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Grand Old Protest

A Republican Web site even Bush-bashers can love.

If you hurry, you can get in on the best giveaway contest since Pepsi Points and that Harrier jet. The Republican National Committee’s “online toolbox for Republican activists,” GOPTeamLeader.com, awards “GOPoints” to members who sign up and perform grass-roots actions for the party. E-mailing a local newspaper garners you five points, for example, and getting the letter published adds two more. The points are redeemable for hats, bags, jackets, and other swag, all emblazoned with the site’s logo. “There is no limit to what you can accomplish, or what you can earn”!

Egged on by prizes ranging from a GOP bumper sticker (75 points) to a leather portfolio (525 points), eager partisans used the site’s automated e-mailer this month to spam just about every newspaper in the country with a letter to the editor that begins: “When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership …” (Try it yourself by signing on as member “slategop2003@hotmail.com,” password “slate.”) To the thinly masked glee or disdain of bloggers everywhere, nearly 50 papers—including the Boston Globe and the Financial Times—actually ran the thing, each one under the name of a different, and presumably genuine, local author. [Update 2/7/03: There are 102 confirmed appearances of the “demonstrating genuine leadership” letter. Four newspapers published it twice in the same month.]

The newspapers, familiar with “Astroturf” (fake grass-roots) letter campaigns, seem unconcerned by the ghost-written e-mails, unaware of the level of mockery they’re receiving online. Less amused are residents of Salon’s “Letters to the Editor” Table Talk forum, who have been tracking GOP Team Leader’s writing campaigns for nearly a year. The Table Talkers feel their hometown Letters sections should be guarded as forums for the voices of readers who actually write letters for publication, rather than those who simply copy-and-paste them.

Instead of getting mad, though, why not get even? An option on the site allows letter-writers to compose and send their own messages in lieu of the canned statements, meaning the technology used to push Bush’s agenda can be used to bash it as well. For an ironic Gen X-er, what better reward for e-mailing 100 anti-war letters to the editor than a GOP Team Leader fleece pullover?