History is not kind to every insurgent movement: some succeed and change things for ever; many others make their point and then fade. This is probably what will happen to the amorphous Tea Party movement in the US which most commentators believe won famous victories in the midterm elections earlier this month. But “Now they are ringing the bells, soon they will be wringing their hands.” The decline, I am sure, starts now.Splitism
The first reason for thinking this is the natural propensity of movements everywhere to split along their hidden tectonic faults. There are always going to be, for instance, extremists pitching against the moderates. No sooner has one split happened then the forces begin building up towards another, and then another. (Think revolutionary France, or Iran after the fall of the Shah, or the IRA, ETA etc etc). As the split factions split themselves, each bit loses momentum. The movement loses cohesion and starts disassembling as either prominent figures ‘sell out’ or get disavowed for their extremism and violence.
In the case of the Tea Party, this fissiparous tendency is already showing itself. It’s clear, for instance, that many in the mvement are ordinary, decent folk (ODF) who are very worried indeed about the US econmy, jobs, mortgages, health costs and perceived government profligacy. Others are more ideological and evidently see this as their moment to start dismantling the state. These libertarians include very wealthy people who don’t like paying taxes or being subject to statutory regulations, at all. All they want to do is be free to make money. They see in the Tea Party movement as a useful vehicle for their ambitions despite the fact that the ODF have a different agenda. The moment when some of the ODF start thinking, for example, that state-funded medical care is not all bad, there will be a split. Indeed, that is already happening.
The second cloud no bigger than a man’s hand is the attitude of the Republican Party. The GOP has already noticed how two good prospects of winning seats in the Senate were thrown away by successful Tea Party mobilisation in support of other, ‘off piste’ candidates. The Republican leadership, such as it is at present, should not forget and forgive this friendly-fire incident, nor will they. Being the natural party of the Right, the GOP is entitled to ask what the Tea Party thinks it is doing and, because there will be no good answer to that question, move against it. This will open a divide between the natural propensity of the Republicans to favour Wall Street and its limitless promises of funding, and those in the Tea Party who will soon wake up to discover that they are being exploited by big finance and big business. This can all be described in convincing detail by the Democrats, were they have a mind to do so.
The third reason is that now that the Republicans are in legislative power and able to favour their tea-drinking friends – to the extent they wish to, that is – they find themselves up against the realities of power and responsibility. Both the GOP and the ODF will find that they cannot oppose everything. But that means they risk being seen as complicit in whatever measures now have to be taken, for example, to boost the economy and increase jobs. It is a paradox that the only entity apart from the Fed able to take strategic action to increase jobs etc is the government, which tea drinkers allegedly think should not exist.
As a test of GOP leadership, responsibility and guile, this problem of percption will have no equal. Once the Republicans start being seen as ‘going along with’ any sort of moderate legislation proposed by the White House, however necessary, the accusations of betrayal will begin. Then we shall start hearing about disillusionment.
The great exception, of course, is health care. As soon as ODF notice that people in blue states whose governors have signed up for implementing ‘Obamacare‘ will soon be generally better off than fellow citizens in other states whose administrations have refused to do so, the penny will drop. Even more than is the case now, being healthy will depend on where in America you live. Is that ever covered on Fox News?
Not everything the Obama administration does in this regard is all bad, surely. Andrew Rawnsley reckons that this will help President Obama to win re-election in 2012. I agree, especially as there is as yet no convincing Republican candidate in sight (Governor Palin? Not even the GOP likes her as much now). It all seems an extraordinary juncture in American politics but, in such a dynamic society, things will start changing again very soon. I would not assume that the Tea Party will be undamaged by that inevitable process.