TEAPARTIERChipSomodevilla:Getty

Ross defends himself against the Hitchens onslaught:

It wasn’t Glenn Beck who mired the United States in two neverending overseas occupations, where “gun brandishing” is the least of the everyday horrors that flow from our policy failures. It wasn’t the Tea Party that decided to create two new health care entitlements (Medicare Part D and Obamacare) just as America was about to go over a fiscal waterfall. It wasn’t kooks and reactionaries who got the European Union into its current mess. It wasn’t the radicals of the left and right who risked the global economy on a series of disastrous real estate bets, or locked our government into a permanently symbiotic relationship with the banking and financial sectors, or created a vast labyrinth of unaccountable bureaucracies in the hopeless quest for perfect security from terror attacks. And to bring things up the present day, it wasn’t the more “extreme” members of the Senate be they Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn on the right, or Bernie Sanders on the left who just voted for more short-term spending and tax cuts without any plan to pay for it.

... The Tea Party’s politics are not my politics, but the movement has virtues as well as vices, and at the very least it represented a possible alternative force at a time when our politics desperately needs alternatives, whether right-wing or left-wing or something else entirely, to the policies that have led us to our present pass.

I don't disagree, which is why I have found the last eighteen months highly uncomfortable. I have long thought that the problem with conservatism in the last decade was that it wasn't conservative enough in its free-spending, country-invading, tax-cutting, prisoner-torturing binge. But when an epic recession hits, that's the one time you ease up a little on fiscal tightness. And the bitter partisanship and cultural warfare and religious extremism that the grass roots feed off simply leave me cold if not alarmed.

But isn't the solution criticizing the failed record of the political establishment and calling out charlatans like Glenn Beck? Isn't the answer to take necessary short-term steps to grapple with the recession, while forging a real compromise on taxes and spending for the long term in the next two years? That's the realistic standard for the Tea Party and, for me, a litmus test for their success. Do they bend the entitlement and defense spending curve sharply downward over the next two decades in what will require a compromise with Obama on such a path?

Do they not yet realize that their future now relies not on demonizing Obama but reaching out to him? The voters are very clear: they want cooperation and compromise. Whoever gets there first will keep more of her principles than the late-comer.

(Photo: Clonnie Lawson of Meadowview, Virginia, attends a rally organized by Americans for Progress on Capitol Hill November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Associated with the Tea Party movement, Americans for Progress members and supporters rallied to 'send a clear message to Washington that voters have spoken this November and that politicians should not pursue big government policies in the Lame Duck session.'B y Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

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