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09.16.10

Stop Mocking the Tea Party

The media doesn’t get it, says Kirsten Powers. The Tea Party crowd is about to radically reshape the Republican Party on a scale not seen since Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

It’s time to stop mocking the Tea Party.

Whether they are loons, principled conservatives, or a mix of both, they are a potent force that won’t be intimidated off the national stage by snarky media coverage and clueless attacks from the establishment.

In fact, they are clearly poised as the heir to the Goldwater movement that was also ridiculed by elites in both parties during the early 1960s.

Mark McKinnon: Mock the Tea Party at Your Own Peril Yes, Goldwater was demolished by Lyndon Johnson in the landslide that was the 1964 presidential election. But his crowning accomplishment was igniting the flames of a conservative movement that would eventually lead to the election of Ronald Reagan, ushering in eight years of conservative realignment. To this day, conservatives rule the Republican Party which, prior to Goldwater, wasn’t the case.

Every Tea Party candidate has been described as being crazy, stupid, and on track to destroy America if they are elected. Funny, that’s pretty much what was said about Barry Goldwater and his followers.

It’s those conservatives who today are fed up and demanding that the Republican Party stick to the principles they run on.

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How dare they?

The Washington establishment has its nose out of joint because a rag-tag group of misfits have deigned to challenge the entitled incompetents who run the U.S. Congress. Somehow, because a few of the Tea Party candidates support abstinence training, or other garden variety right-wing notions, they are more dangerous than the people who were actually in charge of our country as it was being run into the ground economically.

We’ve been treated to obsessive coverage of Christine O’Donnell’s opinions on masturbation, and whether she had premarital sex, because we all know that these are the Very Important Issues facing our country.

Every Tea Party candidate has been variously described as crazy, stupid, and on track to destroy America, if elected. Funny, that’s pretty much what was said about Barry Goldwater and his followers by the establishment. And yet, that didn’t stop him from reshaping the Republican Party and laying the groundwork for the Reagan Revolution.

Today, Barry Goldwater is romanticized as an undiplomatic but principled conservative with an adorable penchant for “shooting from the lip.” He retired after decades in the Senate as a revered elder statesman. Even Hillary Clinton once referred to herself as a “Goldwater girl.”

But in his heyday, Goldwater was decried by Democrats and liberal Republicans alike as a dangerous demagogue, who would lead the U.S. into nuclear war, eliminate Social Security, and roll back civil-rights progress. He once advocated giving battlefield commanders in Vietnam the authority to use nuclear weapons.

Demands were made that he disavow his “racist” and “extremist” followers.

Sound familiar?

Goldwater didn’t repudiate his followers but instead thundered in his presidential nomination acceptance speech that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Today’s GOP is torn about the Tea Party, with the recent win of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware setting off recriminations and denunciations from the likes of Karl Rove and other Republican Party pooh-bahs. The conflict was inevitable; movements can be messy.

In Kate Zernike’s new book, Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, The New York Times reporter debunks the myth that the Tea Party is “Astroturf,” and a creation of Republican strategists. In fact, she describes it as a legitimate grassroots uprising.

Whatever you make of them, Zernike’s reporting makes clear that the Tea Partiers care deeply about the future of their country. They aren’t intimidated by difficult odds. Many of them had their first experience in political organizing when they put together their maiden Tea Party rally. They detest the Republican Party almost as much as the Democratic Party.

And the more they are mocked, the more determined they are to push forward. The derision of elites, to them, is a badge of honor.

Like Goldwater, Tea Party candidates sometimes say wacky things. Goldwater once told reporters that "sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." He was known to quip, "I haven't really got a first-class brain." During the 1964 campaign, Goldwater aides even went so far to ask reporters to "write what he means, not what he says."

But no matter what they say, and no matter how horrified the elites are by their positions, the Tea Party members aren’t remotely out of the Republican mainstream. A poll by The Economist on Wednesday showed that more than 70 percent of Republicans agree with the Tea Party agenda.

Still, pundits and pols are now predicting that the Tea Party has chosen candidates that are too far to the right for a win; that the Republican Party is doomed for being too extreme. The headline in the September 14 Washington Post announced: “Tea Party wins in Northeastern primaries could bode well for Democrats.” 

But even if the Tea Party fails in the near-term—which is still not a forgone conclusion—so did the Goldwater movement, which was considered a spectacular failure after the catastrophic 1964 presidential election. Predictions were made that the Republican Party would not recover. Yet Richard Nixon, who had campaigned for Goldwater in ’64, took the White House just four years later.

Barry Goldwater, Jr. told NewsMax on Wednesday that establishment Republicans who are bitter over the stunning success of Tea Party conservatives this primary season "ought to keep their mouth shut and just take a look at what's going on in this country" and that Christine O’Donnell’s win was “no surprise.” 

For those who were surprised, it is time to take a closer look.

And remember the lessons of history.

 

The Tea Party ain’t no joke.

Kirsten Powers is a political analyst on Fox News and a writer for the New York Post. She served in the Clinton administration from 1993-1998 and has worked in New York state and city politics. Her writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Observer, Salon.com, Elle magazine and American Prospect online.