On Tuesday, August 10th, multiple party primaries took place across the United States as part of a steady stream of electoral nominations to occur over the next weeks promoting candidates to battle for election to the US Congress in November, 2010. Colorado’s Republican primary for Senate ended with Ken Buck, the so called “tea party” candidate, easily winning the nomination over the establishment Republican candidate to be the party’s standard barer in the upcoming statewide election in November. The “tea party” has proved to be a potent mix showing staying power and grassroots organization and support, upsetting on many occasions the expected victories of establishment candidates and positioning the movement to be an electoral force on par with major special interest groups.
What the “special interest’ all tea party advocates have in common is the question of the hour. The movement started from an seemingly innocuous morning broadcast of CNBC from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade on February 19th, 2009. Rick Santelli, a CNBC reporter was listening to a debate regarding the proposed mortgage bail-out program of the Obama administration, the so-called Home Owners Affordability and Stability Plan. The conversation strained his capacity for tolerance for the expressed ideas and he went on a several minute rant regarding the outrage he felt for the concept, and the lack of respect by government for people who tried to meet their responsibilities and live within their means. He declared the time was at hand for a new tea party for those who felt the way he did to express their mutual outrage. The power of the internet provided exponential exposure to the rant and suddenly the concept of a new American tea party began to take hold across the nation. Initially an entirely spontaneous process, the organization of this concept has now grown to the point where it has the capacity of sponsoring winning candidates that espouse tea party “principles”, such as Mr. Buck in Colorado, Ms. Angle in Nevada, Mr. Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Mr. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.
The success of the movement outside the control of the establishment parties has led to the inevitable establishment backlash. The Democratic liberal establishment looking at tea party participants sees only the darker shades of demagoguery, implied racism, and fasciistic nationalism. The Republican Washington establishment sees it as a threat to the status quo, an undisciplined group that will prevent the party from achieving diverse outreach, broad based solutions, and re-inforce the “looney toons” conservatism of flat taxes, guns, border control, and libertarian streaks they find so distasteful. The clear indication is that neither party has the capacity to control the tea party message, nor the ability to absorb its electoral power without being changed immeasurably by it. The power source of the tea party is a simple one – as seen by the tea party, the process of government has exceeded the parameters on which it was founded and threatens the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness stated in the Declaration of Independence and encoded in the Constitution. In no small measure, arguments regarding the current controversies of our day framed by governmental expenditures and policies not including these principles are anathema to the tea partiers.
The future of the movement, either to disintegrate from internal division, or to propagate into a compelling force that changes America, will likely be prominently written by the outcome of the November election. If the tea party movement turns out to be the representation of the Silent Majority some claim for it, we will have had the unique advantage of having seen the moment of birth of history in as vivid and precise a pivot point as has ever been recorded.