What will happen to the Tea Party?
The growth and surging populist strength of the Tea Party has propelled a collection of independently minded citizen from being shamelessly mocked by democratic and republican leaders alike into a real political force to reckoned with. And by “independently minded” I mean that Tea Partiers don’t want the Federal Government interfering in their lives in ways they find uncomfortable. If you were alive over 200 hundred years ago, during the birth of the American nation, then this sentiment would sound familiar.
When George Washington was elected, and re-elected, president he really didn’t need to do any campaigning and he didn’t belong to a political party. However, Alexander Hamilton got the bright idea to form the Federalist political party which conspired, (as all political parties do), to in general promote the interests of bankers as well as the power of the federal government.
The opposing position, simply referred to as the “Anti-Federalists”, opposed a powerful federal government and the Federalists who were viewed as elite intellectuals who lived in cities, far away from the rural countryside where most Americans worked and lived. Anti-Federalists didn’t want a federal government which was more powerful than the states, and they feared that a president could become as powerful as some monarchs in Europe.
Interestingly, the Anti-Federalists of days past are remarkably similar in some respects to the Tea Party. Tea Party members often carry copies of the Constitution, which they view as a sacred document which limits the power of the Obama administration to institute their political policies. It might surprise some Tea Partiers that the anti-Federalists were so afraid of a powerful federal government that they were staunchly opposed to the Constitution itself, though they did add the Bill of Rights which serve to protect the citizenry from possible abuses of federal power. Indeed, the conservative attorney generals who have filed lawsuits to stop the new health care law from being implemented are arguing that the legislation is unconstitutional.
After the Constitution was passed over 200 years ago, the Anti-Federalists had lost the war in the sense that the federal government had become somewhat more established and powerful. Eventually the anti-federalists disappeared from the political scene. Due in large part to the fact that competing interests within the anti-Federalists lead party members to migrate to other political parties.
Over 200 years later we have the Tea Party which is upset in large part due to what they perceive as encroachment of the federal government in their lives. While health care reform would most likely help millions of poor-and middle class-Americans to live longer and healthier lives, there is a basic distrust on the part of Tea Partiers that the health care bill passed into law will live up to its promises.
And this distrust has spread into the main stream media. Not a short time ago there was an editorial in Time magazine which blasted the Obama administration for in essence apparent arrogance and incompetency. Such a thing would have been unthinkable during the President’s first year in office.
Though both the democrats and republicans are quite obviously established national political parties, the democrats have been forced to rely upon federal legislation in order to achieve major political change: Social Security, Medicare, and Civil Rights. The passage of this legislation could not have been achieved on a state level, and the new health legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama would simply not have been feasible on a state level.
Though eventually the bounds of federal power will more or less be established in the sense that there won’t be large pieces of social legislation waiting to be passed. Assume that health care reform is implemented in 2014 with moderate yet growing success and public support. Would another major overhaul of the health care industry be necessary 5, 10 or even 15 years from now?
Most likely not.
Perhaps this is why democrats are somewhat fatigued this election season as a major, and important, piece of social legislation has been passed. What major goals will democratic candidates hash over during the 2012 presidential election? During the 2008 election both Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama talked a lot about making access to health care a universal right, and sadly it may become an unattainable privilege for many undocumented migrants living within the United States. Future clashes between the democratic and republican parties will likely involve debates over how to address the myriad of issues affecting the large latino migrant population in the United States.
But what about the Tea Party? Assume that the Tea Party loses their battle to undo health care reform and upend Washington. Most likely some will become disillusioned but some will harbor distrust of the federal government for years, even decades. While many disenchanted republicans and conservatives turned to the Tea Party after eight years of Bush, republican leaders like Sarah Palin daftly drew the Tea Party quickly back on the side of republicans.
While the Tea Party may be a somewhat bonafide populist movement, the current democratic and republican parties are decidedly not. Yes, candidates of both political strips make tours through the rust belt during election years, bowling, drinking bear, wearing long sleeved shirts with their sleeves rolled up, but when the elections are over politicians clad themselves in high priced business suits, maybe even on the weekends, and make convoluted deals with big business and labor unions.
Though the Tea Party has had trouble articulating what they want, more recently they have coalesced around a couple of goals: 1. reduce the power of federal government, 2. reduce the national debt, 3. repeal health care, 4. support the discovery and use of fossil fuels. Some of this may sound familiar as Ross Perot, who ran against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in 1992, also promoted paring down the national debt. The political party that he founded the “Reform Party” never took off, but his opposition to the establishment in Washington D.C. sounds similar, if not identical, to some ideas promoted by the Tea Party.
Ross Perot received about 19% of the presidential vote in 1992, had he been the republican nominee he might have become president as Perot’s 19% may have shaved off enough votes for Clinton to become elected. Nonetheless, Perot’s grave and obsessive warnings about the national debt, illustrated with a multitude of graphs, may have left an impression on the minds of many young adults who now find themselves perhaps unconsciously supporting the Tea Party.
However, unlike Perot’s Reform Party, the Tea Party hasn’t become a third political party which siphons votes away from republican candidates but rather a feeder political movement which uses the republican party to achieve its goals. A good chunk of the Tea Party candidates aren’t fit for office, but those that do make it through the meat grinder that is the republican primary achieve a sense of legitimacy, despite some notable exceptions like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell.
I think that is where the Tea Party will end-pretty much where it is right now-a political organization which supports primarily conservative candidates who strongly view the federal government with suspicion and who want to decreases taxes and the national debt and which feeds somewhat conservative candidates into the republican party.
Could there be a Tea Party president?
While the Tea Party supports republicans this election cycle, that support could wane, especially if republicans takeover both houses of Congress and the Tea Party’s near-anarchistic goals of tearing down health care and other liberal legislation is not met. Should that happen I think the Tea Party might try harder to help Tea Party candidates win republican primaries around the country. A Tea Party presidential candidate will almost assuredly garner significant political coverage for 2012, and if he or she is both mainstream enough-and Tea Party enough-then they might battle President Obama for the White House. If that happens I’m putting my money on the man who currently occupies the Oval Office.