The American tea party movement bears more resemblance to a rolling block party than a unified organized movement or cause. And that’s precisely why I love it. These people are nice. They’re smart. They come from all walks of life. And they’re sincere. I’ve met hard-hat wearing construction managers, accountants, school teachers, the unemployed, retirees, even the nicest anarchist couple who are worried about their kids’ futures.
And the numbers of protests and protesters continue to stagger, from the consistent low hundreds to the thousands — in all types of political and meteorological climates.
But I’m wondering what’s next for this two-month-old movement, born of outrage and concern at what is arguably a very sudden and very abrupt left turn in America’s moral and economic direction.
Before discussing the future of the movement, we have to make an attempt to understand and demystify it.
Contrary to more than a few conspiracy theories being floated in the left-wing blogosphere, and counter to modern media mythmaking, the American tea party movement is a very un-A.C.O.R.N.-like, decentralized, non-Rick Santelli endorsed outpouring of conservative values and libertarian ideals. I’ve witnessed no one in Indian or Revolutionary War costumes. No Rush Limbaugh grabbing the bullhorn to utter the F-word (failure). I’ve seen very little in the way of actual tea.
In fact, all the tea partyers I’ve met think astroturfing is some sort of Arena League football penalty, rather than a term for grassroots political organizing conducted by some committee of dirty tricks. It’s ridiculous to think the GOP could Astroturf these events, because that would require a coherent message, credible leadership, and a nimble organizational and technological infrastructure.
No, the tea parties reflect the greatest characteristics of Americana: passion, resourcefulness, respect, pitching-in, and commitment to our founding principles. They could just as easily turn into barn raisings or quilting bees.
And so far, they’ve worked. More than a few have gotten the attention of some local elected official. One in particular certainly played a strong role in Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill obtaining Harry Reid’s permission to vote “No” on the Omnibus Spending Bill. McCaskill rightly cited her opposition to around 9,000 earmarks contained in the bill. In defending her vote to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos via a tweet, McCaskill failed to mention the 200 angry protesters who marched on her Kansas City office the week before, in a blinding snow storm no less, to demand an end to earmarks and other special-interest driven government spending.
Even the White House appears to be trying to regularly change the political narrative to stay a step ahead of a tea-drenched wave of suspicion, dissatisfaction, and outright revolt at their far reaching attempts to wring every bit of self-serving utility out of America’s misfortune.
But what comes next for a movement as one-off, as locally agitated, as independent as the American tea party movement? Sure, there are a few centralized websites that serve as clearinghouses for tea party locations and schedules. But that’s about it.
View the photo blogs of tea parties and you’re guaranteed to see on every one at least two Ayn Rand citations, a few Atlas Shrugged posters, more pork and bacon references than a congressional committee meeting, and lots of concern for future generations. There is commonality of conviction and cause in all the tea parties. But that’s it in the movement’s Department of Organization and Strategy.
Looking at various tea party reports and blogs, it’s a wonder the White House hasn’t declared John Galt the new, de facto leader of the Republican Party. It seems they’re too busy scheming to mobilize President Obama’s massive web campaign to influence public opinion in support of his costly policy ambitions, not to mention looking for replacement candidates for all their tax cheats who can’t win confirmation.
If ever we needed the American tea party movement to brew up greater weight, it is now. Will the movement ever transcend bullhorns and chants? Will a unifying platform of articulated ideas and values emerge? Does one need to emerge?
What must happen for the American tea party movement to harness all its force, aggression, and overall good intentions for America’s future, and be taken seriously by the power brokers in Washington, D.C., by the mainstream media, and by Main Street?
And how will the movement grow its numbers and influence?
I think it’s past time to start asking, and answering, these questions. Otherwise, I fear the American Tea Party movement’s sweetness — that is to say its genuinely American qualities — will quietly dilute in a tide of bitter change that many Americans simply cannot swallow.