You can barely look at a political website these days without reading a post about the Tea Party movement. Of course, we've heard plenty from liberals. "They're fascist-racist KKK-Nazis!" The Rockefeller Republicans have tut-tutted their opinions from the cocktail circuit as well, "Egads! Some of these people look as if they shop at Wal-Mart!"
However, there are plenty of old school Republicans who don't hate the Tea Party movement per se; they simply don't understand it. So, let's talk about some of the perceptions the establishment Republicans have about the Tea Party movement and why they're mistaken.
The Tea Partiers have a radical agenda! This oft made charge is extremely odd. After all, what are the issues that keep coming up over and over and over when you talk to Tea Partiers? They want to get spending under control, fear that the federal government is getting too big, and they want to stick to the Constitution.
Not only are none of those radical beliefs, the overwhelming majority of politicians in BOTH parties would agree in principle with all 3 items. The most controversial one would be about the government getting too big, but even Bill Clinton said, "The era of big government is over." So maybe the real problem isn't that the Tea Party is "radical." Maybe it's that America's political class has become so comfortable with lying and double talk that telling the truth has started to seem "radical" to them.
These Tea Partiers don't believe in compromise! Tea Partiers believe in compromise, just not what passes for "compromise" in D.C. these days. You see, "compromise" in Washington seems to consist of giving liberals almost everything they want as a starting point and then negotiating how far, if at all, to move from there.
Even when Republicans are in charge, what do we see? Spending goes up, the government still gets bigger, and the Constitution is still ignored. Here's an idea: How about we decide that we're going to stick to the Constitution, dramatically cut spending, and severely curtail the size of government as a starting point? Then, we can negotiate from there about how big of a win we’re going to have instead of conceding ground to the Left on every issue.
The Tea Party is driving away moderates! One of the biggest myths in politics is that moderate candidates are almost always more electable than conservative candidates. Sure, some moderates are more electable than conservatives and vice-versa, but when you look at poll numbers, it's amazing how often the supposedly unelectable conservative candidate does just as well as the moderate, if not better.
The reason why that's true is because the media environment has changed. People are now flooded with information, much of which they consider unreliable. But, if their neighbor says it, a blog they like runs the story, or their favorite talk show host puts it out there, then they buy into it.
Inevitably, it's conservative candidates, not lukewarm moderates, who get people excited and produce that sort of powerful grassroots reaction. Many establishment Republicans will instinctively dismiss what I've just said, but this is the year of fired up Tea Partiers, and where are Independents leaning? They're supporting the GOP 2-to-1.
Do you think that's because of the scintillating moderation of Olympia Snowe or because they're hungry for more John McCain? Please! It's because the Democrats are baiting the hook by doing such a lousy job and the excitement generated by the Tea Party movement is helping to reel the independents in, not frighten them off.
The Tea Party is knocking off important Republicans we need in D.C.! Time and time again after the Tea Partiers have knocked off establishment Republicans, the losers have proven they never cared about anything other than their jobs in the first place. Arlen Specter switched parties. Charlie Crist ran as an independent. Lisa Murkowski is running a write-in campaign. Dede Scozzafava endorsed a Democrat. Mike Castle refused to endorse Christine O'Donnell. Bob Inglis and Bob Bennett mouthed off about conservatives after they lost.
So tell me: why should anyone be sorry that a mediocre, disloyal group of career politicians, who don't care about anything other than their cushy jobs, aren't going to be in D.C.?
These Tea Partiers are just Republicans who will fall in line once the GOP gets power again! Right now, the Tea Party movement is primarily benefiting the Republican Party. Yet, what you find if you talk to Tea Partiers is that if you're a Republican in D.C. and your name isn't Jim DeMint or Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party movement probably doesn't like you very much and they definitely don't trust you.
Put another way, the Tea Partiers are JUST WAITING for the GOP to blow it. The moment it does, the Tea Partiers will land on it with both feet. Some people might think that's unfair, but it's a natural reaction to the Bush years, when the Republican Party talked incessantly about fiscal responsibility even as it expanded government and increased spending. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and you join Arlen Specter and Mike Castle in the unemployment line.
These Tea Partiers don't understand how politics works! Granted, there are plenty of people at Tea Parties who aren't all that hooked into politics. Additionally, it's fair to say that some of the candidates the Tea Party has backed have turned out to be duds.
Of course, the same could be said of the establishment. Remember Dede Scozzafava? And how about that Charlie Crist? Moreover, just look at Bush's second term. Amnesty was pushed for illegal aliens -- more than once. Look at the bungled reaction to the bad press after Katrina. What kind of job was done on the Iraq war messaging? Did it really make sense to push Harriet Miers? How well did the Dubai Port fiasco turn out politically? How's TARP looking today?
The fact of the matter is that the Republican establishment's political judgment over the last few years has been simply atrocious. If the question is, “Who has had a better grasp of politics -- the bloggers, talk radio hosts and Tea Partiers, or the GOP establishment and consultant class?” -- the answer is the former. Perhaps that shouldn't be the case, but the D.C. bubble has a funny way of turning razor sharp political minds into piles of mush the size of Barack Obama’s ego.
These Tea Partiers just want to say "no" to everything! Right now, our country is like a car that's heading toward a cliff at 100 mph and the people in charge want to simultaneously speed up and cut the brake lines. Are we supposed to say, "Why don’t we meet you in the middle? Cut the brake lines, slow it down to 55 mph, and we'll stop all our backseat complaining about that cliff. Deal?"
If we want to save the American dream, we have to say "no.” If we want to stop this country from going bankrupt, we have to say "no." If we want future generations of Americans to have a chance to live in the same great country we grew up in, we have to say "no."
That doesn't mean the Tea Party isn't willing to say "yes" on issues that help pull the country back from the brink. Put a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and a repeal of Obamacare on the agenda and watch how quickly Tea Partiers say "yes." But, until we get the barrel of the gun out of this country's mouth, we have to keep saying "no" when we're asked for handfuls of bullets.