The political class first sat up and paid real attention to the tea-party movement two years ago, when its acolytes in Utah ended the career of Bob Bennett, a venerable Republican senator, by denying him the party's nomination for his re- election bid. If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, incredulous congressmen asked, who is? One person assumed to have dwelt long and hard on that question is the other, even more venerable Republican senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, who has been in office since 1977. – The Economist
Dominant Social Theme: It's over now. Let business-as-usual begin.
Free-Market Analysis: This article from the Economist – a full-fledged mainstream mouthpiece – predicts, hopefully, the demise of the Tea Party movement in the US.
But those who run the Economist and hope for world government should be careful of what they wish for. The Tea Party movement was borne of frustration with the current system and the idea that it is subsiding is probably a bit off the mark.
This is probably part of a larger dominant social theme – a kind of lulling meme – that as the recession eases in the West, frustrations are lessened and "normal" life resumes. The mechanisms of democratic life prove resilient: The system works.
The article uses Orrin Hatch as an example of this putative return to normalcy. But using a federal senator as an example of any kind of populist trend may not be especially judicious. It assumes that average folks still make their frustrations known through state-mandated channels. Is this true? Here's some more from the article:
On Saturday Mr Hatch survived the test that undid Mr Bennett: he won a ballot for the nomination at the state's Republican convention. Thanks to the local party's complicated procedures, he still has to face a tea-party backed challenger in a primary, to be held in June.
But he has reason to be confident: he came within a whisker of avoiding the primary, falling just 132 votes short of the 60% threshold required to secure the nomination at the convention. Assuming that the primary electorate is less conservative than the die-hard lot who attend the convention, and given Mr Hatch's edge in fund- raising, he will probably prevail in the primary too. And what with Utah's strongly Republican slant, winning the primary more-or-less guarantees re-election.
This muddled outcome puts America's pundits in a quandary. Had Mr Hatch gone down to defeat, the tea party would have been declared alive and well; had Mr Hatch sailed to victory, it would have been declared moribund. Clearly, it is not as potent and unpredictable a force as it was in 2010. Yet Mr Hatch, already towards the tanniny end of the Republican spectrum, has survived thus far by significantly strengthening the brew he serves his constituents. His lifetime rating from the Club for Growth, a conservative pressure group, is 78%—but in 2010 and 2011, he scored 100% and 99% respectively.
Mr Hatch is not the only Republican grandee to have jumped nimbly rightwards. Dick Lugar, an equally venerable (he and Mr Hatch joined the Senate on the same day) and even more embattled Republican senator from Indiana, is breathing an unaccustomed amount of fire these days. Even Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican senator from Maine who recently declared herself so disgusted with the polarisation of Congress that she is not running for re-election this year, has been inching to the right since 2010.
In typical Economist fashion, this analysis seems to miss the point in our humble view. It is true that the formal Tea Party has been co-opted by Washington GOP bigwigs. But that does not mean that the underlying causation has gone away.
To posit this, one would also need to postulate that people believe the "recession" is really over and that the US as a whole is on a firm foundation. This is questionable, to say the least …
Libertarian and GOP Congressman Ron Paul, now running for President, perhaps provides us with a better gauge of what's going on in the US. He is producing large crowds wherever he goes, usually younger crowds, as well. His message resonates.
And what message is that? It is a message of freedom and personal responsibility. And it is an anti-war message, as well. Ron Paul stands against Leviathan and wants to bring fiscal solvency back to the republic.
Whether this is practical or not is certainly questionable. But to imply, as the Economist seems to, that the underlying concerns that caused the Tea Party to form in the first place is likely far from reality.
The frustrations and concern that formed the Tea Party are probably in no way assuaged. If the Tea Party is failing as an organized institution, the elites who have helped diminish it might want to remain vigilant.
As these concerns are not alleviated, they may appear elsewhere in other and less controllable forms.