How the Tea Party's Noxious Legacy Will Haunt Us for Years
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You could make the argument that the Tea Party movement is the most potent force in American politics today. After all, the evidence is everywhere -- especially in Washington, where Republican lawmakers pushed the previously-unheard-of, tea-flavored notion that disaster aid for hurricane victims can only be paid for by cutting social programs. That was advocated by the same Tea Party faction, swept into office last fall, that has scuttled any talk that higher taxes -- even on millionaires and billionaires who thrived in an era of working-class decimation -- could ever be part of the Beltway's obsession with debt reduction. From making support for generally accepted global warming science melt faster than an Arctic glacier, to folks cheering the death penalty and then booing a gay solider serving in Iraq at GOP presidential debates, the anti-government, anti-science, anti-knowledge 26 Percenters of the Tea Party movement have been the angry tail wagging the confused dog of American police for the last 30 months. Right?
Yes, you could make that argument.
But here's the weird thing -- if the Tea Party is really such a powerhouse of political influence ... where has it been recently?
It wasn't at the small crowds for Tax Day rallies back in April (including small crowds for Sarah Palin and Donald Trump), or at the " small" crowd of only 200 activists who showed up in March for a D.C. rally in favor of shutting down the government, or the less than 100 people who were rousted this summer to rally for the Tea Party's stance on the debt ceiling (pictured at top), even with supposed movement's superstars Sens. Rand Paul and Jim DeMint at the podium.
Where's the Tea Party? It's not in Las Vegas, where the swanky Venetian Hotel has been suing Tea Party Nation for more than $600,000, for canceling a planned convention last fall when it couldn't deliver nearly enough people for the more than 1,800 hotel rooms it had once reserved. You could also fairly ask what happened to the nearly 100,000 people who showed up at the National Mall just 13 months ago for a rally organized by and starring the then-king of all right-wing media, Glenn Beck. But a better question would be simply -- what happened to Glenn Beck? Little more than a year removed from the cover of Time and The New York Times Magazine, Beck has lost his main platform on the Fox News Channel, been booted from the airwaves in Philadelphia and New York, and taken his shtick to the narrowcasting world of Internet TV.
Sure, there's no question that the so-called Tea Party philosophy is fueling the discussion in Washington and in the media these days -- where every conversation on spending begins and ends with "cutting," where every notion about government boils down to "how much less." But the bizarre thing is that this ongoing influence seems to be playing out against a broad canvas that seems to be missing the existence of an actual Tea Party.
Did the Tea Party become, in that famous Sherlock Holmesian expression, the dog that did not bark?
For the most part, yes. So what was all that barking that woke America up in the middle of the night?
It was the right-wing media, and its echoes, that you heard.
When historians look back on the surge and decline of the Tea Party movement in America, and they will, I believe the focus will be how something that was real -- anger and fear among a segment of the middle class that has been decimated by the decline of the U.S. economy -- was hijacked by a band of high-def hucksters, starting with media stars and their bosses seeking ratings, attention, and cash, not necessarily in that order. The behind-the-scene billionaires eager to save their oligarchy, and the craven politicians that they own, piled on later.