A faction of the Tea Party movement is gathering this weekend in Nashville for a “national convention” that will feature most prominently among its speakers former Alaska Gov. and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
As usual with the Tea Party movement, this latest event has occasioned a fair amount of internecine bickering that has been gleefully encouraged by obscurantists in the Mainstream Media and their blogospheric allies at sites like the Huffington Post and TPM.
It’s also sparked an unusually intense outpouring of predictably stereotypical caricaturing of supposedly “downwardly mobile” Tea Partiers “as a flowering on the Right of nativism, hyper-patriotism, anti-rationalism, racism and wishful thinking about going back to a happy America that never really existed.”
(One wonders why folks who say such things don’t realize that by relying upon ad hominem slander they appear to be either afraid of engaging the merits of their opponents’ arguments or of being incapable of doing so).
The Nashville event is also producing more debate within and without the Tea Partiers about whether to organize as a third party, mount an assault to retake the GOP from its disingenuous establishment leadership, or to remain independent while seeking to influence both major parties from outside.
The biggest mistake in this discussion is to frame the analysis around the third party issue. Doing that confuses a relic of 19th-century conventional political wisdom with a 21st-century reality.
The Tea Partiers are not a traditional third party movement; they are instead the most visible manifestation yet of what Examiner contributor Glenn Reynolds calls “an army of Davids” made possible by the Internet and that empowers “ordinary people to beat Big Media, Big Government and other Goliaths.”
Third parties have mostly failed thanks to immense institutional ballot access obstacles erected by the two major parties, and the challenge of overcoming geographic separation over vast differences in order to achieve timely concerted action.
But Internet enables these new armies rapidly to overcome distance and resource limitations that would hobble a traditional third party attempt, and instead focus effectively on bringing to bear consistent demands with widespread public support on decision-makers.
They can also, if they choose and organize to do so, impose enduring consequences on recalcitrant or witless decision-makers, as Martha Oakley found out a few weeks ago in Massachusetts.
The issue then for Tea Partiers and political elites alike was posed by Reynolds in a recent Examiner article: When political movements can “bubble up from below, and self-organize via the Internet, what will happen to the political class?”
Going the traditional third party route will lead Tea Partiers to a dead end. Taking over the GOP probably should be pursued in any case, but even if successful would only win half the battle and likely would be temporary in any case.
Why settle for half a victory when Tea Partiers have within their grasp as an independent third force to be the decisive influence in both major political parties?
There is no mystery about what most Tea Partiers seek — a limited, transparent government that listens to them and resists ideologues with millennial blueprints to remake America in their own image, minimal taxation and regulation, strong national defense, and an unapologetic commitment to American exceptionalism abroad.
Tea Partiers should seek out or field candidates in both major parties who support those aims and do everything possible to elect them, then hold their feet to the fire of accountability. Just imagine a bipartisan Tea Party Caucus with sufficient numbers in Congress to drive the national agenda.
That could be a conquering army like none before in American politics.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog on washingtonexaminer.com.