Misreading Tea Party Leaves

“American history,” David Brooks proclaims, “is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life” as he predicts: “In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party” just as “the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s.”

Say what? A journalist-survivor of those decades finds that as dizzying an oversimplification of what happened back then as it is of what is going on now, misreading media attention for underlying trends in the body politic.

In the real world, Republicans in 1968 took the White House on LBJ’s persistence over an unpopular war that damaged the economy (see W in 2008), lost it when Nixon overreached at Watergate and came back after Jimmy Carter mismanaged everything from uncontrolled inflation to the Mariel Boat Lift and Iranian hostage crisis.

The hippies were long gone with no political afterlife, feminists failed to pass even a toothless Equal Rights Amendment and Christian conservatives were a fringe movement until a disputed 2000 election elected a reformed drunk who had turned to religion in midlife.

Today’s Tea Party “movement,” an amalgam of Fox News rants and Dick Armey PR, is easy shorthand for the deep anxiety roiling Americans over a slowly recovering economy and endless military involvement in the Middle East that is doing nothing to lessen the threat of domestic terror.

Those fears drove Republicans out of power only a year ago and are causing political grief on both the right and left for a president who is trying to deal with them rationally in an irrational time.

Whether he is overreaching with health care reform is not a question that will be answered in this off-year elections, when a do-nothing and yammer-loudly opposition will surely make temporary gains, but Tea Party noisemakers will soon come up against the reality that, after dumping cargo in Boston harbor, the Founding Fathers had to envision and build a nation. The Contract with America in the 1990s is not a prototype for the Constitution then.

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Author: ROBERT STEIN

  • SteveCan

    Today’s Tea Party “movement,” an amalgam of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, is easy shorthand for the deep anxiety roiling Americans over a government doing everything it can to bankrupt the country, a group of legislators doing “what they want” regardless of the consequences and endless government involvement in so many aspects of their everyday lives and an administration hell bent of making the closing of Guantanamo Bay the center piece of “its” war on terror. FIXED IT FOR YOU!

  • ProfElwood

    Debt. Bailouts. Pork. Special Interests. Unenforced regulation. Corporate welfare. Increased opaqueness.

    But of course, nothing we should be concerned about.

  • Almoderate

    “Whether he is overreaching with health care reform is not a question that will be answered in this off-year elections, when a do-nothing and yammer-loudly opposition will surely make temporary gains, but Tea Party noisemakers will soon come up against the reality that, after dumping cargo in Boston harbor, the Founding Fathers had to envision and build a nation.”

    Not the only or even biggest contrast to the original. Remember that the original Tea Party was not only an illegal act (a risk and an actual revolt against government), but it also served a purpose in that the tea was supposed to be sold and taxed but was instead destroyed so that the tax could not be collected. Not only is there no real risk or revolt involved in today's rallies, but consider all the sales tax that was probably paid out in the process of legally purchasing all those tea bags– all for a rally to (among other things) protest taxes.

    There's no real meaningful threat involved. I can almost hear politicians chuckling and saying, “Ooh! You're going to not vote for me! And if by some miracle you manage to chuck me out of office, I still have my retirement, comfy health plan, and can now make even more money as a lobbyist!”

    There's only been one time in recent history where I saw politicians actually scared into action by a protest, and that was when they delayed the first TARP. Unfortunately, we the American people backed down as always, and we're back to being doormats.

  • Sabinal

    Isn't this what we had in 2005 under W?
    If/when the Reps have some power in this off year, either they make good with it or it's the Dem takeover again. I have some doubts they will… when they fetishize over a governor who quit after 2.5 years as their Messiah, I feel there will be no change.

  • Sabinal

    That's most likely why you are seeing those few. How many are actually leaving on their own, less than 10?

  • ProfElwood

    Isn't this what we had in 2005 under W?

    Of course. I've been encouraging people to vote for the alternate party of their choice. I forget who said it, but I'll repeat it anyway: we need a second party.

  • casualobserver

    “I've been encouraging people to vote for the alternate party of their choice. I forget who said it, but I'll repeat it anyway: we need a second party.”

    Professor,

    I would like to suggest you petition for a guest editor article. Your clever witticism has caused me to think about the “alternative” parties or candidates in light of the typical sterotyping here at TMV. Instead of always putting everything in an antagonistic light, why don't we frame something in a protagnistic light? Who WOULD be your choice for an alternative candidate for POTUS or political party? I think it would be exceptionally revealing to see if the so-called moderate left here really would support a moderate Dem candidate like Evan Bayh or whether the people here that Kattenburg thinks are all right-wing rednecks would really select David Duke as their first choice for POTUS. Maybe we allow fictitious candidates just to better portray what our individual philosophies really are……..something like… I would like to see a candidate that was a non-paranoid version of Ron Paul who had the speaking and composure skills of somebody like Mitt Romney.

    Might be interesting and would certainly pull the kimono down on a lot of the preconceived notions established by the editors here.

    Who knows…maybe Don Quixote and me could actually find something in this universe to agree on.

  • dduck12

    Better fictional, for now. Ron whines too much and Mitt makes me fall asleep. I hear they are doing some fantastic mixed cloning in Russia.

  • ProfElwood

    Thank you for the compliments and suggestion, you have a good idea there. I've been committed to the Libertarian party for some time, but have grown more supportive of other alternate parties (or upset with entrenched ones, depending on your view) lately. I've even wondered what would happen if the entire blue dog coalition split off into another party, since they have both name recognition and their own election machines built. Yeah, it would be quite interesting to see who people would choose if they weren't limited by the DNC and RNC.

    On a separate note, I've been toying with the idea of a “bigotry for beginners” post, inspired by the “binary choice” thread, but that would take some time to put together. What do you think?

  • casualobserver

    See now, there you go again (who said that?)……I know shtick is your thing……..but you are reinforcing negativism and avoiding positiv-ism. So, there's a gun to your head and you have to pull the lever for a new POTUS tomorrow and Obama isn't running……..who's your choice?

  • dduck12

    Carly Fiorina, Tim Pawlenty, Colin Powell, Bloomberg, Brett Favre.

  • ProfElwood

    I don't care what adjectives you tack on him, I'll still take Ron Paul. What you call paranoia I call gutsy honesty. Besides, if you're going against every powerful special interest in and outside of Washington DC, a little paranoia might come in handy.

    It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you!

  • dduck12

    RP could be the the smartest guy in government. But is he electable with a non-telegenic persona?
    I don't think so. Unfortunately, he is short with whiny presentation and a scratchy voice. But if Claudius could become Caesar, than I suppose it's possible.