1. The Tea Parties and the well wishers of the Tea Parties are not an uprising of the American people in any majoritarian sense. Tea Party supporters are conservative Republicans and right-leaning independents who consume more right-leaning media than the average American.
2. The Tea Party movement (tendency?) is somewhere between skeptical and hostile to the Republican Party establishment and candidates who are identified with the establishment. This is mostly a good thing. We might get Charlie Crist anyway, but I'm glad Florida conservatives stood up to him and his anointers within the Republican establishment. American needs a decentralized, broadly conservative (as opposed to single issue groups like the NRA) activist movement that is organically tied to neither the Republican Party nor any particular campaign. There was a big outpouring of center-right activism in Bush's 2004 GOTV operation, but since it was run by the Bush team, it basically disintegrated and McCain had neither the competence nor the personal interest to reconstitute it in 2008.
3. But the distinctly conservative and antiestablishment tendencies within the Tea Parties can produce political problems. In his autobiography, Richard Brookhiser uses the term "rightworld" to describe the interlocking network of conservative journalists, activists, thinkers, and politicians. But there is another rightworld too. It is one in which you get most of your media from right-leaning sources and never had to compete with sharp liberal opponents for the allegiance of persuadables or thought much about how to do so. This rightworld is much bigger and many Tea Partiers are part of it. Rightworld can be a more forgiving place than the broader American political space. There is the guy who would no more discriminate against an African American customer or job applicant than he would write a check to Bin Laden, but who doesn't want the government telling him who he can or can't hire or serve. We know what he means and don't get high and mighty about his seeming lack of empathy for the specific situation of pervasive government and private collusion (backed by violence) that African Americans faced. The problem isn't even that this person is wrong on the merits, it is that they aren't comfortable dealing with the critique, and sure as heck aren't comfortable dealing with it in an environment where the audience is not inclined to take it easy on him because he is one of us. The saddest part of Rand Paul on the Maddow show was his slow, helpless realization that he wasn't in rightworld anymore.
4. Things sound different in rightworld than they do in the rest of America. Sharron Angle has been getting hit for statements that, in rightworld, sound like common sense, tough-minded realism, and good natured hyperbole. The first two sentiments have been expressed by guys like Paul Ryan (somewhat) and Reihan Salam, but Angle's mode of expression (which would have drawn cheers from some audiences) was probably a barrier to communication for others. As Ta-Nehisi Coates might say, hers are the kind of expressions you use "when your're talking to people who already have your back." The problem is that in the modern media environment, a candidate running for high office is accountable to both the people who already have their back and the persuadables.
5. Hopefully Angle and Paul will manage to win in this seemingly Republican-friendly environment, but longer term, conservatives are going have to find leaders, policies, and messages that can appeal to both right-leaning constituencies, and persuadables who don't consume much right-leaning media - and do it under less favorable circumstances. It means connecting with the best ideas of conservative policy intellectuals. It means working hard to imagine how the things you say sound to people who have not yet committed to your worldview. It isn't impossible to talk to both your ideological compatriots and the general public. Obama started his career in corners of leftworld where Jeremiah Wright's ravings and Bill Ayer's past were not considered toxic. He managed to break into the mainstream and has moved the country's politics in a leftward direction, but he put a great deal of effort into crafting a message that could appeal outside the borders of leftworld.
Sorry I haven't been around much but family medical issues and such... The Republicans didn't do quite as well as expected (including by me) in the Senate. Here are some thoughts: Nevada - The line coming from the Weekly Standard... Read More