The Tea Party’s Moment
Jeffrey Bell offers a good review of the tea party phenomenon and movement, but I think he picks the wrong moment of ignition:
By far the most pivotal event happened on August 7. That was the day a 45-year-old mother of five who had a month earlier announced her resignation as governor of Alaska, definitively ending her political career according to nearly every elite analyst, posted five paragraphs on her Facebook page. The post was titled “Statement on the Current Health Care Debate.” Its second paragraph paraphrased conservative economist Thomas Sowell as observing that “government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost.” Sarah Palin went on to pose a question Sowell’s dictum implicitly raised: “And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”
Through the lens of establishment politics, that may be the critical occurrence, but from my perspective in the cheap seats, the ultimate catalyst was the YouTube video of Arlen Specter facing angry shouts at his suggestion that the healthcare legislation must move quickly. That’s when Americans called “BS,” and when they realized that they could be heard, not only by their ostensible representatives, but by anybody who might happen upon a choice online video.
Online fame (such as it is) was perhaps a motivation for making events of the summer’s town hall meetings, but the desire to be heard by political leaders has galvanized the longer-term movement, as Bell goes on to elaborate:
Completely absent both from the Hoffman campaign mounted by Conservative-party chairman Michael Long and from the various independent-expenditure grassroots efforts were the usual arguments, so ubiquitous among national Republican elites and Washington-based conservatives, over which issues to talk about and which not to. Hoffman included both social and economic issues in his campaign materials, and so did the independent grassroots efforts. Private polling found that both social and economic issues were contributing to Hoffman’s unexpected surge.
This wasn’t because the activists and voters who swung behind Hoffman agreed with one another on every issue or cared about all issues equally. They didn’t. Rather, the threat of being marginalized by someone well to the left on virtually every issue seemed more important than intra-conservative disagreements.
That’s worth remembering as the keepers of the standard running political narrative insist on a homogeneous political class.