Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reading the Tea Party Leaves

The movement was at first dismissed as “Astroturf,” or not real grass roots. Participants have been called “Tea baggers,” with a salacious subtext. But the anger and persistence of these activists has finally started to surprise many in the mainstream media. The spark that seemed to light the 2009 Tea Party gatherings was CNBC analyst Rick Santelli’s famous February 19 on-air rant about the housing bailout. But the stacked kindling that set the pot boiling has been around much longer in the critiques of political aspirants, most notably those of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). And of course many libertarians have pressed on these issues since at least 1974, or perhaps since 1776. The major media outlets, however, even so-called “conservatives” such as New York Times columnist David Brooks, are contemptuous. Tea Parties are “The world’s largest conventions of misspelled signs.” Tea Party hero Sarah Palin is “a joke.” One wry pundit mocked Palin’s appeal: “Finally we have a candidate for the people who loved George Bush's certainty, but were bothered by his education, rationality, and executive experience." It will soon become clear that the anger behind the Tea Parties was the first sign of something bigger, something much deeper. But of what exactly? My tea leaves reveal two possible futures. First, this new celebration of conservative values may well be focused and directed by the Republican Party, reprising the electoral destruction of the Democrats in the 1994 midterms. But the second possibility is that it will be the Republican Party, not the Democrats, that is torn apart trying to deal with its own internal contradictions. That’s what happened in the disastrous but portentous 1964 election: The GOP stood up for principle in its platform, and fell down at the ballot more

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