When people say crazy things, how should we react?
I have been contemplating this question quite a bit this year, after Jewish Funds for Justice, where I work, decided to step into the ring with the Tea Party movement. While we understood their anger and fear at the economic catastrophe facing so many Americans, they were pushing the country away from the very solutions we need to get us out of this mess.
As you might imagine, our decision to engage garnered a mixed reaction. Most were grateful that we were willing to defend policies and philosophies near and dear to their hearts. The comments they heard from talk radio hosts and Tea Party activists could not be allowed to stand unchallenged. But some were skeptical. "Tea Party supporters are crazy," they said to me. "Calling them out only gives them and their rants more attention. They thrive on the publicity. Ignore the Tea Partiers and they will fade away."
To ignore or to engage. I'm sure I'm not alone in this dilemma.
The answer is always a judgment call. We thought back in March that the Tea Party movement was strong enough that to ignore it would allow it to metastasize unchecked. Ideas that start on the margins -- like the claim that the proposed health care bill would create death panels -- can become so ingrained in the public imagination that even today more than 40% of the public believes the mythical panels are real.
But it's not just about the setting the record straight. Some ideas coming out of the Tea Party movement are so unpopular that exposing them serves either to discredit the movement in the eyes of moderates or to inspire our usually engaged friends to get off their couches and get into the game.
This is what we had in mind when we launched the microsite HaikUGlennBeck.com in April. The site attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and helped provide broader exposure to Beck's call for people to abandon their church if it preaches social justice. A few thousand even got into the act themselves, writing and tweeting haiku to express their disagreement. In just two weeks, enough were submitted to send one every minute to Mr. Beck for 24 hours, making the first ever "twitterstorm" a success.
This is also what we had in mind when we launched the microsite Scapequote.com this week.
Scapequote.com is similar to NPR's Bluff the Listener game, featured on its popular show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. Visitors have to guess the real Tea Party activist quote from among three made-up quotes. The game is meant to be fun and interactive (you can submit your own fake quotes which are ranked based on how many people they fool) but also to serve as a reminder of the kind of rhetoric and ideas behind the Tea Party movement.
It is hard not to laugh at some of the more ridiculous quotes, real and fake. But when we're done chuckling, we need to remember why this matters. Without the Tea Party movement, we would have had a stronger health care bill, a more robust ongoing stimulus to retain and create jobs, maybe even comprehensive immigration reform. We need to expose their ideas to the light of day, and inspire our friends and allies to engage voters.
That's why after you play Scapequote a few times, we'll present you with some ways for you to take action. After all, Election Day is fewer than three months away. Time to get to work!