Warner Todd Huston
Tea Parties: the biggest mistake we'll make in 2010
By Warner Todd Huston
December 28, 2009

It's the end of 2009, the "aughts" are over, and we are about to embark on a new year — and what else are they but the "aughts"? Well, besides mostly a horrible and thankfully past decade. In any case, we are at the end of the year and that means two things: lists about this year and predictions for the next. I've chosen the prognosticator's art for this piece with the subject of what will likely be our biggest failure or mistake in 2010: the Tea Party movement.

We all know that just saying the words "Tea Party" is enough to raise American's blood pressure. Some will become suspicious or even enraged by imagining I am about to attack the Tea Partiers, some on the left will be filled with disgust even thinking about the Tea Partiers at all, and still others will get their blood up thinking about why the Tea Party movement started in the first place. For 2009 "Tea" and "Party" were two words that raised American's passions in a myriad of ways, for sure. That won't change in 2010.

But with the Tea Party movement we are likely headed for a huge mistake in 2010, one that I fear will stretch into 2011 and one that has the potential to hurt us all, right, left and center — but especially right.

The nature of the Tea Party movement was unusual at the outset. Regardless of what the half-wits on the extreme left said about them — whackjobs like your Keith Olbermanns or Rachel Maddows — the Tea Party movement was not orchestrated behind the scenes by some grand, right-wing conspiracy. They happened spontaneously spearheaded by all sorts of different groups, hundreds of them in fact. And to use the hackneyed old expression, trying to organize them into a single, national power will be like herding cats.

And therein lies the soon to be revealed mistake. Unless we are able to foresee this limitation of the Tea Party movement and take concrete measures to prevent it we will see the passion and engagement of these millions of Americans frittered away until just cynicism is left.

Passion about politics is great and likely the fervor of Tea Party participants will help fuel a 2010 resurgence of Republicans in the midterm elections. But what after that? In fact, what during it?

Here's the problem and, as I see it, it's a problem that is actually sort of built right into the Tea Party movement from its inception. That would be its essentially leaderless nature. Certainly this leaderless nature has suited the tastes of those suspicious of government, tired of failed party machinations, and the preternaturally aloof folks that populated them. Perhaps the gatherings could have occurred no other way and are born of this peculiar instant of political sensibility. Nonetheless Tea Parties have been disparate, unfocused, leaderless, and might prove to be pointless in the end.

There was no unifying single goal of the Tea Partiers and no agency or party directing them. This means that the raw power behind them just might go untapped because there will be no way to translate the passion to power. Every transformative movement has been led by a single man and his small group of powerful adherents but the Tea Party movement has no such leader and might just find that its passion will dissipate until there is nothing left but disgruntled followers.

Don't get me wrong, I love the passion and was thrilled by the hundreds of Tea Parties with their millions of participants as it happened across this land in 2009. I was heartened that so many Americans were standing up to the anti-American left like that. But how do we channel that passion into something that can lead to positive change?

Without question powerful change needs is a leader. Unfortunately, unless a leader steps forward that can gather all those many Tea Party strings into a single strong rope, it is likely that the whole thing will just pass away and be left a footnote in history. And what will this do to those yearning for change? What else could it do but cause them to become even more cynical going out than when they came in, leaving them thinking that nothing can be done and that we are doomed? This could lead to even worse societal strife down the road as frustrations build.

The other thing change needs is funding. Let's face it, change cannot come without money and while Tea Partiers have not yet been stingy with political donations, it has been like a scattergun as opposed to an aimed and powerful rifle shot. Whether we like it or not, money is and always has been the life's blood of politics and we Tea Party goers must find a way to harness the interest we all have had in change and parlay that into political donations that will lead to a successful take over of our political scene. We can't bend politics to our will without money. Reagan knew it, Richard Viguerie knew it, even Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority knew it. These famous conservatives were able to channel political donations in the millions of dollars to the right places and conservatism became a powerful force because of it.

The closest the Tea Party folks have come to major change based on donations was with the recent candidacy of Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd and if you'll remember it was a failed effort. It was, though, a small example of what might be done to good effect. It should also be noted that, in keeping with this nebulous nature I've mentioned, the Hoffman effort was wholly ad hoc and unfocused.

So, I see trouble brewing ahead for the Tea Party movement one that might lead to its being wasted and the frittering away of these potentially powerful passions will be the biggest mistake the right could make. Sadly, I can almost see no way to prevent it from happening.

So, Happy New Year, sure, but let's keep all this in mind and find a way to weld the Tea Party passion into action.

© Warner Todd Huston


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Warner Todd Huston

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