The Past, Present, and Future of the Tea Party

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by Conor Friedersdorf

The indispensable Dave Weigel has published an enormously informative take on the Tea Party movement. It's here, and if you've been observing the phenomenon from afar it probably answers most of your questions.

An excerpt:

The politician who’s rightly seen as the ideological vessel of the tea party movement is Sen. Jim DeMint. I’d argue that he’s more important to the movement than its bigger star, Sarah Palin, because DeMint has actually gotten specific about what he wants to do in power and why he thinks tea party activists can help him do it. He thinks that Congress needs to reckon with popular entitlements and spending programs, and it needs to cut them even though this has been, consistently, politically disastrous. His theory is that things are bad enough that Americans understand what needs to be cut. They are ready to give up benefits and programs that, in the past, they’ve supported, because they realize how bad things are. That was the not-so-hidden subtext of Glenn Beck’s big rally on the mall last week. Beck, who’s done so much to inform the Tea Parties, told a crowd of 100,000 or so people in person, and many in the TV audience, that they needed to look inward and look back to God and be ready to restore the pre-New Deal vision of America.

Is this good for the Republican Party? I think it is. When is an active and powerful base bad for a political party? The issue that activists and Republicans have to deal with, as they look to power, is whether they can be as successful at convincing Americans of their agenda as they have been at convincing themselves. They need a country that has given up on Democratic policies largely because of high unemployment to be convinced that their policies will hurt in the short term and work in the long term. If all the Tea Party does is help the GOP create momentum for tax cuts, it will have failed. It’s spending cuts, painful ones, that 40 years of conservative activism have been asking for, and 2 years of Tea Party activism have tried to convince the country that it needs.

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