype.
Some question the entire premise of the protests -- that Obama's attempt to fix an economy shaped under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush has anything to do with colonial-era British taxes.
A reporter for the Dallas Morning News on Monday welcomed attempts to demonstrate, saying that red, white and blue "Tea Party" signs he'd seen along a highway were a rare sign of civic activism for Texas.
"The part that I'm a bit confused about is exactly what the heck they're upset about," he wrote.
Krugman, writing in his New York Times column, said tea parties were the work of a party hijacked by hard liners and financed by "the usual group of right-wing billionaires."
The Obama administration "has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless," Krugman charged.
With Republicans learning to survive in the political wilderness, Wednesday's protests, if nothing else, will provide experience.
Take the tea bags idea: as the conservative blog RightKlik points out, there's a good chance envelopes containing actual tea will simply never make it through security.
"A tea bag? An appealing idea, but probably not a good one," RightKlik decided.
"When it comes to the personal safety of our fearless federal officials, the lessons of 9/11 are still fresh. So would your tea bag make it to your senator or end up in the trash?"
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