The Tea Party has effectively vanquished the Republican Party. Establishment moderates and conservatives are the big losers and, per the Conventional Wisdom, Sarah Palin and Jim Demint are the big winners. Conventional Wisdom, however, is wrong. If Progressives use some of the Tea Party's own tricks we can win in November and within 2 years permanently return Sarah Palin, Dick Armey and their media court jesters to the obscurity they so richly deserve.
Merely saving the House and Senate is not enough. A Republican minority has tied Congress in knots. If they gain even a few seats they will effectively overwhelm the terrified "majority." Nothing will get done and America's mood will be even worse by 2012. We must increase our majority in the House by ten votes and take two or three additional seats in the Senate. It means swallowing hard and reelecting Blanche Lincoln and others who are only worth saving because numbers count.
This isn't as hard as the experts say. The Tea Party is leading the entire Republican Party on a long slow suicide mission. A lot of independents have already diverted their eyes and hearts from the impending mess that is going on around them. If we can make a compelling case to them, a case I will present in a moment, we can also divert their votes. And, in sheer numbers, Democrats outnumber Republicans; we vote, we win.
Also, the polling system could very far off--base. Telephone surveys are reaching, almost by definition, the people most likely to be moving to the right because the youngest and most liberal voters no longer have land lines. Phone polling also favors less urban areas simply because even the young have problems with mobile phone coverage in Appling County Georgia. In short, polls are may be quite heavily biased toward less progressive voters.
So, assume with me for a moment that success big success is conceivable. Here are the lessons we must take from the tea party.
Lesson one, fight dirty. Oh, don't be so damn pure. Ideals are wonderful but progressives will never get anywhere until they stop discussing, debating, theorizing, and whining and go to war. Forget how disappointed you are with Obama and think instead how miserable you will be with Speaker of the House Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell, especially when those two already ineffectual individuals must herd the likes of Engle, Paul, and Toomey. Sure it would be fun to watch but it will ruin the country. We don't have to stoop to a right-wing pattern of compulsive lying, the truth is disturbing enough; but we must bludgeon voters over and over and over with that truth. Attack ads aren't popular but they are effective.
Lesson Two, paranoia has its place. The Republicans have won elections for three decades by peddling fear and the Tea Party has raised it to an art form. We might hate this but we have to do it. We must make the case to everyone rational enough to listen that the agenda of the right wing is dangerous to women, minorities, the physically challenged, the LGBT community, and to anyone who desires clear air and water, paved roads, and an education.
Talk about the conservative agenda for education (creationism, abolishing the Department of Education, teacher layoffs, vouchers,) the Tea Party approach to science (stem cells, climate change, transplanted human brains into mice (look it up)) a civil rights roll-back (equal pay, affirmative action, Rand Paul's rant on accommodations and the American's with Disabilities Act,) health care, consumer protection. Don't scare your grandmother, her Social Security is safe, but you might want to have a few words with Aunt Harriet about how much she will enjoy standing on her feet scanning Pampers at WalMart when she is 69. And above all, talk with every woman, minority, and gay person you know. Their personal liberties are in serious danger from these people and they must turn out and vote. Again these are not frightening lies. They are very scary truths.
Remind people as well that this enemy does not recognize defeat. When they win they lay the groundwork to never lose again; when they lose they respond by discrediting and trying to overturn the decision. We need to work for the down ballot candidates too. There are some scary things going on in state legislatures, and these are the people who will be in charge of the restricting that could do us in for good.
Lesson Three, the campaign must appear to trickle up. It would be counterproductive for the candidates to do much of what I propose. The base has to take on the job of talking one-on-one to friends and relatives, writing letters to the editor, kicking in small donations whenever possible to help candidates in our own and other districts. The Tea Party isn't really grassroots even though they try to look like it but since we lack a progressive set of Koch boys, we have no choice but to run it from the base.
Lesson Four is the best; scare the hell out of Congress. Make the Democrats just as frightened of us as the Republicans are of their wing nuts. Every Tea Party faction has a manifesto. The progressive manifesto? Public option, campaign finance reform, justice for the 99ers, end DADT; most of us could write it in our sleep; a single page, simple, straightforward, and non-negotiable. In the next four weeks we use the net roots Face Book, Move On, Democracy for America, the Coffee Party, Credo - to gather millions of signatures and put every Democratic candidate and incumbent on notice. We have decided to pull their asses out of the fire for one last time, and when we succeed, every Democratic member of the 112th Congress must immediately begin to implement our agenda. Failing to do so will guarantee them a real primary next time. We have two to six years to make good on that threat and, learning from a Tea Party mistake, we must visibly, loudly, and immediate start to recruit viable, qualified standby candidates.
We can do this, we have to. If we lose this election, we may never have the chance to win another.