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.


CorkyHundley 3 years, 6 months ago

Meanwhile in other news-

Millionaires are humans too and are profiled by the leftists as other than human lifeforms.

http:// any google site profiling millionaires as other than human lifeforms.


Roland Gunslinger 3 years, 6 months ago

Meanwhile in other news- 3,000 millionaires receiving welfare - 17 of them earned over $10 million last year. Nice to see hypocrisy knows no bounds.


bearded_gnome 3 years, 6 months 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.


camper 3 years, 6 months 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..


beatrice 3 years, 6 months 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.


Gene Wallace 3 years, 6 months ago

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


camper 3 years, 6 months 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.


overplayedhistory 3 years, 6 months ago

I sometimes wonder what is like in the paleo-cortext dominated mind. I imagine that it is like having a limited sense of smell and black and white only vision. How dull limited enjoyment such poor souls must get out of life.

What a well balanced informed historical assessment of the land scape right now. In other words liberal dribble. There is us and them and no in between in the paleo mind.


camper 3 years, 6 months 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.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 6 months ago

Cato said it all leading off the thread. Good post, cato.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 6 months 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.


scott3460 3 years, 6 months 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.


monkeyhawk 3 years, 6 months 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.


Flap Doodle 3 years, 6 months 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.


CorkyHundley 3 years, 6 months ago

Schribman is confusing Democrats and Republicans as being at opposite ends. The ruling class fighting the tea party, normal folk, is more appropriate.

"America on the brink of a Second Revolution ... "What's distinctive about the Tea Party is its anarchist streak – its antagonism toward any authority, its belligerent self-expression, and its lack of any coherent program or alternative to the policies it condemns," warns Jacob Weisberg in Newsweek. But why not three cheers for the Tea Party Express? – MarketWatch"

"There is something else. We are not scholars, but we have often observed that great ancient and modern cultures usually arise out of fragmented regional states that are proximate to one another and have the same languages. Thus, if one is oppressed in one physical region, one can move with one's family to another nearby place without much inconvenience. This means governments have incentives not to be too overbearing or cruel but to actually compete with one another to provide livable environments."


BornAgainAmerican 3 years, 6 months ago

"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."

All either party has to understand is that "We the People" call the shots. That's what all of this chaos is about. The elitists in DC have forgotten that We elected them and We can fire them. Obama pretty much sealed his fate, and the fate of the Democratic party, while ramming through legislation that the majority of the American populace does not want. He continues to be on the wrong side of virtually every issue. His swan song begins with the midterms next month.


cato_the_elder 3 years, 6 months 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.


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