One of the more enduring questions from this past Tuesday night’s electoral anti-establishment “earthquake” is: where does this put the Tea Party movement? It’s been on the minds of quite a few observers, primarily those who tend to dismiss its viability as a long term movement. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. ranks among the more prominent voices not so impressed with it, making a sound point that while Tea Party activists can claim Kentucky GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul, it’s right difficult to claim any victory on one of their key platforms:
[T]he Tea Party has yet to prove that it is anything more than an inside-the-party right-wing protest movement. There is no evidence yet of its reach outside the GOP, but there was evidence on Tuesday that there are limits to the anti-government mood that is supposedly sweeping the country.
In Arizona — nobody’s idea of a liberal state — voters supported a temporary increase in the sales tax from 5.6 to 6.6 cents on the dollar, to raise $1 billion annually. This, coupled with a large tax increase on businesses and high-income earners endorsed by voters in Oregon earlier this year, suggests a pragmatic electorate that is far less reflexively opposed to taxes or government than Tea Party cheerleaders would have us believe.
And true that we’ve got all the way into November to truly determine the extent of all the noise over the modern American political movement with the antiquated name. Yet, it may be somewhat unwise to downplay its ability to tap into red blooded voter anger – especially when much of it, by the appearance of rallies, is very White. In the case of Arizona’s tax increase, if there hadn’t been the fracas over the state’s controversial immigration law, Tea Partiers would have focused with special interest on that sales tax increase and, possibly, defeated it. It’s reasonable to assume that certain forces in Arizona desperate for a plug in the state’s $2 billion deficit found a way to deflect attention from taxes.
There is something about mass movements of Caucasian people drowning in primal activist rage that leaves the rest of us a bit nervous; most liberals and Democratic Party elites would like to believe that it’s sensationalized picketing getting heavy camera play. But, there is something there. Not in the sense of some “rebel yell” as FOXNews.com puts it, borderline bigoted and Confederate revisionist as that statement is:
Tea Partiers, at the very least, played a role in pushing out Utah Sen. Bob Bennett this month, driving Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to leave the GOP and run as an independent for Senate, and helping Scott Brown get elected to the Senate in Massachusetts.
For the moment, the conservative rebel yell is having its greatest impact in the Republican primaries. What remains to be seen is how much of a factor it will play in the November elections — and whether Tea Party-backed Republicans have the base to mow over their Democratic opponents.
What it does to Democrats remains to be seen. Primary activists are a much more committed and politically engaged species that may go into hibernation come November. Still, recent comparisons to 1992’s Reform Party could be ill-stated since the Reform Party didn’t have the viral effectiveness of Web 2.0 at that time. And, perhaps, it’s not a matter of viewing the Tea Party as a new party or revived movement. Maybe this is merely one of many evolving configurations representing that anti-Washington rage we keep hearing about, Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas making a good point here:
At the other end of the spectrum, Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Daily Kos blog endorsed DeMint’s view that establishment power is losing its grip. “The old structures have been eroding, ever since we knocked Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party in 2006,” he said. “We’ve only gotten more sophisticated in the subsequent years, while insurgents on the right have joined the party. There’s no doubt that the inability of both parties to govern effectively has played a role, but we’re building a world in which people can bypass their parties’ institutional forces and make up their own minds on who to support.”
An aspect of that sophistication that can’t be ignored is the Internet and the use of online social networking tools which help sustain that movement. It also makes it fairly amorphous and hard to pin down – it’s the enemy you can’t see utilizing guerilla tactics to reach broader strategic goals. Therein lies a greater problem for Democrats: fighting the unseen. And, we’re not sure if it’s deliberate or not. Could Republicans, privately, want it this way? Harnessing it into an organized political front really isn’t the answer, but allowing it to take shape and clean house only serves some sinister long term goal that hasn’t yet taken shape. Or is that giving the imploding political party too much credit? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – famous for chewing on that shoe in his mouth – made a recent statement that leaves us thinking about the real GOP strategy these days, whether it’s as national as it openly says or if it’s something conveniently localized:
“The movement that would achieve that can’t just be the presidency—that’s where Obama didn’t get it. It can’t even just be the Congress. It’s got to be school boards, city council, state legislature, county commission, governorships.”
While we look for tea party leaves on the federal scale, we may be missing an accumulated state and local assault that could be more elusive than our November predictions. And maybe that’s the point. As Sun Tzu wrote: “Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean.” Yin (the art of deception) is in Yang (acting in open). Too much Yang (transparency) hides Yin (true ruses). We shouldn’t underestimate it.