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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Power of the Tea Party

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. ... Done...the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven." --George Washington and the delegates.

The quote above is the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America — our founding document and the bylaws for the governance of our nation. When I was attending Parma Senior High School we would recite this or the Pledge of Allegiance one a daily basis. I doubt that 1 in 100 of today’s high school or college students even know what it is. With this preface I will now move on to the point of this Blog — the Tea Party and its influence on today’s body politic.

Nearly every American with a political memory recalls that Texas billionaire Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the vote when he ran for president as an independent candidate in 1992. Less well known is what happened to that vote afterward. Therein lies an intriguing political lesson that bears on today’s Tea Party movement, which emerged on the political scene nearly 17 months ago and has maintained a sustained assault on the Republican establishment ever since.

Just this week, the Tea Party scored another upset triumph, this time in Delaware, where protest candidate Christine O’Donnell outpolled establishment scion Michael N. Castle in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It was merely the latest in a string of political rebellions that have shaped this campaign year much as the Perot phenomenon influenced American politics in the 1990s.

Two years after the Texan’s remarkable 19 percent showing, the Perot vote — a protest movement spawned primarily by political anxiety over what was considered fiscal recklessness at the federal level (sound familiar?) — washed away the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. In a stern rebuke to President Bill Clinton, the Perot constituency gave full congressional control to the Republican Party for the first time in four decades. And then, just two years later, it turned around and helped elect Clinton to a second term.

The political lesson, worth pondering in these times of Tea Party rumbling, is that serious protest movements such as the Perot phenomenon or today’s Tea Party revolt never just fade away. They linger in American politics, sometimes largely unseen but sometimes quite overt, and exert a continuing tug on the course of electoral decision-making. Eventually they get absorbed into one major party or the other. In the process, they often tilt the balance of political power in the country, occasionally for substantial periods of time.

Back in the 1990s, the Perot constituency declared in word and vote that the country was on the wrong track, that the federal government was dysfunctional, that bold reform initiatives were needed to restore American democracy. These voters’ numbers and intensity of feeling rendered them a potent political force. Yet Clinton never clearly addressed their concerns during his first two years in office. He sought to govern as a vigorous leader with a huge electoral mandate when, in fact, he was elected with a mere 43 percent plurality. He announced boldly that his aim was to “repeal Reaganism” — in other words, to throw his 43 percent mandate against the policies of the most popular president in a generation.

Further, he sought to govern from the left at a time when many Americans wanted the Democrats to reshape themselves into a more centrist institution. On issue after issue — gays in the military, his big (for the time) stimulus package, his huge and complex health care initiative — Clinton positioned himself initially on the left, then sought to gain votes by inching his way toward the center. Only on the North American Free Trade Agreement, his most notable accomplishment during those two years (and also an initiative that Perot vehemently opposed), did he begin the process by going for a bipartisan coalition.

Perot’s constituency, which held the political balance of power in the 1994 campaign year, reacted by turning against the president. Election Day exit polls told the story. In Tennessee, the Perot vote broke for the two Republican Senate candidates by a margin of about 75 percent to 20 percent. In Pennsylvania’s Senate race, it was 59 percent to 33 percent. In California’s Senate contest, it was 60 percent to 27 percent. In New York’s gubernatorial race, it was 70 percent to 16 percent. It appeared that the Republicans would be invited to ride the Perot constituency right into the White House two years hence. But then, reacting to major missteps by the new Republican House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, and to Clinton’s forceful change of direction (encapsulated in his declaration that the “era of big government is over” and with the help of Dick Morris), the Perot constituency rewarded a chastened president with another term in office.

Again, exit polls told the story in comparative numbers between the 1992 election and the 1996 election, when Perot’s share of the vote declined to 8 percent. Among independent voters, Perot’s vote share declined from 30 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 1996; among Democrats, from 13 percent to 5 percent; among self-identified liberals, from 18 percent to 7 percent; and among moderates, from 21 percent to 9 percent. Meanwhile, Clinton’s share of the presidential tally among independents rose from 38 percent in 1992 to 43 percent in 1996; among Democrats, from 77 percent to 84 percent; among liberals, from 68 percent to 78 percent; among moderates, from 47 percent to 57 percent. It’s clear that Perot’s 1992 voters gave Clinton his margin of victory in 1996.

Clinton’s center-left governance and deft political “triangulation” — seeking to find just the right coalition for success on any issue — had proved highly effective not only politically but in terms of governmental success. Thus did Clinton soothe the electorate and help blunt the anti-government populism that had been percolating in American politics for a number of years, fueled by such things as an attempt by members of Congress to give themselves a pay raise through a back-door maneuver that precluded any need for a public vote and revelations of House members routinely kiting checks at the so-called House Bank. Clinton restored a sense that the government was working again, and given the agitations of the electorate when he took office that represented a significant achievement.

One must always be careful with historical analogies, and the Tea Party movement differs from the Perot phenomenon in many important respects. The Tea Party activists are more conservative, more ideologically energized, probably more intense in their anger, and much more inclined to conduct their insurgency within one party (the GOP). If, as expected, these agitated voters contribute to a big Republican victory in this year’s congressional elections, it is almost inconceivable that they will turn around two years from now and foster a Barack Obama re-election triumph. Unlike Clinton Obama is an ideologue who has surrounded himself with radial left wingers and Dick Morris now supports conservatives Also we were attacked by Islamists on September 11, 2001, an event that changed this nation more than the political elites will admit.

The Tea Party rallies and angry town hall meetings of last summer took everyone by surprise. But according to pollsters Scott Rassmussen and Doug Schoen, they shouldn't have: populist movements have always arisen in times of economic hardship and uncertainty. The book, "Mad as Hell," uses extensive and original research to explore the mind and heart of the recent populist uprising.

Peggy Noonan, a past critic of the Tea Party movement writes in the Wall Street Journal; “Here is Jonathan Rauch in National Journal on the tea party's innovative, broad-based network: "In the expansive dominion of the Tea Party Patriots, which extends to thousands of local groups and literally countless activists," there is no chain of command, no hierarchy. Individuals "move the movement." Popular issues gain traction and are emphasized, unpopular ones die. "In American politics, radical decentralization has never been tried on such a large scale." Here are pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen in the Washington Examiner: "The Tea Party has become one of the most powerful and extraordinary movements in American political history." "It is as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties." "Over half of the electorate now say they favor the Tea Party movement, around 35 percent say they support the movement, 20 to 25 percent self-identify as members of the movement."

Noonan continues;”So far, the tea party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when GOP operatives dismissed tea party-backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The Republican establishment is "the reason we even have the Tea Party movement," shot back columnist and tea party enthusiast Andrea Tantaros in the New York Daily News. It was the Bush administration that "ran up deficits" and gave us "open borders" and "Medicare Part D and busted budgets.”

Noonan uses the analogy of a yard stick to describe the current problem with Republicans.  She states that if you consider the liberal, progressive policies of the left to be at the 36 inch mark and the fiscally responsible ideology of the constitutional conservatives to be at the 0 mark you would think that all negotiations in congress would begin at the 18 inch mark. It doesn’t work this way. Today negotiations begin with the liberals starting at the 30 inch mark and the Republicans pulling it back to the 28 mark and claiming a victory. Just look at the Health Care bill as an example. The Tea Party folks want begin at zero and will give way to the 5 inch mark. This is a far cry from the Perot days.

As I wrote in my Blog a few days ago “The Tea Party is not a monolithic party. There are many Tea Parties across the nations. There is the Tea Party Express, Project 21, the 9/12 movement, Tea Party Patriots, The National Tea Party Coalition, Tea Party Nation and Freedom Works to name a few. The liberal media along with their useful idiots in the so called conservative press wants to define the legitimacy of Tea Party.”

One of the strengths of the Tea Party movement is they do not focus on cultural or social issues. They stay focused on government, spending and taxes. This keeps the door of the big tent wide open. While the cultural and social issue may fuel the passions of many of the proclaimed members they are not trying to push that agenda right now. No doubt as their influence grows this may change. Also, most of the candidates the Tea Party backs are not only fiscal conservatives but constitution, cultural and social conservatives. It seems to go with the territory.

Unlike 1996 and the Perot phenomena today’s voters have a great deal more to be angry with. They are fed up with big government spending and regulations, high taxes, government largess, the elite and liberal media, our out of control government schools where parents are locked out of the decision making process, open borders, town hall meetings where their representatives display arrogance and scorn towards them and colleges and universities that are filled with anti American and radical left professors.

They fed up with being told they cannot have a Christmas tree in the public square, sex and gender education in kindergarten (Montana of all places), race baiting, mandated diversity programs, failed government programs, government employee unions and the constant bashing of conservatives by the media and the political elite.

Recent recipients of this carping by the media and political elites — even Republicans are Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell. Not much more can be said about Palin, she is the most popular and the most hated conservative in the nation. Yet, she constantly outdraws her Republican colleagues wherever she appears. She has done more to revitalize and energize conservatives and Republicans than a dozen Mitch McConnells, Mitt Romneys or John McCains.  She currently has a .700 batting average with the 36 candidates she has endorsed. With a batting average like this in the major leagues you are a shoe in for Cooperstown.

Sharon Angle running for Harry Reid’s senate seat in Nevada was all but written off after winning the Republican nomination with Palin and Tea Party support. On July 16th she was trailing Reed by 7 points (44-37). The latest Rasmussen poll (September 14th) has them dead even at 48-48. If Hary Reid gets his Dream Bill attached to the current military spending bill you can bet your bottom dollar that Angle will jump in the polls.

The latest subject of media bashing and vitriol is Christine O’Donnell of little ole Delaware. In her bid for Joe Biden’s seat she unseated the long time RHINO establishment politician Mike Castle for the Republican nomination. Once again the Tea Party and Palin hit a home run. O’Donnell defeated the long serving and lone Congressman of Delaware and once governor in a heated and divisive campaign. With very little money and much support from the conservative radio talkers she beat Castle by a respectable margin. No sooner had the networks called the race for her the media and Republican elites began bashing little ole Christine. They pulled out all of the stops on this one. Everything from her tax problems to her sexual history was thrown against the wall. It’s amazing how fast the media can dig up dirt on a person they don’t like and they still cannot get Obama’s academic records or accomplishments.

Castle in his vain, self-centered and arrogant way, typical of congressmen who feel entitled to their seat, failed to endorse her. Well, endorsement or not in 72 hours her campaign coffers have risen from $20,000 on the eve of the election to $1,668,035.76 at 15:35 hours (PDST) on September 17, 2010. If you want to watch a national phenomena go to her web site and hit the refresh button on your browser ever ten minutes or so and watch the total grow. It’s like watching the tide come in at the Bay of Fundy.

This is the same for other RHINOs like Charlie Christ and Arlen Specter. When Specter realized he could not win the Republican primary in Pennsylvania he made a deal with Obama and jumped to the Democrat party where he was eventually defeated by Joe Sestak (a politician with a questionable character) by a margin of 54-46.

When Charlie Christ, the governor of Florida, realized he would not defeat Marco Rubio in the Florida primary for the senate he became an “independent”. Rubio, a Tea Party backed candidate, was believed by the media elites to be mortally wounded by this move as it would split the Republican vote and elect the Democrat to the seat in November. In a recent poll Rubio has a significant lead over Christ and the Democrat, Kendrick Meek, by 40-26-21. Yet another apparent victory for a Tea Party and Palin backed conservative.

What I find hypocritical is that all three of these conservatives are women and the feminist groups like NOW, are silent on the treatment they get. While these women’s groups are quick to jump to the defense of a “liberal” woman for the slightest sexually perceived barb they turn their back on one of their own gender when it comes to their politics. There is only one reason for this and it’s their position on abortion. If you have a contrary view to their views on so called “reproductive rights’ they close the door on the big tent of the Democrat party.

Tea Partiers do not want 3000 page national health care bills, auto company bailouts, big, complex stimulus programs that do not work, unsecured boarders, legislation by judicial fiat and massive amounts of illegal immigration. And most off all they believe they are losing more of their freedoms every day.

In a recent Rasmussen poll 68% of those polled believes Congress has lost their moral authority over this Republic. Their disdain for the ruling government is as high or higher that in the 1770s when talk of a revolution was prevalent. The symbol of the Tea Party’s “Don’t Tread on Me” flag says it all. They view Congress as not paying attention to them and when they do elect members who promise to do their will its similar Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Trust soon vanishes.

Unlike our Founding Fathers who were farmers, businessmen, inventors, brewers, silversmiths and commercial traders most of the members of Congress or our state legislatures have never held a paying job in their lives. They have never employed anyone using their own money. Ted Kennedy, the icon of the Democrat party, lived off his daddy’s money his whole life and was addicted to spending other people’s money for his feel good or political expedient programs. He never took personal responsibility for anything he did.

In my state of California we have a man running for governor, Jerry Brown (governor moonbeam) who never held a private sector job or was personally responsible for his employees in his life. Yet he is running, once again for governor of this fiscally troubled state. In his campaign commercials he continually states he will reduce taxes, lower the state’s deficit and bring Sacramento back to fiscal health. He also claims he will spend more for education, teachers, fireman, police officers and all the other darlings of the Left.

No other than the Kingfish himself, the liberal Willy Brown, once the most powerful figure in Sacramento claims that “roughly 80 cents of every government dollar in California goes to employee compensation and benefits. Those costs have been rising fast. Spending on California's state employees over the past decade rose at nearly three times the rate our revenues grew, crowding out programs of great importance to our citizens. Neglected priorities include higher education, environmental protection, parks and recreation, and more."

Jerry (Moonbeam) Brown can never do what he is promising the citizens of this state. Why? Well you see Brown has been supported by every government employee and teacher union in this state. He is also supported by the storm troopers of the SEIU. If you DVR his commercials and hit the pause button on replay you will be able to read who is paying for his campaign commercials. So, how can Brown live up to what he promises if he has to take an axe to the very people and organizations that are supporting him. Again, it’s like Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football.

No matter what happens in November the Tea Party movement will not fade away with this year’s election returns. It will disrupt the routine business of American politics for some time to come. Eventually, it will be absorbed into the two-party system and cease to be an independent force — but only after its angers have been assuaged one way or another, by a change in governmental direction. If not we may experience what happened in 1856. John Freemont, the candidate of the newly formed Republican Party lost to James Buchanan and four years later the republican Abraham Lincoln, who served only one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (1847-1849), became the 16th President of the United States.

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