Some brief thoughts on the failure of the Tea Party.

Since the economic crisis of 2008, the U.S. has seen the emergence of two populist movements: the Occupy movement, devoted to the dismantling of the global capitalist oligarchy; and the Tea Party movement, devoted to the sending of really angry Republicans to Washington.

I’m not really in a place to judge the former, since their goals are more nebulous and their action more local, but recent events have made it really, really obvious that the Tea Party has failed by any objective measure. Let me give a couple thoughts on why.

It’s failed to make its case.

The problem with a representative democracy is that it’s majority-ruled. (Yes, imperfectly. But still.) And in a majority-ruled society, it’s nearly impossible to get anything done without at least a sizable chunk of the population on your side.

According to polls, the Tea Party has never had the support of much more than 25% of the population. In other words, three-fourths of the U.S. either disagrees with their agenda or has no opinion.

Now, let me be clear: that doesn’t mean Tea Partiers are wrong, necessarily. It might, in fact, be true that government spending is out of control, and that we need a balanced budget, and we need to lower taxes, and that Obamacare is satan incarnate. But even if they’re right, they have yet to actually convince anyone they are.

Their problem — both inside the beltway and outside of it — is that they’ve failed to evolve beyond their initial form as a bunch of angry protestors waving signs. When you’re a protestor, you can be as angry and obnoxious as you want; but if you want to govern, you have to get the people on your side. The Tea Party has gone the opposite direction, branding everyone who disagrees with them even a little as a “traitor,” “not a real American,” or — the worst of all insults — a “RINO.”

When you engage in that sort of rhetoric, you don’t win allies. When you don’t win allies, you can’t lead. If you can’t lead,  you won’t achieve your goals.

It’s failed to achieve its goals.

I think the simple way to put this is: if everything is a crisis, then nothing is.

Again: divisive, apocalyptic rhetoric is fine when you’re protesting — but once you end up in the government, people expect you to actually accomplish things. The Tea Party’s strategy of blocking everything and threatening to destroy the U.S.’s credit rating at the drop of a hat clearly doesn’t work.

When you don’t control a majority of the government, there are only two options for making things happen. You can either try to win others to your side (see above), or you can work to compromise with the other side. The Tea Party has done neither. Instead they’ve tried to manufacture leverage where they had none, by threatening shutdowns and defaults — the practical equivalent of “We’re so sure [insert Obama administration policy] will destroy the country that we’re willing to destroy the country to prevent it.”

Even if they’re right about this one — even if Obamacare will really destroy America somehow — their strategy to block it made no sense, and very obviously so. If they really believed Obamacare was the threat they insisted it was, they ought to have responded by adopting a strategy that would have actually been effective in preventing its implementation. The doomed-from-the-start strategy they chose implied that either (a) they have no idea how to lead, or (b) they never actually believed their own rhetoric. Or both.

I don’t know if any of this spells the end for the Tea Party or the GOP, but certainly I find it difficult to take either seriously anymore. I’m just an insignificant moderate Democrat watching with morbid awe, but I would humbly suggest that if they have any desire not to vanish into oblivion, they figure out what they really stand for and how they can actually make it happen.



If you don’t read more of my writing, you and everyone you love will die:

I’m orthodox, not conservative.

Gun Nuts and Abortion Nuts are Exactly the Same (and if this post doesn’t offend absolutely everyone, I should just give up)

Gun Control at Chick-fil-A: Confessions of a Culture Troll

5 thoughts on “Some brief thoughts on the failure of the Tea Party.

  1. It was enough to make me change my registration to ‘I’ officially, since i can’t officially be a ‘Libertarian’ in Oklahoma. I wanted to keep my Primary voting options, but I can’t be even an insignificant statistical part of my former party any more. Not this R-Party.

    • I can understand the disgust, Dallas, but I’m a little curious: are you worried at all about the consequences of a mass exodus of reasonable people like you from the GOP? In other words, does it worry you at all that you’re leaving one of our two major political parties with nothing but crazies?

      • This brings up a good point. I’m independent and since my voting is pretty much useless I’ve decided to join the dominant party of the area I’m in. So, here in Chicago I’m registered as Democrat and when I move back to Oklahoma I’ll register as Republican. The idea is that since the other party has basically no chance of winning I can vote for the least crazy candidate. Or, I’m thinking of moving to a swing state so my vote will count.

  2. Dallas, I don’t really understand a Libertarian leaving the Republican Party over the Tea Party movement, which is largely Libertarian?

  3. Pingback: Prebylutheranism 2nd Anniversary Spectacular! (My Top 10 Posts Ever) | The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism

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