I have an editorial feature set to appear in Sunday's Sacramento Bee on the Tea Party phenomenon and what it all means. Although I'm somewhat allergic to transitory populist political enthusiasms and... well... the insane, I'm generally predisposed to liking the Tea Party people, for reasons that should be made clear in the piece.
This has been quite the week for tea party analysis and opinion, coming as it does roughly a year after the first real protests in Seattle and Denver and just a few days after the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
Here is a round-up of the tea party commentary from this past week:
• Richard Brookhiser explores tea parties and the American political tradition (The Wall Street Journal):
A political revolution is different from a political revolt and takes a lot more leg work. The postwar conservative movement's takeover of the GOP began with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, led through the false dawn of Richard Nixon, and bore fruit only with Ronald Reagan's third run for the nomination.
The tea parties have made history, though. They stopped a monster of social engineering, stole a president's halo, enraged their enemies, and made a fashion statement.
• The Economist surveys "scenes from a counter-revolution" in Nashville:
One thing that became clear in Nashville however was that the 600 or so solid conservative types, mostly middle-aged and many of them women, who shelled out $549 for a ticket to attend were not interested in minor modifications of Mr Obama’s health plan, budget or cap-and-trade legislation. As a name that harks back to the Boston Tea Party suggests, they see themselves as revolutionaries, or counter-revolutionaries. They want to “take back” an America which they say has been going wrong for generations as successive administrations have bloated the federal government and trampled on the constitution and the rights of states and individuals. Many of those attending said that Mr Obama’s election and big-spending, deficit-expanding first year had been a sort of negative epiphany. “Suddenly I’m awake,” said Kathleen Gotto from Colorado Springs, who had not previously been involved in politics.
• David Broder saw Nashville as Sarah Palin's party and praised "her pitch-perfect populism" (Washington Post):
This is a pitch-perfect recital of the populist message that has worked in campaigns past. There are times when the American people are looking for something more: for an Eisenhower, who liberated Europe; an FDR or a Kennedy or a Bush, all unashamed aristocrats; or an Obama, with eloquence and brains.
But in the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty -- and potentially, to Obama as well.
...Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.
• Reason's Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie argue that the independent-minded tea partiers' thirst for limited government is more than just some marginalized shouting (Honolulu Star-Bulletin):
As long as there are politicians in both parties who preach "fiscal responsibility" while delivering the opposite, who "punish" bad banks by saying mean things about them while handing over billions, and who treat capitalism as a process that begins with government benevolence, there will be both a Tea Party movement and broader political tendency underneath it. Americans have ridden these two worn-out husks of political parties since the 19th century; it's no wonder that voters are defecting in droves.
• Mark Davis explained what the tea party movement is -- and isn't (Dallas Morning News):
The Tea Party movement is not "anti-tax." It is against confiscatory taxes, outlandish taxes, excessive taxes – choose your adjective. But this "anti-tax" nonsense is the same kind of obnoxious slander as calling people who favor strong borders "anti-immigration."
The Tea Party movement is not driven by social conservatism. That doesn't mean you won't find plenty of tea partiers who are devout advocates of protecting the unborn and traditional marriage – it's just that the Tea Party engine is driven first and foremost by a desire to return government to its proper constitutional limits and run it with a lot less money. Anyone driven by that passion is welcome in any roomful of tea partiers, no matter what views they may hold about God and gays.
• E.J. Dionne thinks he knows "what fuels the grass-roots rage" (Washington Post):
Anti-statism, a profound mistrust of power in Washington, dates all the way to the Anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution because they saw it concentrating too much authority in the central government. At any given time, perhaps 20 to 25 percent of Americans can be counted on to denounce anything Washington does as a threat to "our traditional liberties."
This suspicion of government is not amenable to "facts" -- not because it is irrational, but because the facts are beside the point. For the anti-statists, opposing government power is a matter of principle.
Dionne makes it sound like that's a bad thing.