Blogger face-off: Like Sen. Graham said, will the Tea Party movement die out?

The Hill invites two established bloggers from either side of the political spectrum to sound off on a designated topic in original commentary each Saturday. This week, Ace of Spaces on the right and Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis tackle Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) comment that the Tea Party movement will die out:


Tea Party will never die, but might hibernate

by Ace of Spades

The Tea Party will persist, as it has already persisted. It's not a new phenomenon.

In 1992, Ross Perot garnered 19 percent of the vote -- and polled as high as 39 percent before he erratically exited and then re-entered the race. Perot's Reform Party died out, but the imperatives animating it never really went away. For a few years President Clinton (and a Republican Congress) kept spending down and the deficit abated as an issue only because the deficit itself abated.

It's back now with a vengeance and it's not going away anytime soon.

The old Perotist coalition and the Tea Party aren't the same movement, exactly, but the same two related causes animate them -- that the two major political parties had grown unresponsive and irresponsible, and that their inability to work toward a common good produces results, year after year, in ever higher budget deficits.

For the Tea Party, spending discipline is not merely an economic issue but a moral one, inasmuch as we leave our children a legacy not of hard-earned bounty but rather of irresponsible debt. And, too, it is a moral idea much similar to cleanliness is next to Godliness -- our inability to propose a plausible budget and live within our actual means is an indulgence demonstrating a fundamental unseriousness about our civic duties as Americans. Year after year our Congress leaves its budgetary business half-completed at best with a note to future generations: "You figure the rest of this out, and you pay the price of our inability to do our jobs.”

It’s that moral dimension that gives the Tea Party passion. This isn’t just numbers. It’s not about money. (Although, as is always the case, anytime something is said to be not about money, of course, it’s largely about money.) But it’s about our duty as Americans to do as each generation of Americans has done before us – to do our duty, well and without complaint, and leave the country more prosperous than we found it.

These aren’t new sentiments. They were always there, though they were quieted for a time by the greater crisis of 9/11. It was Barack Obama’s truly alarming deficits – a trillion plus a year, trillions piled upon trillions, stacked upon trillions more in hidden federal obligations to pensions and mortgages – that triggered the “new” interest in the moral cause of not bankrupting our children.

So, will the Tea Party survive? As a visible movement, getting media play and offering candidate endorsements, it might die – if both parties conspire to ignore its will and marginalize its agenda, as parties often have in the past, Tea Partiers might become convinced it's futile and might lose the key ingredient for an energetic, vital movement: *hope* that it could actually succeed. Any movement can have the heart torn out of it.

But were that to happen, the Tea Party wouldn’t die so much as hibernate, waiting for the next Ross Perot or Rick Santelli to call the dormant order to arms once more. And with the Baby Boom generation on the cusp of retirement, and shiftless borrowing slated to equal nearly all of American productive output by the end of the decade, the calls to arms will grow louder and more urgent, not less.

Ace of Spades blogs at Ace of Spades HQ.


Tea Party: Nothing New. Nothing Big.

by Bill Scher

Was GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham correct when he told the New York Times Magazine that the Tea Party would "die out" because "they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country"?

It would be nice if that were the basis on which political parties and movements survived or collapsed. But the Republican Party did not have a coherent vision for governing the country between 2001 and 2008, and it is still around. (Michael Steele notwithstanding.)

The Tea Party can easily survive on blind hatred for responsive government, revulsion of shared responsibility, rampant misinformation and conspiracy theories.

How do I know? Because it has survived for decades.

The Tea Party is nothing new. It is merely the latest incarnation of the right-wing fringe that predictably overheats whenever a left-of-center reformer is elected to the presidency. It was the John Birch Society and the National Indignation Convention in the early 1960s, the Moral Majority and other "New Right" groups in the late 1970s, and Rush Limbaugh's "dittoheads" and the militia movement in the 1990s.

But survival is not the same as significant.

The Tea Party is not large. Poll after poll has shown the Tea Party to be nothing more than a far-right faction of the Republican Party. They do not represent anything close to a majority of the country (a mere 18 percent in the April New York Times poll). And the more other Americans hear about the Tea Party's conservative ideas, the less they like it.

And the Tea Party is not effective. After it's main salvo to kill healthcare reform – spreading the "death panel" smear – was flatly debunked in the September 2009 presidential address, dubious Tea Party claims ceased to be an obstacle to passage. (Reluctant "centrist" Democrats, peddling their own false information about the cost of reform, were the ones who dragged out the process.) The Tea Party's follow-up attack, twisting the Wall Street reform bill into a "permanent bailout" bill, barely registered at all.

Yes, some of the Tea Party's favorite congressional candidates have won Republican primaries. But others have been complete flameouts. Moreover, a conservative candidate winning a Republican primary is a minor achievement at best, and a Pyrrhic victory at worst if these far-right candidates blow it in November and ruin Republican chances to make big gains.

Perhaps a fresh moniker will marginally help to invigorate a conservative base that was rattled by Barack Obama's solid election victory, which may boost Republican candidates in the November midterm elections. But midterm elections often feature an energized opposition while the party in power suffers a conflicted grassroots base in the aftermath of tough governing choices. There's little evidence the Tea Party is playing a unique role.
 
So why is the Tea Party perceived as being so influential?

Because we keep talking about it.

The traditional media has given them disproportionate coverage. No Tea Party protest has come close in size to the anti-Iraq War protests of the prior decade, but no media outlet was ever pre-occupied about how the anti-war movement might reshape national politics.

But the media does obsess about the Tea Party in part because both conservatives and liberals eagerly consume, click, blog and e-mail Tea Party coverage. It's more fun for liberals to be outraged by Glenn Beck than to make sense of Sen. Ben Nelson's votes, even if the latter is far more relevant to our ability to govern ourselves.

And the conservatives themselves are far savvier at manipulating this media dynamic – pushing liberal buttons that gin up online outrage and cable TV debates – than the PR-illiterate anti-war movement.

We will surely keep talking about the Tea Party, despite its meager impact on policy and ordinary impact on politics.

So don't expect the Tea Party to die out anytime soon. But do expect right-wingers to come up with a new catchy name for themselves when the next left-of-center reformer is sent to the White House.

Bill Scher blogs at OurFuture.org, hosts the LiberalOasis Radio Show podcast at LiberalOasis.com, and co-hosts "The Week In Blog" at Bloggingheads.tv.