Feature

The Tea Party: Why Democrats are facing a thumpin’

The movement's influence stems from its sincere anger over ballooning deficits, government bailouts, and Washington’s intrusion into every sphere of life.

“Highly educated people say the darndest things,” said Peter Berkowitz in The Wall Street Journal. Since the first tea parties in April 2009, liberal pundits have dismissed the populist movement as a motley rabble of far-right wingnuts irate that a black man occupies the White House. Now, it’s true that some “clowns, kooks, and creeps” show up at Tea Party rallies. But the movement’s large and growing influence stems from the citizenry’s sincere anger over ballooning deficits, government bailouts, and Washington’s intrusion into every sphere of life. The Tea Party derives its strength, in other words, from the same distrust of overweening government, and the same belief in personal freedom, that prompted the American Revolution and is embodied in the Constitution. The Left just refuses to accept that, said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. But when “ardently conservative libertarians” from dozens of states are “preaching the gospel of limited government, and leading in polls, there’s something going on.” Indeed, the latest polls show no fewer than 33 Tea Party–approved candidates with a decent chance of winning a House seat on Nov. 2, and eight who could well become senators. 

There’s nothing mysterious or new about the rise of the Tea Party, said Steve Kornacki in Salon.com. Every time a Democrat enters the White House, it provokes a “fierce right-wing backlash.” Remember the conservative obsession with destroying Bill Clinton? The fury Lyndon Johnson unleashed with the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society? This time, the anger is being stoked by “the prolonged economic crisis,” said Frank Rich in The New York Times. The middle class sees jobs, buying power, and the American dream ebbing away; Obama stands as a symbol that white Christian men no longer run the world. Tea Partiers really do want to “get the country back,” and since the 1950s are well and truly over, don’t expect the rage to “subside magically after Election Day.”

Ah, what a comforting narrative for the Left, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Democrats are about to get a thumpin’ from “a ragtag band of right-wing populists,” so they dismiss Tea Partiers as racist, uninformed crackpots. It just can’t possibly be that Americans don’t like President Obama’s big-government policies, his spending, or his trillion-dollar deficits. But guess what? This is no fringe movement. A stunning new poll shows that 55 percent of Americans believe the Tea Party can “effectively bring about major changes in the way the government operates.”

Those Americans will be sorely disappointed, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com. Ask any of the Tea Party’s anointed candidates for specifics on how they will cut spending, eliminate the deficit, and reduce taxes, and all you’ll get for your trouble is some nervous waffling. The genius of the Tea Party is that the movement’s leaders have taken these dry economic issues and made them vehicles for something far more personal—that visceral feeling many Americans have right now of being “besieged by change.” Governing, though, will require “coherent principles” and hard work, said Keith Burris in The Providence Journal-Bulletin. William F. Buckley once said that he’d rather be governed by the first 100 people in the phone book than by 100 Harvard faculty members; some of those 100 ordinary citizens are now headed for Washington. Thanks to the Tea Party, we’re about to find out if Buckley was right.

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