Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A warning to the tea partiers

We were taught that the magnolia blossom, probably the most beautiful in the plant kingdom, stays beautiful only as long as you do nothing but look at it. If you touch it, it blackens and dies! I think tea parties do, too. Born strong a year ago and now reportedly stronger than either of the two major parties, the tea-party movement defies coherent journalistic attempts to sum it all up. Writing about the tea-party movement is like trying to nail a custard pie to the side of a barn. Like the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome, the power of the tea parties is bound up with their un-touchability. Pollsters tell us the tea parties are more admired than the major parties. But if the tea partiers ever start behaving like a major party, they'll go the way of the magnolia blossom. The standard political movement starts with a leader and a message and then outreach; once upon a time, letters, then doorbells, then telephones, now computers and eventually rallies; small and then, the founders hope, larger and larger. That's called "top down." This tea-party phenomenon came upon us like Iceland's cloud of volcanic ash. It's strictly from the bottom up, from deep down inside the boiling American soul; up, up and away. There's no "tea party-line." If the question is, "Who's in charge here?" the tea party's present strength lies in the answer, "Nobody!" Or, at least, different unfamiliar names in different places. It's so long since we've seen a real grass root we've forgotten what it looks like...more

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