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April 20, 2009
Tea Parties: For
Republicans Who Simply Can’t Accept Rejection
Like any good protest, last week’s complaints came in a variety of
shapes and sizes and were expressed at varying levels of volume. At the
center of it all, at the Tax Day protests, was the heart of not a
political movement as had been advertised, but a political party.
Organizers of the Tea Bag protests were quick to point out that the
protests themselves were spontaneous, non-partisan demonstrations of
taxpayer anger over what they called excessive taxation and reckless
government spending. Like all shots taken quickly, they missed, although
that was almost certainly intentional. The protesters were almost
universally Republicans and conservative.
is a movement that simply refuses to accept the consequences of defeat.
For 20 years, last week’s tea bag protesters have supported a Republican
Party that appeared on the brink of turning the appearance of fresh,
bold ideas into an unstoppable political juggernaut earlier this decade.
When those fresh, bold ideas turned out to be old and flawed, the rest
of the country abandoned them for a party that wasn’t preaching policies
that everyone recognized had failed badly. This resulted in two straight
campaign cycles of failure and defeat for the Republican Party.
It’s important, in terms of perspective, to remember that they weren’t
the first for the modern Republican Party. Today’s GOP experienced its
first widespread electoral rebuke back in 1998, during mid-term
elections that came during the impeachment process for Bill Clinton.
Then, as today, a conservative movement that is a great deal less
conservative than it is Republican ridiculed polling that showed a great
many Americans didn’t support removing a popular president during a time
of peace and prosperity on ginned-up charges stemming from marital
The fight over Bill Clinton, starting with the hijacking of the national
agenda and continuing right through the impeachment proceedings, were
first evidence that the conservative movement’s great strength was that
it refused to accept what happens when you come up second best. No cost
was too great, no avenue was too sacred to run down in order to undo the
political expression of the American people in 1992 and 1996. When
confronted by negative poll numbers, conservatives insisted that because
Clinton never broke 50 percent of the popular vote that he was an
unpopular president. When they lost, they said that they’d really won
but were foiled by a conspiracy of the media and liberals.
This sentiment, dormant during the Bush years, burst back to the surface
last Wednesday. Taking a cue from the days of the 13 colonies,
protesters were mad about what they called taxation without
representation. A perfect illustration of what they meant came when
Daily Show correspondent John Oliver pointed out to a New Jersey
protester that they did indeed have representation. The protester said,
“They’re not representing our ideas.”
“never give in, never say die” attitude is quintessentially American. On
the other hand, there’s a fine line between refusing to give up and poor
sportsmanship. Did last week’s protests cross that line? The answer to
that depends on how deeply you interpret the protests themselves to have
at their root a common thread questioning whether Barack Obama
legitimately won last November’s election based on questions about his
the larger scheme of things, this is probably less important than what
the GOP hopes to do with it. Despite the non-partisan line, the protests
were clearly intended to re-energize a political party that appears
rudderless and leaderless and whose ideas are badly out of fashion. Even
if last week’s protesters represent only a small minority of the
nation’s electorate, the GOP right now will take any organized support
it can get. And, if it comes from people who won’t accept defeat, for
whatever reason, it’s at least something on which there is hope to
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