Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tea Party ain’t no Party!

Be sure you understand, because the name they have chosen tends to fool one, that the Tea Party is not a political party and, because of the nature of political parties, never will be.
by Charlie Leck

Somewhere along the way the Republicans – that is, the pure and original type Republicans – have come to realize that the Tea Party is not a division of, or a part of, the Republican Party. And, with this knowledge in-hand, they have begun to declare their independence from Tea Partiers. Now the Republican Party is seeking to find its way back to a position of strength and credibility.

And I have come to realize that the Tea Party isn’t really a political party. Knowing this makes it easier to understand the Tea Party; and this calms some of the fears I had about it. Now I realize that the Tea Party’s big moment is past. It has already reached its pinnacle and it is now plummeting back down to some realistic place as a “once was movement” in American politics.

What is a political party?
One needs to understand the nature of a political party to see why the Tea Party isn’t one. I’ve been quite significantly involved in party politics since 1968. Comically, it was a rebellion against the sitting and contented Democratic Party that brought me into it. No need to tell the story here. It is enough to tell you that I was elected the Democratic Party chairman of a ward on the southside of Minneapolis and as a delegate to the state convention of the Democratic Party. In those two positions I began to understand what political parties really were and why they exist.

Political parties make sense and, I believe, that they should be seen as essentially necessary. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) played a significant role in founding the contemporary political party system in America. For not a second did Burke believe that parties could be perfect instruments. However, he did believe that parties could encourage a certain level of cooperation among people with common goals (key word is common). He thought they would encourage political leadership to rise above their own interests and factional interests to work for a common good through agreed upon and realistic strategies.

In the biography by Jesse Norman, Burke is depicted as a man of great political strength who believed government could be held to account by organized political parties. Yet, Burke also realized that such parties should never become overly partisan. If they did, Burke felt that they would then fail to understand the broader public interests that were at stake and they would lose their power.

Using Burke’s concept as a means to define political party puts the contemporary Tea Party outside that definition. The Tea Party, which began as a more open libertarian movement, has grown to be a closed and completely doctrinally partisan organization. In other words, there is no room within the Tea Party for dissenters and non-believers. This doctrine, however, does not match that of the standard Republican Party.

I came into the politics as part of a very strong protest movement against the War in Vietnam. In some sense, there was an idea that we could take over the Democratic Party and force it to view the war as we did. Instead, because our convictions were so singularly partisan, we merely split the party, weakened it and allowed for the 1968 election of Richard Nixon (over Hubert Humphrey) to the presidency. This, of course, as seen through the eyes of unbiased historians, was a disaster for America that set us off course for a couple of decades.

It is the kind of thing that the Tea Party is now doing to America. We will see some of the results of this in yesterday’s election results…

I need to make these notes… In Virginia, working on the gubernatorial campaign of his good friend, Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton recently said: “There are more of us who believe that working together is better than constant conflict.” That is the basis for the political party system. It clearly defines the nature of a political party. And Clinton has proven himself one of the most insightful commentators in the world on politics and politicians.

McAuliffe won big in Virginia yesterday because Virginia has a seriously weaken Republican Party, which use to be the majority party in the state. It no longer is by a long shot and isn’t even when one combines the party regulars with members of the Tea Party. And, the Tea Party is clearly responsible for this significant damage to the Virginia GOP. It is happening elsewhere.

In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie easily won reelection. This in a state where only 38 percent of voters favor the Republican brand of politics. The Washington Post says this is “much more about the Chris Christie brand than the Republican brand.” It is true that Christie has kept himself clear of association with less than moderate Republicans.

Even in Alabama, a Tea Party candidate in a congressional primary lost out to a Republican moderate last night. The moderate Bradley Byrne defeat the Tea Party backed Dean Young. It provides significant insight to what is happening in American politics.

[As the day goes on, I’ll add more relevant examples – if there are any – from yesterday’s election results as they become known.]

What the Republican Party is discovering is that it needs more moderate voices and less intolerant, loud, boisterous and radically conservative voices.

A political party without a clear and reasonably common goal is not really a political party.

The Tea Party is a renegade movement and not a true political party. It is similar to the Eugene McCarthy movement of 1968. To this day, I believe the McCarthy movement was correct in its ideology back then, but it failed to establish itself in politics because it did not allow debate, discussion and compromise on its issues. It was only a very short time before I was eased out of my position as ward chairman and state delegate (and I can now see why). The Democratic Party had to return to its more lenient and flexible roots or die. Were we McCarthyites responsible for Hubert Humphrey’s election loss? Yes! We were obstinate and inflexible and clearly indicated it was our way or no way. We got no way!


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  1. Hope you are right about the Tea "Party" but it is much too early to bury it. It is not a party but it is a movement which will be hard to flush,

  2. You may be correct, Tony, but there were good signs in this election that Tea Party candidates are be questioned and even doubted. Alabama, for instance turned away from a Tea Party candidate in Congressional election and elected a moderate, traditional Republican, Bradley Burnye.