‘Palin Power’ and the Tea Party Juggernaut
The lady in red advanced to the podium, signaled a triumphant thumbs-up and flashed a jubilant, wide-open smile. Her audience clearly adored her and whooped merrily in her honor.
Youthful, charismatic and unabashedly feminine, with a plume of straight brown hair cascading past her shoulders, she spoke glowingly of “citizen-politicians” who would “make our voice heard in Washington, DC, once again.”
“Don’t ever underestimate the power of ‘we the people’,” she warned the infidels, with a somewhat alarming emphasis on the word “ever.” Proclaiming her dedication to homeland security, debt reduction and the welfare of veterans, she announced that “a united ‘we the people’ will win our country back.”
Just a routine stump speech by former VP candidate and current Tea Party darling Sarah Palin, right? Wrong.
This particular “lady in red” was Christine O’Donnell, the surprise victor in a bitterly fought Delaware Republican primary contest for Joe Biden’s vacant Senate seat. A spirited candidate with zero political experience and an alleged penchant for embellishing the facts, O’Donnell triumphed over former Delaware Gov. Mike Castle with a combination of Tea Party fervor, sheer grit and a helpful endorsement by the original “mama grizzly,” Sarah Palin herself.
What does the surprise victory of a lone Sarah Palin clone tell us about the current state of our political fabric? Plenty. O’Donnell’s triumph was simply the latest tremor in a remarkable seismic shift that’s reshaping the Republican party.
As the results of the 2010 primaries trickle in from New York, New Hampshire, Alaska and elsewhere, it’s clear that we’re witnessing the ascendancy of the party’s populist right-wing Tea Party element and the expulsion of its veteran centrist elite. The fringe is now the core… the beating heart of contemporary Republicanism.
O’Donnell actually chastised the respected, conscientious Castle for “selling out” to the “moderate wing” of the Republican party. The man had the nerve to vote with Obama 60 percent of the time! Apparently the new ideal would be hyperpartisan obstructionism carried to an even more unproductive and obnoxious extreme. (Hey, at least it would be hyperpartisan obstructionism in the name of “the people.”)
Toward the end of her victory speech, O’Donnell quoted Thomas Jefferson on democracy: “When the people fear the government there is tyranny. When the government fears the people there is liberty.”
Well, the Tea Party is definitely striking fear into the heart of the government. So I suppose we should be thankful for our liberty. Yet I can’t help but feel that we’re headed for even more trying times ahead.
What happens, finally, when “the people” take over our government? Sounds like overdue justice in the abstract — I’m all for giving more power to “the people,” aren’t you?
But which people are we talking about? Probably not blacks, Muslims or illegal immigrants — though the Tea Party is nowhere as racist as its detractors insist. It’s just that most of those overheated right-wing enthusiasts happen to be white Christians who hail from the vast, rolling expanses between the big cities. Sarah Palin’s people.
Pundits are minimalizing the Tea Party’s chances of victory over the Democrats in November. But they also minimalized the Tea Party’s chances of snatching the primaries from moderate Republicans. So much for the clairvoyance of pundits.
Let the Delaware primary serve as a wake-up call to moderates on both sides of the political aisle: we need to start generating some excitement or we’re as doomed as the dodo and the daily newspaper — doomed to be shunted into irrelevance by fired-up extremists who refuse to hear opinions that veer from the mandatory script. This is not a healthful development for a representative democracy.
The Tea Party faithful are on fire; we moderates need to catch some of their grassroots heat and use it to transform the political center. Let’s face it: we’re living through a depression. Most of us are disgruntled and even disgusted: disgusted with politics as usual, disgusted with representatives who cater to lobbyists and their fistfuls of dollars, disgusted with career politicians who place partisanship above principles in the great hierarchy of public values.
We need to realize that moderates can be — ought to be — movers and shakers, too. Complacent political hacks deserve to be voted out. More than ever, we need nonpartisan thinkers and doers with the guts to rise above pandering and factionalism… and the vision to dream of a reunited America.
Come on, fellow moderates, centrists, independents — whatever we choose to call ourselves. We’re reasonable, we’re indispensable, and our country needs us. Let’s roll.