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Tea Party looks to new role in future

December 15, 2012
Dr. David Turner , The Inter-Mountain

Jim DeMint's sudden departure from the U.S. Senate for the more lucrative position as head of the Heritage Foundation raises questions about the future of the Tea Party.

At one angle it speaks to the genuine populist roots of the movement. DeMint is one of the least affluent members of the Senate so, unlike many of his colleagues, he was making an important personal financial decision. But it also shows the diverse and in some ways contradictory nature of the Tea Party.

Take, for example, Dick Armey, the former house majority leader, that left his movement-inspired organization demanding an $8 million budget. Like entrepreneurs in the 1980s, he founded a political organization, grew its membership and then sold it at a profit.

No doubt Armey's pluck and luck appeals to the Libertarian wing where nothing is sacred but money; however, its appeal to the rest of the conservative movement must be limited.

Or is it? Mike Huckabee cashed in on a presidential candidacy and created a Branson-style talk show on Fox. Sarah Palin, for a time, managed to turn a vice-presidential candidacy into a talk show.

This is nothing new. Populists in the 1890s like Ignatius Donnelly, Mary Elizabeth Lease and Tom Watson, to name a few, made commercial hay while the sun shone.

Even the "great commoner," William Jennings Bryant, outstripped both William McKinley and many of his Wall Street friends in making money. He sold books, bought stocks and ended his days trying to sell lots in Miami in 1925. All the while he sold himself as a friend of the oppressed.

In style, particularly, the Tea Party resembles the Populists. They have as many positions as they have members. Many hawk gold or they tout the beliefs of two Austrian economists, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Or perhaps 17th century economist J.B. Say, the founder of supply side economics. Whether they understand it is anyone's guess but they love to dabble.

Because of this amateurism there is both confusion and energy. DeMint's anti-government stance should have placed him at odds with Strom Thurmond or even North Carolina's Jessie Helms. They liked government to protect textiles, tobacco and to send subsidies their way.

Helms, at the end of his career, broke his association with the Congressional Club because it was too doctrinaire.

Thurmond, like Helms, broke with government action in two areas, civil rights and organized labor.

Certainly the swashbuckling nature of the Tea Party's hyper-individualism has no real relationship to the old traditionalism of Dixie Conservatives.

They are Libertarian on domestic affairs and militaristic on foreign policy. Taxes are to be paid by the middle class and responsibilities levied on the poor. Apparently their goal is to enrich themselves, create a voter bank - sell it - then set up a Tea Party Branch - unload it.

Each branch can make it up as they go along. Conservatism in their eyes is simply what they proclaim. Consistency, understanding or synthesis is to be left to history. And if it sounds good who's to say its not the genuine article.

Perhaps it is time for responsible Republicans to call their Tea Party comrades to account. They were a one-trick pony - in 2012, by flexing their muscle, the Tea Party cost the GOP many Senate seats.

Mitt Romney was so squeezed that he looked like an ideological yo-yo at campaign's end.

Their skill in organization has not been seen since 2010, though during 2012, it did not stop the movement from pushing its weight around.

In 1896, Bryan replaced Grover Cleveland as a symbol of the Democratic Party. He was nominated three times, losing every time. His damage to the party was immense. Not until 1912, after a Republican spat, were Democrats able to return to the White House. It is a lesson that should not be lost on Republicans in 2013.



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