Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is going to be on Meet The Press tomorrow, and in a preview Reid confidently predicted the death of the Tea Party. He said, “The Tea Party will disappear as soon as the economy gets better. And the economy’s getting better all the time.”
Here is the video from NBC News:
Host David Gregory asked Reid, “You ran against Sharron Angle in Nevada. A tough race for reelection, and you prevailed. She was Tea Party backed, a Tea Party candidate. Certainly made a lot of headlines around the country. Do she and others, as part of this Tea Party, represent a lasting force in American politics?”
The Democratic Senate leader answered, “The Tea Party was born because of the economy. The economy is probably the worst it’s ever been except for maybe the Great Depression. The Tea Party will disappear as soon as the economy gets better. And the economy’s getting better all the time.”
To say that the Tea Party was born because of the economy is to play into the false grassroots narrative of the movement. I understand why Reid was being politically sensitive by playing along, but the truth is that the Tea Party is a seed sown from the efforts of corporate lobbyists and conservative billionaires. There is nothing organic or populistic about the Tea Party. One look at the leadership of the corporatized Republican Tea Party reveals a network of conservative D.C. insiders and money men, not a movement of average Americans.
The mythology of a populist founding has allowed these corporate conservatives to play on the fears and anxieties of many Republicans. Harry Reid’s other point was correct. The environment that allowed the special interests to manipulate the emotions of the Americans who identify with the Tea Party was caused by the economy. As the economy gets better, the fear and anger subsides and messages like that of the Tea Party become less appealing. In good economic times messages of fear and anger fall on deaf ears, and this is the likely fate of the Tea Party.
For people who are interested in the genesis and impact of social movements like me, the Republican Tea Party represents a fascinating manipulation of organic grassroots activity. Historically speaking, grassroots movements have been the outsiders of the political and policy process. Grassroots movements battle with institutionalized forces to gain entry into the political process. Through this entry they hope to accomplish their real goal, which is to pass policy in order to enact the change that they desire.
However, the Republican Tea Party is the first time that special interests and those inside the process have been able to use their resources to activate members of a political party for activities that on the surface appear to have their origins in the grassroots of America. The conservative special interests and a small faction of Republicans succeeding in creating an elaborate get out the vote and messaging operation that is disguised as grassroots activism.
Ironically, this manufactured populism will likely face the same fate as organic grassroots movements. One the goal of the movement has been met, members lose interest, and the collective voice and that is the source of the organization’s power erodes, until the movement fractures and fades away. This is what the future has in store for the Tea Party.