David Weigel gives some serious consideration to the Tea Party movement, examining what he calls five myths about the Tea Party:
1. The tea party isn't a reaction to President Obama, it's a reaction to the bank bailouts.
He thinks this is partly true, and that the movement had its origins with the Paultards of 2007.
Mebbe so, but has everyone forgotten what actually kicked off this "movement" in its current state? The February 2009 Rick Santelli rant for a "Chicago Tea Party" that had a full-blown PR campaign around it up and running within hours, including a website at a ChicagoTeaParty.com that had been registered six months before. So, good try Dave Weigel, but the Tea Party isn't a reaction to either - it's the result of a successful PR campaign to whip up a popular frenzy with carefully designed misinformation.
2. The tea party is racist.
This Weigel thinks is not true - that there are a few racist Tea Partiers but they're quickly drummed out by others in the movement.
There certainly have been a few highly publicized drummings out. What Dave Weigel misses is that these people only got drummed out because of the publicity. Where there's no publicity, there's no drumming out. He dismisses out of hand the idea that conservative opposition to social spending could have anything to do with race. I think racism is used by the more sophisticated manipulators behind the movement because it raises the level of emotional engagement in a way taxes and deficits don't.
3. Sarah Palin is the leader of the tea party.
Dave Weigel thinks she's not, because in 2008 she backed TARP, and Tea Partiers don't like TARP. They don't want any leaders right now, but find her useful because she attracts media attention.
Well, it depends on what you mean by leader. She's certainly been at the forefront of pushing Tea Party memes, frames, and misinformation into mainstream discourse. She's certainly the most well-known figure associated with the Tea Party. I'd put it this way: if she wants to re-enter politics, and the Tea Party still has some steam left in it by that time, she's the one poised to make use of it.
4. The tea party hurts the GOP.
The tea party movement is giving Republicans a dream of an electorate, one in which surveys find more GOP-inclined voters enthusiastic about casting ballots than voters who lean Democratic. Democrats have done some damage to the tea party brand -- its favorability has fallen in polls -- but in general, the presence of a new political force that is not called Republican and is not tied to George W. Bush has given the GOP a glorious opportunity to remake its image, at a time when trust in the party is very low.
No argument. Agreed.
5. The tea party will transform American politics.
A popular, and correct, aphorism about grass-roots movements is that they act like bees -- they sting, then die. Third parties fold into major parties...
The tea party is unlikely to even reach third-party status, because the vast majority of its members -- up to 79 percent, in some polls -- identify as Republicans and are savvy enough not to take actions that would help Democrats. (Liberals only wish that Ralph Nader thought like this.)
I agree with this too. But then, I don't believe it's as spontaneous a movement as Dave Weigel does. And so this is by design.
I think Ed Kilgore over at TNR really gets at the essence of what's keeping the Tea Party going as a political phenomenon:
There has been incessant discussion over the last year about the size, character, and intentions of the Tea Party rank-and-file. But, by and large, the political discussion has passed over another defining phenomenon: The beatific capacity of Tea Party membership, which enables virtually anyone with ambition to whitewash his hackishness—and transform from a has-been or huckster into an idealist on a crusade.
It's a way for all the lunatics and failures and nobodies on the right to get one more kick at the can. It's a way to double down on all the disasters of the Bush years without having to take the blame for them. We're not Republicans, we're with the Tea Party!
Snakeoil never grows old in American politics.