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“Governments never learn. Only people learn.”     Milton Friedman

September 18, 2010

The Tea Party Movement: A Geopolitical Perspective

by TomStrong

Stratfor is an incredible policy source that looks deeply into matters of geopolitics. Policy wonks are often able to look at what is going on dispassionately and with eye for understanding what is actually happening and that indispensable ability is in evidence in Robert W. Merry’s analysis of the Tea Party movement:

Nearly every American with a political memory recalls that Texas billionaire Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the vote when he ran for president as an independent candidate in 1992. Less well known is what happened to that vote afterward. Therein lies an intriguing political lesson that bears on today’s Tea Party movement, which emerged on the political scene nearly 17 months ago and has maintained a sustained assault on the Republican establishment ever since.

Just this week, the Tea Party scored another upset triumph, this time in Delaware, where protest candidate Christine O’Donnell outpolled establishment scion Michael N. Castle in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It was merely the latest in a string of political rebellions that have shaped this campaign year much as the Perot phenomenon influenced American politics in the 1990s.

Two years after the Texan’s remarkable 19 percent showing, the Perot vote — a protest movement spawned primarily by political anxiety over what was considered fiscal recklessness at the federal level (sound familiar?) — washed away the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. In a stern rebuke to President Bill Clinton, the Perot constituency gave full congressional control to the Republican Party for the first time in four decades. And then, just two years later, it turned around and helped elect Clinton to a second term.

The political lesson, worth pondering in these times of Tea Party rumbling, is that serious protest movements such as the Perot phenomenon or today’s Tea Party revolt never just fade away. They linger in American politics, sometimes largely unseen but sometimes quite overt, and exert a continuing tug on the course of electoral decision-making. Eventually they get absorbed into one major party or the other. In the process, they often tilt the balance of political power in the country, occasionally for substantial periods of time.

The Perot comparison is strong, as is the possibility that this movement could crater due to its orientation toward ideological purity.

While not a fan, the Tea Party movement is genuinely one of the most grassroots political efforts I’ve seen in my lifetime. The like of Christine O’Donnell or Rand Paul are not conventional Republicans, and any corporate “astro turf” movement, since it is not in the interest of corporations to try to push political instability, would have handpicked Mike Castle or Mitch McConnell instead.

Even Sarah Palin was not a choice that John McCain wanted, instead hoping to bring in Joe Lieberman.

The Tea Party and Insurgency Politics is republished with permission of STRATFOR.


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2 Comments

  1. Good point about astroturfing.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — September 18, 2010 @ 7:12 am
  2. Thank you Stephen. I actually got heat from readers of a Bay Area editorial I wrote in which I referred to the Tea Party as a grassroots movement. http://oaklandnorth.net/2010/09/15/you-tell-us-in-dark-times-it’s-time-for-kindness/

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — September 18, 2010 @ 10:04 am

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