Sunday, January 31, 2010

Glenn Reynolds: The Tea Party Impact

This is an excellent piece done by Glenn Reynolds for the Washington Examiner.
Glenn Reynolds: More impact is what's next for the Tea Party movement
January 31, 2010

A year ago, the Tea Party movement didn't exist. Today, it is arguably the most popular political entity in America. The movement is already more popular than the Republican or Democratic parties, according to a recent NBC / WSJ poll .

Even in blue-state California, three in 10 voters identify with the Tea Party movement.

And, of course, Scott Brown's come-from-behind blowout in Massachusetts occurred in no small part because of money and volunteers from the Tea Party movement around the nation.

This is heady stuff -- and, for people in the political establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, it's worrying stuff. If political movements can bubble up from below, and self-organize via the Internet, what will happen to the political class?

It's one thing when record stores or video rental places get dis-intermediated. It's a whole different ball game when people who rely on politics not only for their livelihood, but for maintaining their considerable sense of self-importance discover that they may not be quite as necessary as it once seemed.

But that hard lesson is becoming apparent. In fact, the Tea Party movement seems to be showing better political judgment than either of the two major political parties.

Last week, Joe Scarborough wrote that the Tea Party movement might "tear itself apart." His evidence of this: Some squabbling over a Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn. Well, squabbling is normal in movement politics, particularly when people think they're being shortchanged on money and credit. But what's really striking about the Tea Party movement isn't that there's squabbling -- it's how little squabbling, overall, there has been.

Scarborough's column, remember, was occasioned by the Brown victory in Massachusetts. A few Tea Party purists didn't want to support Brown, seeing him as insufficiently pure. But the vast majority made the entirely pragmatic determination that Brown, whatever his flaws, was vastly better than his Democratic opponent Martha Coakley, and just the guy to stop Obamacare in its tracks if elected.

They poured in donations and volunteers (millions of dollars and thousands of people), and helped Brown win, and were immediately proven right as Brown's victory did, in fact, derail Obamacare and produce a general Democratic flight from the whole hope and change agenda.

The Republican and Democratic hacks who were supposed to be worrying about this sort of thing, meanwhile, were asleep at the switch. Republican Party support to Brown was late in coming, appearing only after the Tea Party support raised his profile.

Democrats were even slower to recognize the threat and react, and their reaction -- a last-minute visit by President Obama -- probably hurt more than it helped, demonstrating their tone-deafness regarding public attitudes.

So far the Tea Party's record is looking pretty good. But what happens next? Many people -- er, well, many pundits, anyway -- complain that the Tea Party movement is entirely oppositional: For a brief moment, the key buzzword was "nihilistic," though the connection between Turgenev and Tea Parties seems rather tenuous.

In fact, Tea Partiers seem quite clear on what they're for: A limited government, one that keeps its nose out of their business and focuses on things like protecting the country in preference to redistributing income.

As blogger Freeman Hunt wrote recently:"You want a big tent? It's fiscal conservatism. The people are overwhelmingly in favor of it.You offer that, you follow through on it, and you get the Republicans, the moderates, and a sizable chunk of disaffected Democrats."

Only to the likes of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is support for limited government a species of nihilism. But Tea Partiers are, in fact, working on a platform, which they've called the Contract From America . Though the name may remind some of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, this is something very different.

It's a set of ideas developed via an interactive Web site, where voting determines which elements are most important. And it's not a top-down contract consisting of promises made by leaders to the voters -- it's more in the nature of a contract of employment from the voters, which politicians may choose to accept, or look for alternative employment.

This is basically a crowd-sourced party platform, with the smoke-filled rooms and convention logrolling taken out of the picture. More dis-intermediation. I'm guessing that the political class won't like it much, either.

But whether the political class likes it or not, this sort of thing is probably here to stay. While 2009 was the year of denigrating and ignoring the tea parties, I suspect that in 2010, they'll be listened to quite closely. Those who fail to do so, are likely to find themselves out of a job.

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