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The Tea Parties

They resemble nothing so much as the anti-war protests during Bush's first term. The claim that they don't have an organizing premise strikes me as obviously wrong: They're anti-bailout, anti-stimulus, anti-deficit, and anti- the tax increases that will eventually be required to pay for the current spending spree, and complaining that they don't also have a ten-point plan for reforming Medicare and Social Security reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of protest marches, I think. The claim that they're hypocritical and partisan is a bit stronger - where were they when Bush was running up the deficit, etc. - but in fairness, many of the organizing figures were anti-TARP from the beginning, and there's something slightly odd about saying that if you didn't take to the streets to protests a $300 billion deficit you aren't allowed to protest a $1 trillion deficit. The numbers matter, surely ...

But they do have all of the weaknesses of the anti-war marches: Their message is intertwined with a sense of disenfranchisement and all kinds of inchoate cultural resentments, they've brought various wacky extremists out of the woodwork (you know, like Glenn Beck), and just as George W. Bush benefited from having opposition to his policies identified with peacenik marchers in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, so Barack Obama probably benefits from having the opposition (such as it is) associated with a bunch of Fox News fans marching through the streets on Tax Day, parroting talk radio tropes and shouting about socialism. Obama is a very popular President, at the moment, his unpopularity among Republicans notwithstanding, and it's awfully hard to see the Tea Parties doing much to change that reality in the short run; if anything, they're far more likely to reconfirm the majority in its opinion that American conservatism is increasingly wacky, echo-chamberish, and out-of-touch.

Still, here we are in the sixth year of the Iraq War, and all those anti-war protests, their excesses and stupidities notwithstanding, look a lot more prescient in hindsight than they did (to me, at least) when they were going on. So if you're inclined to sneer and giggle at the Tea Parties, keep in mind that just because a group of protesters looks ragged, resentful, and naive, that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong to be alarmed:
 
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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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