As a first foray into reading directly about "Tea Party" politics, I doubt if I could have picked a more representative book than "Mad as Hell:How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking our Two-Party System."
In ways that are reminiscent of Sarah Palin's ill-fated book "Going Rogue," amazingly this book too reflects the same stereotypical style of what one would expect to be the typical "Tea Party type:" a book by an uneducated angry racist redneck anxious to turn the clock back to a time when America was a "white only" country. At least in style if not in character and substance this book is so horribly written and so completely unedited that it takes a heroic effort on the part of the reader just to get through it. Plus, to add insult to injury, the data upon which the analysis is based are useless since they are self-generated from the author's own self-selected subjects?
Written in 2010 in the run up to the mid-tern elections, mostly for the benefit of the "true believers," and despite its many flaws, the book nevertheless can not be dismissed out of hand, as it offers a window into the mind of the Tea Party phenomenon useful for the benefit of "outsiders" like myself. What I learned as a democrat wandering in the wilderness (even though my own party is still in power) is how sausage can indeed be made through a different kind of activeness in our political process if we hope the out-of-control ruling political class is to be affected.
Why is it that the "Tea Party" gets listened to when no activist groups from the other side, including labor, or the Occupy Wall Street Movement, do? Sadly, despite what the far right says about him, President Barack Obama is more a tool of that ruling class than he is of his base.
The difference between the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Movement and the "Tea Party" is instructive and represents the difference between night and day: One is a disorganized long running symbolic political rock concert like demonstration, while the other is a legitimate political movement; one has well-articulated political precepts that it is willing to fight to the death for, and the other consists of "fair-weather demonstrators" who deploy gauzy rhetoric that they barely believe in and are prepared to defect from as soon as the going gets tough -- like for instance when the TV cameras are turned off.
The lesson that I believe democratic activists can learn from reading this book goes beyond just the shabbily written manuscript that this book is, or the authors' self-selected data which it contains. The overarching message of this book is that a strong commitment to ideological precepts, (however retrograde those precepts may be), can trump everything else in the political system and can indeed get a seat at the table and the attention of the out of control ruling political class. This is an important message however badly it is written, which has been strategically deployed by the "Tea Party" so that it resonates deep inside the American political process, including inside the opposition Democratic Party.
In fact it is simply amazing to me that as a black Democrat, Barack Obama has paid more attention to the concerns of the Tea Party than he has to either the OWS movement or to inner city blacks who voted for him in the last election at the 95% level and just recently in the 2012 election at the 93% level?
But more than this, the Tea party has put its money where its mouth is and has fielded candidates for political offices all across the landscape. And while they have not always been successful (thank God!), at least they have proven that they know how to get the job done. That they have been able to do this demands respect rather than scorn.
Where is the Democratic counter moves on the American chess board to these very effective Tea Party moves? Maybe the OWS should knock down their tents and spread out across the country and field its own slate of candidates to run for office based on the precepts they claim to hold so dear? As it stands now, they are playing the loser's game of being ignored by the powers that be while the "Tea Party," already has a silent seat at the democratic table, no less.
What this book reveals is that we can fail to respect the "Tea Party movement" only at our own peril; that, however misguided it may be, the Tea Party is a legitimate grass roots movement in the classic mode of American democratic social movements, while the OWS movement is a minor political irritant -- a chic Woodstock like event with a gauzy message about economic inequality and without legs, teeth or brains, and worst of all, is getting zero attention from anyone in power? The OWS movement is the Kato Kaelin of political movements.
Put simply, what Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen might lack here in literary style and finesse, they make up in their message that ideological clarity and single-mindedness can get the attention of the powers that be -- provided it conveys a commitment that activist will press forward no matter what. And while it is difficult for any thinking person who loves "real democracy," rather than the questionable brand the "Tea Party" promotes, one cannot deny the fact that the Tea Party has pushed its ideological precepts "front and center" as well as deep inside the enemy camp.
While the Tea Party has a 50-state ground game, busy fielding candidates in every precinct and county around the nation, debating the issue on the Sunday morning talk shows, raising money, lecturing in America's think tanks, defeating candidates that do not embrace their political and ideological precepts, the OWS movement is busy trying to get contributions to buy more tents?
That is why the Tea Party has repeatedly forced the hand of our timid democratic President as well as the weak kneed middle of the road Republicans on their side of the ideological fence, while the OWS movement has been ignored by both. You be the judge, which of these two movements has the best chance for succeeding in the American political environment? Four Stars
Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...