Today is April 15 — Tax Day — and thus a suitable occasion to assess the tea party movement and its prospects.
It’s been an amazing year for a spontaneous movement sparked initially to oppose President Barack Obama’s $789 billion economic stimulus plan, nationalization of General Motors and Chrysler, and conversion of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program for Wall Street into a permanent government bailout fund. The movement then gathered tremendous momentum last summer and expanded as it became clear Obamacare meant a government takeover of private health care.
In recent months, it’s often seemed that Obama and Democratic congressional leaders were purposely taunting tea party activists by writing 2,000-plus page bills behind closed doors, mocking parliamentary rules designed to insure fairness and minimizing corruption charges surrounding business-as-usual politicians like House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel.
As a result, the tea party movement has become a fulcrum of the center-right majority of Americans who want lower taxes, less bureaucracy, and more transparency and accountability at all levels of authority. Recent surveys by Rasmussen, Gallup and Pew clearly indicate these views are more popular with the general public than are Obama’s major policies.
It also has become clear in recent days that the movement consists not just of conservative Republicans, but also encompasses Democrats and, especially, political independents. It appears, as was suggested recently by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, that American politics is dividing into two distinct and hostile camps — the 60 to 70 percent who favor limited government, economic freedom and traditional morality at home and American exceptionalism abroad versus the 30 to 40 percent who want higher taxes and spending in an American version of the European welfare state, not to mention an apologist foreign policy that bows to emerging world powers and anybody else with a gripe against the U.S.
Thousands of tea party demonstrations are expected around the country today, but the movement must decide whether its purpose is merely to organize demonstrations and express outrage or to move on to the next crucial stage of a successful grassroots revolution — electing a new generation of public officials with the guts to make the hard decisions required to enact genuine reforms. That will require activists — millions of whom have never before been interested in politics — to get involved in both political parties as volunteers, party officials, candidates for elective office and campaign donors at every level of government.
For those yet to be involved, the Post-Party Summits political organizing workshops convening in coming weeks in cities around the country would be a great place to start. Just Google “Post-Party Summits.”