FROM TOSSING TEA BAGS TO RIDING THE ELEPHANT
The Tea Party movement began as a massive grassroots protest against a national government which has been careening out of control for years. That our elected representatives are unresponsive to all but the wealthy and are self-absorbed, wasteful, inattentive to the U.S.-Mexico border, and less than enthusiastic about core American rights and values finally sizzled to a medium boil. With the advent of the Obama administration, the destructive tendencies of government were magnified. Plus, there was the added bonus of the administration reflecting a servile, apologetic attitude to the rest of the world. Mr. Obama and his czars, with the assistance of Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Reid, and others, were standing ready to underwrite an astronomical increase in the size of government. Leviathan was on track to being front and center in all aspects of our lives, even our healthcare.
The time had come for a massive protest. The movement, remembering the colonists' reaction to the infamous Stamp Act, seized upon the name "Tea Party." It protested in raw, nonpartisan fashion against the sorry, bloated government and all the Democratic and Republican elected officials who had helped make it so, simultaneously lining their own deep pockets with countless perks and benefits. One party had, after all, elected George W. Bush, and the other Barack H. Obama. What a stellar achievement! Plus, members of both parties had voted in Congress to raise their own salaries. Both had provided themselves, at taxpayers' expense, handsome pensions, fit for kings. Both had turned their backs on the border to help rich corporate cronies with labor needs back home. Both were, and are, rotten to the core! A day of accounting, some of us had hoped, was finally drawing near.
But what has now happened? This nonpartisan protest movement, rather than holding to the high ground, has allowed itself to be seduced and co-opted by the Republican party. Instead of remaining nonpartisan in its protest and above the fray, the movement is now aligning itself with the GOP. Tea party candidates are running as Republicans, and Republicans, like Scott Brown, are crafting messages congenial to Tea Party groups. I find this takeover of the Tea Party movement disappointing, disconcerting, and less than hopeful.
You may think that I am being naïve about this matter. For the history of third parties has always been to influence the talking points and to shape the agendas of the major parties. The Abolitionist party, for example, pushed for an end to slavery, with the result that the initiative came to fruition under the Republicans during Lincoln's presidency. The National Women's party advocated the right of woman's suffrage, and this advocacy paid off when our nineteenth amendment was enacted during the Democratic presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The environmental agenda of Ralph Nader's Green party has now been largely embraced by Barack Obama Democrats. The list could go on. The point seems to be that third parties exist to influence the major ones in whatever ways possible. Should we not be grateful that the Tea Party agenda is gaining traction in the halls of government?
Let me admit that, in spite of the inevitabilities of history, I was hoping for a Tea Party movement that remained sufficiently independent from each major party while exerting influence upon both. There is a unique value in vigorous, nonpartisan protest. To allow this protest movement to be taken over by one of the objects against which it is directed is, in my opinion, a cardinal error, sure to yield short-term gain but long-term loss.
It is correct that this will not be a one-way street, that Tea Party protesters will no doubt enjoy a substantive voice under the Republican banner and that some of their ideas may well be implemented. Well, three cheers, but pardon me for remaining seated. Most of our problems are sure to worsen.
Gov. Palin, in her recent $100,000 address to the Tea Party Convention in Nashville, asserted that "America is ready for another revolution." Her words sounded too meek and too much like politics as usual to be credible. It is not necessary to ask whether she has the foggiest notion of what a "revolution" is. The fact is that she is a bright star in American politics, perhaps the brightest since Ronald Reagan, and many people in America have already coronated her their political savior.
But let us imagine – hopefully, not for long -- that she becomes the Republican presidential candidate for 2012. Do you really think for one moment that she understands what is at stake in significantly reducing the size of government? Do you think she is the proper person to pull this off and to turn this country around? Do you think that she has the political experience and knowledge to lead a full-scale revolution, even a bloodless one? I do not. What is required is an inveterate student of politics, who fathoms the darkest, most mercenary impulses of the blowhard egomaniacs comprising the United States Congress. This leader must have seen firsthand how "close presidential advisors" often treat a neophyte to a dizzying spin in his or her big black chair. What I am saying is that a president must know which questions to ask and how to ask them. He must not be a political amateur. The Oval Office is not an apt training ground for a leader, even an intelligent, charismatic one.
Here is the bottom line. What I am hearing from the Tea Party movement no longer sounds like the ominous roar of distant drums, but rather like plain old vanilla conservative Republicanism. The hoopla over Sarah Palin is only so much empty froth and, I am sorry to say, from mostly empty-headed people. It is not that I oppose all this, considering what the options happen to be. But the Tea Party movement could have been so much more and so much better than this, and its precious opportunity now seems lost.
February 9, 2010