Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tea Party Mood

Although there was some controversy about the Tea Party meeting in Nashville because its organizers made it a for-profit event, and it was expensive to attend, there should be no serious illusions that the grassroots movement it represents, at least in part, is a movement spent of its energy, ambition and ability to shake up the political establishment.

Since it is not a political party, nor even an organization with membership cards, dues and strict definitions of its beliefs and goals, there is no real way at this time to measure the true Tea Party impact on current politics. In the Illinois GOP gubernatorial primary just concluded, for example, there were two serious candidates who appealed to Tea Party voters. Predictably, they split that constituency, but if there had only been one candidate, their combined totals suggest that a Tea Party candidate would now be the Republican nominee for governor.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, herself a figure already prematurely dismissed by many as a spent force in American politics, was the keynote speaker at the Tennessee meeting, and her remarks indicate she continues to be one of the most tuned-in politicians in the U.S. to the undercurrents of the public mood.

President Obama, ironically, is the best political personality going for the Tea Party. His continued refusal to adapt his agenda to the hard facts of the special election in Massachusetts, the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey last year, and now the overwhelming contemporary trend of poll numbers coast-to coast constantly refuels the voter discontent which is the engine of the Tea Party movement.

I have already predicted that Mr. Obama will change his tune soon enough, but instead of changing it on his terms, his delay will make his actions seem desperate and insincere. This is the price he is paying for being a political amateur, in fact (as I have also written in this space previously) the first amateur president of the United States.

To be fair, the organization of the Tea Party is a bottom-up populist phenomenon, and thus an “amateur” movement itself, but it does not bear any responsibility to govern (as do presidents, governors, senators and house members). The Republican Party is the natural heir to the results of the Tea Party movement, but except in Massachusetts, we have little hard evidence yet that the GOP knows how to fully harness this grass roots energy to its political advantage, especially with so many party elders and conservative pundits putting the movement down.

Let’s cut to the rhetorical chase. The Tea Party has arisen because of the ideas, behavior and agenda of the Obama administration and its far left base in the Democratic Party. Tea Party folks are utterly opposed to government-run healthcare and the other radical “social-democratic” laws and programs now proposed and promised ahead.

Mark these words, the longer Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid insist on their agenda, the more rapidly not only will the conservative Tea Party grow, but so will a separate movement among unaffiliated centrist independent voters, many of whom voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008. Rhetorical disguise and costumes will not alter this reality. (Mardi Gras will be over soon.)

The only ones who can rescue the Democratic Party now are its centrist leaders in the Congress and in the state capitals. So far, they have shown little gumption or imagination, and have been rolled over again and again by their more radical colleagues. Apparently, they have a delayed sense of survival because in the election this November coming, it will not be the most liberal politicians (most of them in safe urban districts and states) who will be the first to go. It will instead be these silent centrists, just trying to get along with their noisy and presumptuous more liberal colleagues.

This is what happens to invertebrate politicians, and to regimes which do not seek the consent of the governed.

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