Monday, November 22, 2010

The Rise Of The Tea Party?

I have always wanted to make a little comment on the meteoric rise to prominence of the Tea Party movement. I just never got the chance to do so until now. If my memory serves me right, it was during the 2008 election that we began to notice a fundamental shift in Republican thinking and propaganda. The Republicans were traditionally opposed to the Democrats – that was a given, but in that dramatic and turbulent 2008 election period, the Democrats were mostly in control of the message of change and hope.

The Bush administration along with its many failures and compromises left many Republicans rueful about their prospects at the polls. There were a great number of Republicans who were frankly fed up with or displeased by the eccentricities and the sloppiness of the beltway republican establishment. And of course they were staunchly opposed to a Liberal or Progressive takeover of Washington. Thanks or no thanks to shrill republican media watchdogs, a lot of these dissatisfied Republicans and/or Independents began to fashion an identity of their own. Gradually, the Tea Party movement was born.

These scattered voices of rage and dissent against the Washington establishment found strength and support in right-wing radio and on some cable TV shows. They tried as much as they could, with their sometimes frighteningly exclusivist positions to win back broad-based support for McCain during the election period. But they failed to get McCain elected. Ironically, the election of Obama was the best thing that happened to the Tea Party. In fact, it could be argued that the election of Obama as the 44th president of the United States kept conservative radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh gainfully employed. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and other new actors on the national stage, sensing an opportunity, decided to throw their weight and support behind this new faction of the Republican Party—the Tea Party began to grow exponentially despite being cajoled and maligned by the mainstream media.

Many Republicans were demoralized after the heavy losses of the 2008 election. Obama’s election temporarily stunned the Republicans into acquiescing to some of the unspoken but expected demands made by the Democrats in the early months after Obama’s swearing in. Perhaps, Obama’s election then meant the possible beginning of Bipartisanship? Well, one group was unconvinced—the Tea Party. Their opposition to Obama the Democrats was even fiercer, louder and all-encompassing. Steadily they grew. It seemed like the handlers of this burgeoning movement were adept at branding or packaging the Obama Administration, along with the incomprehensible legislative incapacity of Obama’s Democratic majority, as the cause of the pain, anger and frustration of a wide swath of the American public.

Obama’s promises of change and improvement thus rang hollow as people began to notice increased job losses, higher unemployment figures, massive foreclosures, loss of pensions, folding banks, the corruption and greed of wall street, monumental government borrowing and spending, and what Republicans would definitely decry as the attempt by Obama’s administration to trample the Constitution underfoot. Granted, the horror scenario being painted to the public by skillful artisans like Glenn Beck was grossly exaggerated. It was deliberately slanted to whip up an anti-government frenzy; but this government should have anticipated this classic revanchist Republican politicking and done better to control the public message. Perception may not be everything, but it surely matters.

What was the inevitable result? November 2 has come and is now gone. With it came a massive sweep of the Democrats out of the house. They barely kept the Senate. The old-guard and somewhat centrist Republican Party have ridden back into power again on the back of the polarizing, extreme-right but “results-achieving” Tea Party. How long this delicate romance between the GOP and the Tea Party will last is anyone’s guess at this point. But make no mistakes about it—the Tea Party, in moving the meter the way they did during the recently concluded elections, have realized their own strength and significance. And they are primed to leverage it to the best of their ability.

Nevertheless, a cynical part of me suspects that it may not be long before the Tea Party Faithful turn their angst against their present GOP cohorts. Truly, Washington politics is ever-changing. Even more interesting to observe is how Obama and his administration will be written in the history books. How will he fare during this ostensibly lame-duck second half of his first term? Is he going to be re-elected with John Boehner and the house Republicans actively working to paralyze his efforts and rob him of even meager legislative gains?

You wait and see.

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