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Tea party tumult adds to nation’s political turmoil

October 3, 2010


— They’re coming.

Not yet, of course. Not this week and not next week, but maybe next month, right after the election. The midterm congressional contests will end and, sure as the frost follows the fall of the leaves, the Republican presidential candidates will be here.

New Hampshire — in recent years bluer than the early autumn skies that form the backdrop to the Presidential Range, but with a bedrock Republican tradition that reaches down generations — will soon be a laboratory for the new GOP. Perhaps Thoreau got it right when he called New Hampshire a place where “the day is forever unproven.”

And so it is a perfect staging ground for a 21st-century Republican Party that is emerging as a most unusual outcropping on the political landscape, enjoying a traditional party surge even as it struggles with a muscular insurgency. That last happened here in 1980, when in that year’s presidential primary Ronald Reagan, offering a Western conservatism far different from the flinty Yankee brand, represented the fresh forces at the gates of the party, and George H.W. Bush, a Yankee patrician with a refreshing vigor, stood as the establishment figure.

Different Republicans

In the three decades since, the Republicans have absorbed the Reagan conservatism and the Bush ascendancy and now are watching new forces compete for attention and votes. These are different Republicans with different impulses.

Some retain the social conservatism of the religious right movement that roiled the party in the late 1980s and 1990s. Many have a states’ rights outlook that curiously mimics the views of conservative Democrats of the 1950s and 1960s. All look at taxes the way elementary school nurses look at strep throat — with dread and loathing.

These new Republicans did not come from nowhere — nor did they spring, as Alice Roosevelt Longworth said of Wendell Willkie’s supporters, from “the grass roots of 10,000 country clubs.”

You saw them on cable last year, assailing House members at district town meetings, drawing a line in the summer sand on the president’s health care overhaul. You saw them the year before looking on in horror as their own Republican representatives lined up with a Republican president (and loads of Democrats, many of them in the Obama administration this very day) to bail out Wall Street and add billions to the deficit.

Party is chaos

Right now, the Republican Party is in the sort of chaos the Democrats thought they had patented, with the regulars trying to keep the radicals at bay even as they try to harness their energy and anger.

It won’t be easy. They want the passion at the bottom of the tea cup but they worry that the caffeinated newcomers are somehow too strong a brew for governing. They’ll see soon enough. The most interesting poll finding of the past week is from Zogby International. It shows that among likely voters, the tea party rated higher than either established political party.

Indeed, the tea party is about to bag a handful of Senate seats and a bunch in the House. The first fight they’ll prompt: a brutal Republican debate on earmarks.

Earmarks direct federal funding to specific projects. The new Republicans hate them. The old Republicans, who have fought for the seniority that makes them powerful enough to provide earmarks for their districts, used to hate them but now they aren’t quite so much opposed. If Republicans regain power — and thus attain important committee chairmanships — they may find that the evils of earmarks have been greatly exaggerated.

The purists are on their way to Washington and are not likely to see earmarks as a pure extract of democracy’s highest ideals. Nor are they going to find the totems and taboos of Capitol Hill enlightening and ennobling.

But while parties struggle in the capital, they find their identities in presidential campaigns far from Washington, which is why so few senators have graduated directly to the White House. Barack Obama is only the third, and his hold on the Oval Office is none too secure right now.

The Republicans now have a governing platform, a modernized version of the usual mix of tax breaks for small businesses, spending freezes and a ban on federal funding for abortion, plus of course repeal of Obamacare, which is about as likely as the repeal of the coming of winter on Mount Washington, where the first snow fell the other day. (After all, the president, even a weakened one like Obama, still possesses the veto pen, far mightier than the insurgents’ sword, thus rendering the question of repeal ridiculous. But if the Republicans win the House, they still might be able to starve the health care overhaul and perhaps influence the regulations that govern it.)

Attracting donations

Already the tea partiers have helped spur traditional conservative donors from their Obama-inspired torpor, and these donors, in turn, have given millions to Republican organizations. The Republican Governors Association, not exactly a group of wackos, suddenly is a major funding recipient. A onetime important member of that group: Rep. Michael Castle, once the governor of Delaware before he became the target of the tea party and, last month, its most prominent victim.

The tea party tumult accentuates the sense of turmoil that the American political system has spawned in recent years.

George W. Bush won the presidency after an overtime election that underlined how deeply, and how evenly, split was the country. He presided over a grief-stricken country after Sept. 11, 2001, undertook two wars and saw his poll ratings plummet along with the economy. Then Barack Obama led a hope-and-change crusade that inspired young and independent voters and seemed to have created a new period of Democratic rule (and accompanying Republican despair), only to see the economy continue to sputter and his own approval numbers fall. Enter the tea party.

The result is that the velocity of change in American politics is at a nearly unprecedented level. That has been inspiring to the tea party. But it ought to be a warning to the tea party as well — and to the rest of us. The presidential campaign may be coming, but the real question is how much more change is coming.

— David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Liberal Democrats always preach that grass-roots democracy is the soul of America - until a real grass-roots movement is born that doesn't subscribe to their liberal views. When that happens, the members of the new group are immediately branded as ignorant, uneducated misfits by liberal Democrat leaders who in their younger days were best known for incessantly chanting "power to the people." As a result, their condescendingly elitist attitudes and their resultant hypocrisy are there for all to see. Sooner or later, their true colors are always revealed. They just can't help themselves.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Dougnamy, the article about the Kochs from the laughingly biased, far-left New Yorker magazine (which I used to read regularly before it went off the deep end) was the obvious springboard for a recent letter to this newspaper, critical of the Kochs, that was thoroughly discussed on this forum. If you want to be an uninformed elitist, then by all means read and believe what's in the New Yorker.

The sole reason for the existence of the Tea Party Movement was the election of Barack Obama and the realization (too late for many who mistakenly voted for him) that when he said that he wanted to "fundamentally transform America," he meant it, and in no uncertain terms. When Tea Party members say that they "want to take their country back," they mean that just as seriously. The overarching political question of our times is whether those in America who believe in limited constitutional goverment still have the time and the means available to stop him. If the Kochs can help, fine. They're philanthropically inclined, and it's a good cause.

I'm not a member of the Tea Party but I know a number of people who are. The ones I know are intelligent, capable, successful people who would bristle at the notion that the Kochs or anyone else are responsible for what they think. When people finally come to the realization of what Obama and his cronies want and would already have done to this country if they hadn't had to deal with a broad range of both Republicans and Democrats in a Congress elected by the people, then they begin to understand.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

The sole reason for the existence of the Tea Party Movement was the election of Barack Obama, whether you like it or not.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Cut the crap, Vertigo. I previously stated quite clearly that Obama's actions in office and the concomitant realization by many Americans of what he really wanted to do to this country caused the birth of the Tea Party Movement. Obama's race had nothing to do with it. Most of his closest cronies and enablers, whose views are as antithetical to our American freedoms as his are, happen to be white. By despising Tea Partiers as you do simply for exercising their right of freedom of speech as Americans, you and people like you are disgustingly intolerant and hypocritical.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

The Tea Party Movement was born in spirit the day after Obama was elected. It took awhile for a larger group of Americans to wise up to him, as I said. A significant number of us who had carefully studied his views and his background well before he was elected were keenly sensitive to his overarching desire to "fundamentally transform America," which it did not take long for large numbers of Americans to grasp.

Common-sense Americans recognize leftist extremism when they see it. As I said, when Tea Partiers say that they want to "take their country back," they mean it. Although Obama and his disastrous policies were the catalyst, incumbent Republicans and Democrats alike have been targeted to receive assistance in finding new jobs next January. People like you don't like the Tea Party simply because it's become a legitimate force made up of average Americans that establishment politicians in both parties are having to take much more seriously than they had ever anticipated.

Although I've been called many things on this forum by a plethora of leftist twits, one of the most obnoxious of them having been removed from this forum a few weeks ago, I've never been called a "lunatic conspiracy theorist." Perhaps you might enlighten me as to the particular conspiracy theory to which I ascribe.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Don't dodge my question, Vertigo. Please confirm whether or not you are willing to enlighten me as to the particular conspiracy theory to which I ascribe. Once you confirm that you cannot, we can then address what proof you could possibly have for your other baseless allegations. I'm looking forward to it.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Vertigo, it gives me great pleasure to know that you've wasted so much of your time only to fall on your face reproducing a number of salient questions that I've previously asked and which are just that, questions. Some were asked well over two years ago, when many people were asking exactly the same questions about Obama's known history or, rather, the lack thereof, prior to the 2008 presidential election. Was I the only one asking these questions? Turning to one of my questions you cited, how about the concerns of PUMA, the group formed to support Hillary Clinton against Obama, that I reported in August of 2008? Were the PUMA members, all loyal Democrats who vigorously opposed Obama, all "birthers" too when they stated that Obama was born in Canada, as I merely reported?

We have never had a president in modern times about whose personal history we have known so little. This is due in no small part to his own refusal to discuss it further. For starters, his flat-out, unexplained refusal to release his college and law school transcripts should be of substantial concern to any thinking American. Of course, that doesn't include you, so it's no wonder that Obama continues to get a free pass in your narrow mind.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Vertigo, I've never said categorically that Obama wasn't born in Hawaii. I've simply raised legitimate questions about his personal background, about which very little still is known, and have pointed out similar questions that others have raised and positions that others have taken on this issue.

By the way, the use of the term "birther" by far-left Obama apologists is nothing but a smokescreen to attempt to stifle legitimate inquiry into a number of things about Obama's past that we still don't know. For example, I will assume that you were born in America. When you were enrolled in elementary school, was your citizenship shown in writing on your school application as "Indonesian?" If it had been and you were running for president, wouldn't you expect people to ask serious questions about that? Wouldn't it be preferable for you, especially if you were running for president, to have the cojones to respond fully and completely instead of telling your attack dogs to call them "birthers?"

As for "conspiracy theories," how does anyone's good faith concern about why Obama has adamantly refused to release his undergraduate and law school transcripts make that person a "conspiracy theorist?" Doesn't it embarrass you that your hero won't come clean on this? Is there even the slightest chance that the media would have given Obama the free pass that they have on this if he had instead been a black Republican?

Vertigo, your infatuation with Obama, going back to when he sold out Poland and Czechoslovakia's missile defense shields, naively thinking that the Russians would give him something in return, is embarrassing. The Russians cleaned Obama's clock on that one, but you, as naive as the Bamster himself, assured us that they would come around and see it his way.

Yeah, right.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

And, Vertigo, perhaps I should have asked you this final question: Does Russia's having just completed providing Iran with the fuel rods it needed for its nuclear reactor make you sleep better at night? Is the fact that our country's present leadership was incapable of preventing that something that you're proud of? Are you really naive enough not to know that continuing to follow through with the Polish and Czech missile defense shields, rather than abandoning them unilaterally, was the best shot we had at ultimately preventing this? Or do you agree with Ahmadinejad that Iran's obtaining nuclear capability is a good thing for the rest of the world?

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

Were it not for the computer virus, Vertigo, the plant would be on line using the fuel rods loaded by the Russians. Unfortunately, once the virus is overcome, the plant will be back on track. Nice try, but you obviously can't refute what I said. I'd be thrilled if the virus put the kibosh on the plant permanently - and I'm sure that Obama would be too, since it's his ass hanging out in the wind, not mine.

Regarding the missile defense shield, I assume you're talking about naval deployment, which has apparently pleased the Russians a great deal. You must be even more naive than Obama. The issue, Vertigo, relates to bargaining chips that could have caused Russia to back off of its nuclear partnership with Ahmadinejad. Our now-abandoned missile defense shield in Poland and Czechoslovakia was the key. The Russians' actions since Obama unilaterally flushed it have clearly demonstrated that naval deployment isn't.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years, 1 month ago

Wouldn't grass roots democracy lead to the lowest common denominator ruling the roost? No? I didn't think so. I'm sure I'm misreading this as your saying "Our grass-rooters are better than your grass-rooters." but I could be wrong. Check that. None of us is ever wrong (!~), especially if we follow the money, since we all no that almost no contempory politician has ever truly given a crrrap about "grass roots" types, unless it affects business..

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

The current regime would prefer that the subjects who work and pay taxes just shut up and continue to work and pay their taxes.

monkeyhawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Funny thing is ... an ignorant red neck vote is just as valid as an elite, lefty, progressive vote. That is, unless this administration has something up their sleeves to nullify all votes that don't go according to their thinking. Makes one wonder if there is a November surprise waiting out there?

Can't you just feel the wailing getting stronger with each turning leaf? It's just a matter of time before those with "hope for change" reach a fever pitch and begin to melt down like that "friend of the bozo merrills" dude did in front of the CC a couple of years ago.

This is such fun.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

I know you didn't mean it this way, but it is a built-in problem with democracy - stupid people get the same input as smart ones.

So if we have a population that's getting dumber, we wind up with the results of that.

I know the question of who is smart and how that's determined is not an easy one to answer, but I think the system works better if we have better educated and better informed voters.

Scott Drummond 5 years, 1 month ago

Funniest proposition in the entire article:

"The purists are on their way to Washington and are not likely to see earmarks as a pure extract of democracy’s highest ideals. Nor are they going to find the totems and taboos of Capitol Hill enlightening and ennobling."

Yea, sure, they will not be corrupted like all the others because they are Tea Party people!!

I guess I should just be quiet and enjoy the spectacle as it unfolds and these TP angels fall to earth. But, just for something & giggles, it is interesting to note the "character" and "accomplishments" of Ms. Palin, O'Donell, et al. Yes, they are useful idiots for the corporate elites orchestrating the TP movement, but beyond that they seem most remarkable for their willingness to whore themselves out for a moment in the spotlight. Methinks they will find the totems and taboos of Capitol Hill plenty ennobling.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 1 month ago

This is a pretty good analysis of the tea party.

The tea party is just warmed-over populism. The democrats once had a hold of these folks, with populist arguments about banks and big business and fatcats and intellectuals. Now the GOP has them, with populist themes of anti-tax, anti-intellectual, anti-government.

Interestingly, the tea party populism also contains anti-big business themes, mostly centered on the Bush-Obama bailouts. What is interesting is that this anti-big business theme dissipates when it comes to taxation of big business and the rich. An interesting disconnect.

Populism's fire burns brightly, but has never burned for long in American politics. The grown up centrists usually end up picking up the pieces once the childish populists have grown tired of the game.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 1 month ago

We shall see. I detect overconfidence here. Let's speak again in early November.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 1 month ago

If you disagree with Obama, you're a "racist." This canard was first puked up when the Obama campaign played the race card on Bill Clinton, who was the first victim of this stupid accusation. Remember that, Vertigo? Or was your head so far up a certain private area in your body that you just didn't see it? I'll guarantee you that Bill Clinton hasn't forgotten it - you can take that to the bank.

camper 5 years, 1 month ago

The Tea Party is full of contradictions. I keep hearing a number that is thrown around that 47% of Americans do not pay Federal Income tax. This is misleading, because this % does not include social security/medicare deductions. If you consider social security taxes paid, and subtract individuals under 18, this percentage is far lower. Not to mention city, local, state, sales, gasoline, and cigarette taxes. This notion that 47% are not pulling there weight seems to be false. I'm not sure how much, but this link may be helpful:

In fact, the IRS tax code provides deductions and credits that can lower or personal income tx liability for middle class home owners, and those with dependent exemptions. Regardless, the discontinuation of the Bush tax cuts will only affect those in the highest bracket which is about 2-5% of taxpayers.

camper 5 years, 1 month ago

I wonder how the word "elitist" has become so popular today. Palin seems to be the one who started the trend of labeling liberals as elitists. I'm sure there are some, but I always thought of elitists as the conservative wealthy country club crowd who have old money and earn a lot of passive income from this wealth.

I also had a boss (who was a liberal...go figure) who had a general aversion to factory workers, and clerks who worked in the office. He actually discouraged the mingling and social interaction between management and staff. I remember cutting someone slack because they were 15 minutes late to work, and the boss criticized me for patronization and trying to be buddies.

I ramble here. I guess what I'm trying to say is that elitisim is a two-way street. How liberals are getting labeled nowdays seems to be contrived.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 1 month ago

Tom, I want to congratulate you on a thoughtful, well-reasoned post.

I don't necessarily agree with all you said, but keep it up!

Scott Drummond 5 years, 1 month ago

When corporations are allowed to purchase as much influence as they can afford and media corporations control entry in to the political game (pay for advertising, or else,) what choice have the Democrats but to play the money game?

One cannot support the hijakking of our democracy by unlimited corporate influence and then complain when Democrats attempt to fight back. Or at least you can't and maintain intellectual honesty. As we have seen, the right is willing to do anything to gain power.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago


But both parties do it.

It's disingenuous at best.

Gene Wallace 5 years, 1 month ago

Political historical assessment from a nutrition book? CCG! (Cheshire Cat Grin)

beatrice 5 years, 1 month ago

If they were only interested in fiscal conservativism, I could appreciate the movement. As soon as they start to throw in their social conservative views, then the teabaggers lose all credibility. Being for freedom from government and for oppresive social order is a strong contradiction. Just get the social issuals out of the way, and they could be a legitimate alternative party, and not just a branch of the Republican party as they are now.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

The comment pre-removed for using vulgar terms to describe someone not on the dexter side of the aisle.

beatrice 5 years, 1 month ago

What vulgar term? It is a recognized political term, that happens to have another meaning unrelated to politics. Deal with it. Or are you the type who still giggles every time you read about Dick Cheney?

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

Consider the good ship John B. Colgate.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Actually, according to an interview on NPR, the tea party leadership is advocating just that - that they stay focused on fiscal conservatism.

beatrice 5 years, 1 month ago

I hope they do, but it isn't what I have seen thus far. At his recent gathering, Glenn Beck was all about taking back the country for God.

camper 5 years, 1 month ago

If they were able to see the big chunks of tax payer money going to defense and social security and medicare, they may have more credibility. The bank bailout was a reluctant option to keep things afloat, yet tea baggers (and Republicans oppose financial reform). This makes them to appear as misguided aging baby boomers who are happy with there social security and medicare benefits, and at the same time call any other distribution as Socialism or Communisim.

I have an uncle who is a teabagger for instance. He was a good teacher and rose to administration. A Social job nonetheless. He retired last year and has quite a good pension that is 70% of his his salary while working. After retiring, he took a job as a consultant and was laid off recently. Though he still pulls in 6 figures from pension, not to mention Medicare and Social Security, he also receives unemployment compensation due to his recent layoff. This man has a vacation home in Florida to boot.

So for the most part, I really see tea baggers as folks who are happy with what they have and want to protect it. They are glad with there health care and social security, but are out to deny younger folks who want basic necessities..

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago


Have you asked him where he thinks his pension, SS and Medicare benefits would come from if taxes were slashed?

bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

don't remember such concern about the democ]rats with code pink! throwing blood on Condi et al. weird protests in the street too.

funny the liberal punditochracy likes to criticize the trouble stirred up by tea partiers, actual americans, law abiding and expressing their political opinion.

uncleandyt 5 years, 1 month ago

Nobody remembers code pink throwing blood on Condi, because it didn't happen.

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