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Should we worry about the Tea Party movement?

We’d like to introduce a new contributor to our blog. Mark is a friend and middle school math teacher who doesn’t live in the area, but whose varied interests in history, education, politics and economics (and baseball) always spark lively conversations. He’s agreed to post periodically, and we hope you’ll enjoy his insights as we do. Welcome, Mark!

The Tea Party movement has filled the political frame for parts of the last year. They’ve worked hard to scare Americans into thinking that socialism, fascism, or communism is around the corner. In doing so they almost derailed Obama’s health care bill. Many Democrats worry that the Tea Party folks are going to inspire a right-wing return to power – first in the mid-term elections this fall and then in 2012 when Obama runs for reelection. I think these fears are overblown.

For one, the Tea Party philosophy is so incoherent as to be hard to even discern. They are against growth in government and at the same time they want the government to create jobs. They are against “socialized” medicine but they defend (and use!) Medicare. Watch a series of interviews with folks at a Tea Party protest and it appears that a fair portion of them are literally unable to answer the simple question: “What is your program?” A crowd of angry people with neither focus nor leadership is quite capable of riling things up for a while but they rarely get anything accomplished over time.

Will they develop a clear focus that might allow them to carry out a plan? I doubt it. They want to take over the Republican Party but they actually oppose many of the ideals of the Republicans. The GOP has for decades been the party of Wall Street and corporate America while the Tea Party crowd maintain that they hate the power and influence of bankers and financiers. If they take over the GOP, they will disable it for a few years much the way the Goldwater “success” crippled the GOP in 1964. More likely, the Republicans will absorb and co-opt them and they will disappear the way so many movements have over the years.

It’s not that I think the Tea Party movement is going to simply disappear. More likely it will fade away slowly without accomplishing much. How could it accomplish much? The movement is mostly an angry reaction to the way American society is changing. And the Tea Partiers are powerless to change those trends.

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