What’s In A Tea Party

I’ve been watching the rise of the quasi-libertarian “Tea Party” movement with bemused curiosity. The viral explosion of the net-based movement must far exceed the expectations of its original proponents: the unwitting Rick Santelli, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, and the host of libertarian organizations which helped to build up publicity.

Yet, as Andrew Sullivan and at least one perceptive Daily Dish reader have noted, there is a certain haziness to the movement’s goals. What exactly are they agitating for (or against)? Besides the Boston Tea Party metaphor and a populist and indistinct discontent with taxes and the stimulus bill, protesters seem to be running on the hot air of their own fervor. Social networking and brilliant internet marketing have created a behemoth with no head, all grassroots and no agenda.

This presents, as I see it, some of the limits of crowd-sourced politicking. Yes, as with the election of Barack Obama, we are seeing thousands of people participate in digital activism; but without some kind of central organization, the momentum is all centrifugal. Or as that Dish reader put it:

Let them find out how easy it is to have things go viral and how hard it is to sustain something without a cogent message or an articulate messenger.

If, on the other hand, the Tea Party camp can stay loud into next year, I think the effect on the big tent of mainstream conservative politics might be tangible. This “squeaky wheel” electoral effect would prove the power of the web to amplify messages, even mildly incoherent ones, through the blogosphere and beyond.

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One Response to “What’s In A Tea Party”

  1. Rich Says:

    The tea parties are an expression of rage. That is a good thing. If you’re not enraged, you’re not paying attention.

    The next question is, what are the proper targets for that rage?

    I would argue that there should be two primary targets: The Democratic Party and the Republican Party. They created the mess we are in. They are making it worse. They are using it as an excuse to arrogate unlimited power to themselves. Ron Paul, of course, is the exception to this rule.