The Tea Party movement’s impact will not end on election day. If Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Marco Rubio, and other Tea Party-backed candidates retain their leads, the new Senate will be a very different place, and the GOP will be a very different party. Charles Hurt writes:
They will become the new face of the GOP in the Senate, which is always the more moderate chamber of Congress for either party. Over in the House, you can expect Republicans to be even more stringently conservative. Senate candidates Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida and Ken Buck in Colorado are not your country-club Republicans. Their conservatism runs deep into their principles. They are strict constitutionalists.
They fervently believe in individual freedom and economic conservatism. And they believe the federal government has grown far beyond its intended boundaries.
The irony is great here. A cadre of pundits cautioned the GOP after the 2008 wipeout to move to the center, to accommodate Obama’s agenda, and to recoil from the small-government philosophy that, the self-appointed gurus told us, had no sell with voters. With a big assist from Obama, the Tea Partiers have proved themselves much savvier than the punditocracy (damning with feint praise, I know). An entire populist movement built not on specific positions (e.g., anti-war) but on philosophical principles is a remarkable phenomenon; even more remarkable is the degree to which those principles have resonated with the public at large.
A small diversion: the challenge for conservatives who believe in a robust foreign policy and the projection of American powers and values is great. Some of those entering the Senate and Congress may be indifferent or actively hostile to the war in Afghanistan, military action against Iran (when it is acknowledged sanctions have failed), and ample spending on national security. Just as Ronald Reagan made the case for free markets at home and a forward-leaning foreign policy, conservative hawks will have their work cut out for them, facing neo-isolationists on the right and the left.
But returning to the broader implications of the Tea Party, one shouldn’t underestimate the impact the movement will have on the left. After all, this was the movement that the left first ignored and then scorned. As Peter Berkowitz points out in a must-read column:
Born in response to President Obama’s self-declared desire to fundamentally change America, the tea party movement has made its central goals abundantly clear. Activists and the sizeable swath of voters who sympathize with them want to reduce the massively ballooning national debt, cut runaway federal spending, keep taxes in check, reinvigorate the economy, and block the expansion of the state into citizens’ lives. In other words, the tea party movement is inspired above all by a commitment to limited government.
Yet the liberal elites insisted, Peter reminds us, that it was an “astroturf” consisting of kooks. (If it really were an astroturf movement, you’d think they’d find less colorful actors for the media to ridicule, no?) How could the administrations and its allies in the universities and the media have missed the boat? Peter suggests:
One reason this is poorly understood among our best educated citizens is that American politics is poorly taught at the universities that credentialed them. Indeed, even as the tea party calls for the return to constitutional basics, our universities neglect The Federalist and its classic exposition of constitutional principles. …
Our universities have produced two generations of highly educated people who seem unable to recognize the spirited defense of fundamental American principles, even when it takes place for more than a year and a half right in front of their noses.
One should never underestimate the historical illiteracy of the liberal intelligentsia. And it is also the case that the left did not merely misunderstand the Tea Party movement but actively distorted and vilified it. When unsubstantiated claims of “racism” start flying, you know the left is running scared. Certainly the Tea Party was the repudiation of the notion that the recession and the election of Obama had moved the country to the left. It simply couldn’t be that there was a broad and principled objection to this hypothesis. And when the rabble — that would be fellow citizens — showed again and again that the movement was genuine, determined, and deeply principled, the left had a collective meltdown, railing at the supposedly crazy citizenry.
The left understood all too well what the Tea Party was about, tried its best to strangle it in its political crib, and now has seen its worst fears come true.
As much, then, as the Republicans, the Democrats and their ideological soul mates have been rocked by the Tea Partiers. While the Tea Partiers energized the GOP they defeated and, one would argue, demoralized the left. What is the left’s response to political and intellectual defeat? How is it to maintain that its agenda is a reflection of popular will while its opponents are the pawns of nefarious forces? The right will be forced to “man up” (for this contribution alone, Sharron Angle deserves our appreciation) to the task of re-establishing the principles of limited government. The left will be forced to pick up the pieces and figure out how its statist agenda can mesh with a country that has rediscovered the virtues of modern conservatism.