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

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