10.20.2010

Bad politics in the Tea Party

Living thirteen hours ahead of Central Standard time has its oddities: I caught the Christine O'Donnell kerfuffle* at the same time I read this from David Frum:
This is the point that people like me and Ross (et tu, Ross?) have been pounding for half a decade: The Fox News audience is not the nation. The Tea Party message — cut taxes and preserve Medicare – does not make sense in policy terms and only appears to work as politics because of (1) low turnout in a congressional year and (2) the anxieties created by recession.
Frum seems to be arguing here against a return to libertarianism and toward a return to the religious conservative base -- that there is, indeed, no hope of really denting the New Deal, so why try? -- while Christine O'Donnell seems very clearly to be arguing against any kind of meaningful separation of church and state.

It's an interesting moment for the Tea Party -- has been, of course, for quite some time -- which becomes increasingly distressing as we get deeper into it and the party refuses to budge. You could put together a convincing case that it's a libertarian groundswell directed against expanding spending and government oversight. And that argument is what keeps me from writing the group off entirely.

You could also argue that it's a party being subsumed by the traditional GOP: that the recent Republican "Pledge to America" is the first plank in that takeover. The Tea Party has never put out a coherent message, has chosen not to come together as a national third force in politics -- which has the effect of choosing to be another peg in the Big Tent. I've been arguing for quite some time that the Tea Party is just another budget-conscious group that gets pandered to ever couple of years when the GOP needs to stir up support. At the moment, the insurgent quality of the Tea Party, its willingness to burn an established moderate Republican in favor of an untried outsider who says the right things. That can easily backfire, though.

The third, and to me, most distressing, argument, is that the libertarian wing of the Tea Party has been bought out by the GOP and overwhelmed by a religious right element.

That argument is borne out with O'Donnell, who clearly identifies quite closely with the social conservative wing of the movement. I think it was also evidenced in the Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor campaign, in which the very explicitly socially conservative Kleefisch beat out the more experienced, thoughtful, and libertarian Brett Davis. The numbers are a bit hard to suss -- and I'd very much welcome our readers' input here -- but to my eyes it looks like Tea Party types broke pretty heavily toward Kleefisch. That's an odd choice for a group that would style itself libertarian.

*And I'll say for the record that I disagree with Althouse on her take on this.