Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tea Party moves into a new House

In just under a year and a half, the Tea Party has gone from an underreported national movement to an undeniable political force. Thousands of rallies held in every state of the union have testified to the movement's popularity, and the nominations of candidates such as Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida testify to its influence.

And now, the New York Times reports that the House of Representatives has approved an official Tea Party Caucus, with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (herself a Tea Party favorite) as Chairwoman. The Caucus has 28 members, so far all Republican, though there have been reports that some Democrats have shown interest in joining.

Many have wondered about the future of the movement, its direction and organization. A formal national Tea Party that would exist as a real alternative to the two major political parties has been and is on the minds of many Americans, both inside and outside the movement. Having an official caucus in the House would seem to suggest a certain amount of ambition on behalf of the movement's members. But Chairwoman Bachmann insists the caucus is there for one reason: "to listen to the concerns of the Tea Party." It is not there to be a mouthpiece for the Party or to preempt its message or momentum in any way, and the members of the caucus are not to be seen as "leaders" of the Tea Party. All that may be true; but signing up as a member of this caucus can certainly have significant political ramifications, as evidenced by the fact that the top two Republicans in the House, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, have yet to join.

The Tea Party has always striven for one thing: authenticity. Though there are a number of Democrats and Independents in the movement, and events are typically headlined by "minority" speakers such as Herman Cain and Bishop E. W. Jackson, the Tea Party has been denounced by its opponents from the beginning as fake, ignorant, partisan, racist, and even unpatriotic. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But with every step forward the movement takes, the opposition grows. I can almost see the talking points this new caucus could inspire, especially as regards the Party's goals and ambitions. Will having an official "ear" on the Hill do more harm than good? Time will tell. At the very least, no one on either side of the aisle can say the movement will disappear any time soon.

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