Well, at least David Brooks introduces the Upper West Side to the Tea Party movement. He notes:
The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation. . .
The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.
Now he does tip the scales a bit, suggesting that its “flamboyant fringe” has gotten the most attention. (Beware the passive voice: To be clear, the mainstream media have given the most attention to the flamboyant fringe.) And, yes, he does minimize the radicalism of the Obami to which the Tea Party movement objects. (“The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems.”) Actually, I think it’s fair to say (in fact Brooks has been candid enough to say it on occasion) that the Obama team has become infatuated with a certain type of problem-solving — centralized, blind to unintended consequences, arrogant in the assumption of expertise, and lacking humility about government bureaucrats’ ability to micromanage the lives of hundreds of millions of us. But Brooks has one thing right:
Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally. Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.
And as for his concern about “mediocre” leadership of this populist movement, he seems unaware of an extremely dynamic figure who has embraced the Tea Party movement and they, her. She wrote a book — and millions of them turned out to get it signed. She has more than a million people on her Facebook page, which enables her to entirely bypass the mainstream media, including the Gray Lady, of course. She took up the issue of health-care rationing and made “death panels” the most widely understood objection to ObamaCare. Elites don’t much care for her, but then that’s just fine with the Tea Party troops.
But there are many potential leaders for a populist movement based on limited government, the rule of law, and defense of free-market capitalism. The interesting thing about the foot soldiers in a popular movement: they find the leaders they like. What they have to start with, however, is rare and valuable in politics: a set of convictions, enormous enthusiasm, experience in organizing, and an increasingly unpopular and out of touch “establishment” (including media elites) to rail against. And Brooks might want to reconsider the timing just a bit (“I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade”). The Tea Party folks seem to think their time is now.