Tea Party Crashers

Despite the real idealism of some of its activists, the latest conservative movement is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum

| July-August 2010

  • Tea Party Crashers Image

    Zina Saunders / www.zinasaunders.com

  • Tea Party Crashers Image

The following is part of   a series of articles on activism in the United States . For more, read The New Face of Activism  and Lessons from the Godfather .

Judy Pepenella, codirector of New York’s Tea Party Patriots, insists that she has just blown my mind. “It’s ‘We the People,’ ” she repeats. “That’s the Tea Party—those three silly words: We. The. People.” She says it’s impossible to explain to an outsider, even a sympathetic one. “It doesn’t make any sense, but it makes all the sense in the world. In Massachusetts the people put out the call, and we helped Scott Brown. And no one can figure us out.”

Pepenella might not be able to define the Tea Party appeal, but she has the ingredients right. It is loud, self-regarding, incoherent, and endowed with a bottomless confidence that it speaks for real Americans. It sounds just like Republicans did circa 1994.

The year-old movement is credited with reviving right-wing populism, damaging health care reform, and electing Brown to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Opinion polls reveal that Americans have a more favorable view of it than they do of the Republican Party. The Wall Street Journal compares it to the Whiskey Rebellion, heralding it as the fruition of Ross Perot–style populism, a great third force in American politics.



But in reality, the Tea Party is not Pepenella’s mysterious vehicle of democratic will, nor does it signal the emergence of an alternative to Republicans and Democrats. It’s a leaderless coalition of conservative activists who for all their revolu­tionary vim look less likely to take over the Grand Old Party than to be taken over by it.

 

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