Monday, September 20, 2010

The Stealth Third Party

Six months to a year ago, as the Tea Parties were still burgeoning and beginning to establish themselves as a political force across the nation, there was some amount of debate around the subject of third parties.  Much of the talk of third parties ultimately, and perhaps unfortunately, has fizzled away as an interesting combination of events has taken place.  The largely libertarian minded Tea Parties made something of a conscious decision to back preferred candidates in the Republican primaries, while at the same time, the Republican Party, quite against what it would truthfully prefer to do, has, as Dana Milbank points out today, gotten out in front of the movement, posing as de-facto mouthpieces for a movement that it seems all too clear they would deeply prefer not have upset their beloved status quo.
Who in the supposed Republican establishment has opposed the Tea Party?
Not Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "If I weren't chair of the RNC, I'd be out there in the Tea Party movement," he told Greta van Susteren.
Not House Republican leader John Boehner. "There really is no difference between what Republicans believe in and what the Tea Party activists believe in," he told radio host Mike Gallagher.
Not Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Since his favored candidate lost the Kentucky Senate primary to the Tea Party's Rand Paul, McConnell has routinely hurled around Tea Party terms such as "government takeover" and has reveled in blocking President Obama's agenda. "I wish we had been able to obstruct more," he said.
Not National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn. The Texas senator, swallowing earlier misgivings, just sent O'Donnell a check from the party for $42,000.
Not even Karl Rove. After O'Donnell's victory, George W. Bush's "brain" declared on Fox News that "this is not a race we're going to be able to win," citing the "nutty things" she has said. (The nominee has claimed, among other things, that there are mice with human brains.) But after hearing complaints from Tea Party types such as Sarah Palin, Rove returned to Fox News to say that O'Donnell is "not out of the game" and that he was "one of the first" to endorse her.
As establishment Republican leaders have done their best to get out in front of the movement, in what is truly a transparent grasp at remaining in power in D.C., the Tea Party movement itself has begun to have its motivations not only questioned, but sullied as the Republican Party's "politics as usual."  To be sure, for those of us that have found a renewed political and philosophical energy in supporting what has been an exciting ground-up movement searching for a return to more constitutional, freedom-across-the-board-based values at the federal level, it is frustrating to see how easily the Left can simply call us clones of Bush supporters and minions of Rove.

Stuff like this, ingenious as it may be, misreads the truth of the Tea Party movement as part of the Dick Armey-Karl Rove-Newt Gingrich propaganda machine, and clouds the philosophical and political issues at hand that have driven the rise of the Tea Parties.  What driftglass and others on the Left are attempting to do is to rewrite the history of the movement; to say that the establishment Republicans astroturfed the entire movement.  This ignores the fact that the movement has risen up in the face of the establishment Republicans, with such force that in cases such as Christine O'Donnell's nomination, the Tea Party Candidate is elected at risk of the GOP losing the general election.  Conservative voices like Ace, Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove have issued a wide range of responses, from hopeful skepticism (Ace) to apoplexy (Rove).

Tea Partiers have largely rejected treading anywhere near the social politics that so doomed the GOP in its downfall, have been able to avoid the questions of Iraq, Afghanistan and National Security due to President Obama's redoubling of Bush's agenda, and have focused on the necessity to truly zero in our political energies on getting our country's fiscal house in order in the face of monumental debt and deficits.  The public at large is wary of the huge increases in money creation, borrowing and spending that the federal government have undertaken in response to the down economy.  They are wary that by default, the federal government has committed the working lives of its people, its people's children, and its people's grandchildren to working large portions of their lives in the name of paying back its current debts.  Rather than worrying about traditional and stale Republican issues, the Tea Parties focus on the issue that matters most to the American People, and with a message that resonates:  "Your Work, your Money, your Life and your Happiness all belong to you."  For the Left, who believe that the government is the entity that bestows these as gifts upon its citizens, there is no counterargument to this position that does not at its core undermine the values of Liberty and Freedom.

It is for this reason that the Left now turns toward associating Tea Partiers with a failed Republican agenda, and it is for this reason that Tea Party candidates, while running as Republicans, must reinforce the fact that they are not Karl Rove's candidates, but remain the outsiders heading to Washington to clean house.  Tea Party candidates are, in effect, a stealth third party, acting as infiltrators to the establishment, and with an establishment on both sides of the aisle that is more unpopular than ever even Bush was, there is no better message than that.

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