WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Whenever I'm in the nation's capital, it's always entertaining to see government staff, aides, lobbyists and elected officials doing their thing. They can make you feel like an outsider -- unless, that is, you were there when Ronald Reagan was sworn in, doing then as they are doing now. Then you realize that they're just younger versions of yourself.
With age and experience comes a trace of wisdom. In talking to various Washington insiders over the last few days, I've noticed a predominant theme: The GOP establishment hasn't a clue how to manage the so-called Tea Party movement. And the Democrats are equally clueless as they try to profile and pigeonhole these new activists.
I've been closely watching Tea Partiers since about this time last year. I noticed early on that establishment Republican elected officials have been letting the Tea Party march right on past. These officeholders are afraid they'll be seen as radical if they associate with the protest movement.
Conventional Washington wisdom seems to have it that moderate, swing voters in the fall general elections will turn away from the GOP if the party ends up with nominees for Congress who are either self-identified as Tea Partiers or are somehow associated with them.
Consider this oddity: Sen. John McCain has long been cold-shouldered by the GOP establishment, which has thought of him as too liberal for the party's taste. Now he is suddenly viewed as a part of that very establishment, which is itself now deemed too liberal. Believe me when I tell you that the very notion of a spontaneous conservative grassroots movement that they can't get a handle on has this town's Republican operatives baffled.
The Democrats are even more in the dark. They have persuaded themselves that the Tea Party crowd is one and the same with the so-called "birthers," who believe President Obama was not born in the United States and should not be eligible to serve as president. The Democrats welcome the Tea Party because they believe it will divide the GOP and bring to the fore weaker and less experienced Republican candidates in November. Either that, they believe, or it will cause a big chunk of disenchanted Republican voters -- either establishment or Tea Party -- to sit out this year's general election altogether.