Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tea Party Starfish

Unbelievably, I'm going to tip the hat to Andrew Sullivan today for an excellent video (though, I suppose I'm tipping the middle-man since he got it from Reihan Salam) by Jonathan Rauch describing the organizational structure of the Tea Party.  The video discusses quite succinctly just why the Tea Party is such a confounding influence to establishment politics on both sides of the aisle.

Alongside this video, Salam's previously linked article provides a fantastic writeup discussing the pro's and con's of a headless kind of organization like the Tea Party, focusing on how so many individuals are able to group together to be activist without having to wait for a chain of command, but with the caveat that such an organization, due to its very lack of leadership, is unable to shape policy.

This "flaw" is, in my opinion, ultimately trumped by what is the most exciting thing about the way that the Tea Party is reshaping politics.  As Salam excerpts Rauch:
But, tea partiers say, if you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country’s political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders’ era. Winning key congressional seats won’t do that, nor will endorsing candidates. “If you just tell people to vote but you don’t talk about the underlying principles,” Martin says, “you just have to do it again and again and again, in every election.”
One hears again, there, echoes of leftist movements. Raise consciousness. Change hearts, not just votes. Attack corruption in society, not just on Capitol Hill. In America, right-wing movements have tended to focus on taking over politics, left-wing ones on changing the culture. Like its leftist precursors, the Tea Party Patriots thinks of itself as a social movement, not a political one.
Centerless swarms are bad at transactional politics. But they may be pretty good at cultural reform. In any case, the experiment begins.

I think, in large part, this is why the rise of the Tea Party has the Left media in full attack mode so vehemently.  The Tea Party is stealing the Left's moves, so the Left knows not what to do other than to attack.  The Tea Party is a social movement with the momentum and force and a building inertia the likes of which has not been seen in this country since the Civil Rights movement.  During Civil Rights, people were willing to stand before their government en masse, risking jail and even their personal safety, well being, and in the most awful cases, their lives, to promote freedom and equality before the law for all members of society.  This was a cause to band together for, to be sure.  Slavery was long over, and so, too, did an end to de-facto slavery by way of repression have to come to an end.

Now we see the Tea Party growing in influence under what its members perceive to be a different type of de-facto slavery, that of the economic vein.  The belief that drives thousands of people to gather in protest of their government is the belief that their government has become incompetent to manage its own affairs, that its profligate spending is by default turning its citizens into indentured servants, destined to work not for their own prosperity or the pursuit of their own happiness, but to work to pay back the debts of a government that has come to believe its citizens owe it their labor.

The Tea Party is hijacking the Left's former tactics, but with a grassroots message of individual liberty.  It is raising consciousness.  It is changing hearts.  It is attacking corruption everywhere it is found, including on Capitol Hill.  As Civil Rights was a movement that generated from the ground up, found its leading voices along the way, raised consciousness and changed hearts, there was eventually legislation and policy.  So too will the Tea Party eventually effect such legislation and policy.  First comes the cultural reform, then comes the transactional politics.

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