The dramatic story of the 2010 elections up until election day was that of the “Tea Party,” a group that grew from anti-tax protestors to a national political front, albeit a somewhat disorganized and unusual one. They were noteworthy in their anger and their disregard for political establishments, which combined to create their throw-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater treatment of incumbent moderate Republicans. In the end, they had a few victories, such as putting Pat Toomey and Rand Paul in the US Senate, and a whole host of defeats, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell leading the pack. Particularly entertaining is that Miller was bested by a write-in candidate, the incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski. As a whole, the Tea Party revolution was pretty meek. Furthermore, ultra conservative Tea Party nominees were the direct cause of a number of Republican losses in races that should have been slam dunks, Angle and O’Donnell again topping that list.
After the fact, Congress utilized the lame duck session to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ratified an arms control treaty, passed a bill extending health-care benefits for those who worked on the cleanup of the World Trade Center site and cut a bi-partisan deal with President Barack Obama to extend some tax cuts but not others. Naturally, the Tea Party was pissed.
As the New York Times explained, “Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, a social-networking Web site, declared after the approval of the arms-control treaty that ‘the G.O.P. has caved.’” Of course, Tea Partiers claimed next-to sole credit for all of the lame duck session’s products which met with Tea Party approval. Again from the Times, “’The Republicans, frankly, have been a disaster,’ [Mark] Meckler (co-founder of a noted “Tea Party” group) said. ‘They stood strong on some things, but the only reason they stood strong is because we stood behind them with a big stick.’”
The election, its results, the resulting lame duck session, and right-wing reaction to it demonstrate, to me at least, that the Tea Party is only a major political force in the minds of Tea Party members, candidates who receive their political life or lifeblood (read: cash) from Tea Party groups, and Fox News. Their actual impact on real lawmaking, not to mention lawmakers other than their own bunch, would appear to be fairly minimal and often procedural, rather than substantive. Sure, Republicans will read the Constitution at the beginning of the 112th Congress and force its reference in new justifications for prospective laws, but I don’t anticipate a vast change in the workings of Congress as a result of the Tea Party. Thank God. On the downside, this will only serve to fuel the fires of Tea Party politics, so I’m sure we’re not done with them yet.