The Washington Post is trying to help its readers understand the tea party phenomenon. They sent a reporter to travel with tea partiers to Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally and tried to contact all 1500 or so registered tea party groups to try to get them to fill out a detailed survey.
Why they should think that they are entitled to get answers from tea party members is a question for another day. However, here are a few points that anyone trying to understand the tea party needs to understand.
1: The tea party represents a segment of the population that was not being served by the existing political establishment. No one knows how many people fall in that category, but it’s probably in the millions. Because their values place them closer to the GOP than the Dems they represent both a threat to the GOP establishment and, if they can sustain their efforts, to the Democratic Party dominance in Congress and many state legislatures. The latter remains to be seen.
2. The political establishment in America would like the public to vote on election day and then shut up. That goes for both parties. They really don’t want the public to know about the deals they’re cutting. Elected officials for the most part pretend their happy to have constituents show up to voice their concerns, but they’d rather be free to call the shots without any consequences. That’s why there’s such a gap between campaign rhetoric and the actions of elected officials post election. That’s why the tea party is so upsetting to people at the Washington Post and party leaders.
It’s ironic to me — having been turned on to politics in the 1960s by the idea of participatory democracy — to see the tea party movement echo many of the complaints from 50 years ago. As a recent college graduate I joined SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) after coming in contact with a community organizer in Topeka Kansas who was trying to help disenfranchised African American residents of that city gain the proportionate rights from city and state government.
Sean Hannity Has It Wrong
If you’ve listened to Sean Hannity lately you know that one of the most telling criticisms he levies against Barack Obama is that he was a “community organizer” from the Saul Alinsky school or organizing. Having been trained as a community organizer myself (as a VISTA volunteer in 1965) by adherents of Alinsky’s philosophy, I know that Hannity is dead wrong.
An Alinsky trained organizer never imposes his/her views on the group. Their role is to help the community come together to act on issues of common concern. A good organizer never even expresses his/her views on the issue the community has chosen to focus on.
I’m not saying that Obama is or was a community organizer or that he was brought up in that school, but Hannity is wrong about Alinsky. That’s not to say that Alinsky wasn’t a lefty. He was, but he believed that as an organizer you couldn’t succeed if you tried to lead people to adopt your views. They would reject your leadership and you’d be discredited.
In terms of the tea party, what will be interesting to follow is whether the political establishment is able to coop the movement or whether they will remain resistant to being led around by the nose and how much disruption they will cause. Participatory democracy is a fine ideal. However, it is difficult to sustain the emotions that get people off their couches.