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The Tea Party Is a Giant Political Starfish

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: Tea Party, Republican Party, Conservatism, Jonathan Rauch, Politics, National Journal, Will Wlizlo,


As a starfish blindly ambles across the sea floor, its five arms grope independently of each other. Instead of being controlled by a central brain, each limb has its own compartmentalized nervous system that can communicate with the others. Capturing food, escaping from predators, and locating a mate are processes that rely on a fine balance of collaboration and independence. On account of its decentralized biology, argues National Journal’s Jonathan Rauch, a starfish is a fitting analogy for the Tea Party.

What Rauch is alluding to is a political tack called radical decentralization. He contends:

One of the Tea Party’s greatest strengths is that it lacks a central figure who calls the shots for the entire movement. “The network is impervious to decapitation,” Rauch writes. 

In the following video, Rauch elaborates on the starfish analogy—including how the Tea Party’s decentralized tactics may clash with the Republican Party’s traditional command structure. 

: National Journal 

Image by Ed Bierman, licensed under Creative Commons.