I've been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement, and feel I've figured out a few things.
The Tea Party Movement is not a political party, it has no clear leaders, it is an amorphous grass-roots movement without a clear platform. The people in the movement dislike politics as usual and don't want there to be leaders or a platform. A few issues are central
- Fear that Obama, with the filibuster-proof majority he had (note past tense) in the senate, was going to take the country wildly toward the political left.
- Objection, in principle, to the bailouts, particularly of Wall Street firms.
- Concern about increased taxation and the growth of the federal government.
- The Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party is not entirely a side issue, in that it agrees with all 3 of what I have listed as the central concerns of the Tea Party. Most people in the Tea Party, however, would probably not agree with the Libertarians' advocacy of the legalization of prostitution, all drugs, and gambling.
- The John Birch Society, which espouses theories about communist conspiracies.
- Various efforts to end the Federal Reserve, or undermine the independence of its monetary policy.
- Advocates against illegal immigration. For 8 years, the Bush administration failed to take any serious measures on this issue, and some people are hoping the new movement will embrace it.
- The fear is generated by people seeing the values of their 401k's and their homes drop radically, at the same time, in 2008. This fear is compounded by the fact that few people understand the economics of what happened. Also there are many casualties who have lost their jobs and/or their homes.
- Fear of a new black president who had the most liberal voting record in the senate.
- There is great anger over the bailouts. Senator Diane Feinstein, for example, said that 90% of the phone calls and emails her office was receiving about the bailout were against it, yet she voted for it. The bailout of Wall Street was one of the most unpopular things the government has ever done. The fact that many Republicans, including Bush and McCain, supported the bailout, left many conservatives feeling betrayed.
- Anger at the Democratic decision to stimulate the economy with increased government spending rather than via a tax cut.
Regarding issue #1, the desire to obstruct Obama in anything he was going to do, the Tea Party has had some success -- it helped elect a Republican to fill the position vacated by Edward Kennedy, ending Obama's filibuster-proof majority in the senate. But this could have been accomplished by just helping the Republican Party.
Regarding issue #2, anger over the bailouts, the Tea Party can do nothing. The bailouts are in the past. They can try to prevent more bailouts from happening, but that's about it.
Regarding issue #3, desire to shrink the government, the Tea Party can accomplish nothing. Republicans have a record, under Reagan and W, of cutting taxes without commensurate spending cuts. This was irresponsible and caused huge deficits. At some point, if this effort is to be successful, there needs to an agreement on what services will be cut and then a bill needs to get through congress. That's really hard, and to do it, you need to have an organization that can hammer out a specific platform -- there's no way that sort of difficult consensus can be formed by a leaderless, platformless, amorphous mob.