2 min read

A Look Inside the Tea Party

The NYTimes has a must read article on the tea party movement. For me there were three key takeaways:

  1. The Tea Party movement is redefining and enlarging the radical right, which could have significant impact in the primaries.
  2. People strongly believe ideas that to put it bluntly, I find completely nuts.
  3. This movement is being led by the old, not the young (as they say, Ain’t No Party Like my Nana’s Tea Party)

As a whole, the movement is bringing together strange bedfellows. White supremacists, libertarians, populists. and conspiracy theorists of all flavors. The movement is popularizing a broad package of ideas, and will probably be defined by the first leader to build a coherent vision that ties the common vision into a plan of action.

The real question is how much this will change the republican party. Many of these people are anti-government, and unlikely to try to change the system from within. But the former centrists that have been engaged and energized by the movement have the potential to change the mix of policies that lead to success in the primaries. My general impression is that these voters are looking for outsiders that support contrarian and anti-establishment ideas of reshaping government, pushing towards social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. This could be a counterweight to the social conservatism that defined the republican base in recent years.

The fact that older people are pushing so strongly for radical change to government is truly shocking. For example:

Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage.

Maybe social security is no longer that deadly third rail.

I think the energy of this movement is best seen in light of the lack of compelling politicians making real choices. Congress in unresponsive, has created bad, shortsighted policies that fuel the fire of the recent crises, and is apparently unable to tackle making a change. Glen Beck is a gifted communicator, and in the deafening silence of leadership, his ideas (good and bad) are an answer and an outlet for people who don’t know how to move forward. The diversity of opinions under one tent is just a sign that right now their is a lot of passion but not a lot of leadership or vision.

This is a turning point for the Republican party. Will a sane and centrist leader emerge that can earn the trust of those who just want real change in Washington, or will the continue to pander to the worst of the bunch and just change the mix of ideas to suit the new normal of conservative crazy? If the sane centrist doesn’t rise up, look for independents to gain viability in state wide races — the ability to target the median voter from the start is just too compelling an advantage in light of the image acrobatics required to win the primary as a radical and then redefine yourself as a centrist.

This also may be a turning point in the policy options on the table — the radical ideas may just open the window for actions that have been politically unfeasible.

ps. Thanks Cristina for the pointer