Even though recent Democratic and Republican primaries are foretelling a serious -- if not seismic -- fall upheaval, it's still to early to predict which political party will dominate Congress following the midterm elections. Can Republicans capture Congress? Can Democrats maintain a majority? Politicians and pundits are obsessing about the outcome. And for good reason. Much of President Obama's agenda relies on a Democratic majority. Likewise, much of the GOP agenda promises first an overhaul; then, in 2012, an overthrow of the Age of Obama, including the belated and beleaguered health care reform victory.
The political hot spots are issues that won't be resolved anytime soon (no matter which party triumphs this fall) but make for great theater. There is plenty of fear, disappointment, disillusionment and drama, not to mention abundant hyperbole, political calculations and grandstanding. We're drowning in controversy, spilling into our waters, across our borders and out of our politicians' mouths. Whether it's oil slicks, undocumented immigrants or Rand Paul, the flood of voters' umbrages and upsets across the political spectrum continues to build. If any individual political upset can result in the political upset this November that the GOP desires and Democrats fear is still unknown.
Other imponderables abound. There is the continuing clash between the two major American thoroughfares: Wall Street and Main Street. Along with the aforementioned, assorted spills flooding the airwaves and political discourse, unemployment, the deficit, regulations and bailouts are also topping talking points in the midterm prequel. Critics blast both major political parties for propping big business and bigger banks. While a Republican president occupied the White House when the derivative bubble burst and initiated the bailouts with TARP, Democrats aren't immune to populist anger from either ideological flank. While the Tea Party is loudly hogging the headlines, members of the left are also blasting away at what many think are bosom-buddy bailouts of the too-big-to-fail. Though the party is spearheading financial regulatory reform, progressives have also criticized Democratic leaders for being more sympathetic to banking behemoths than average citizens. Today, it seems to many champions of the little people, that rather than David slaying Goliath, it's David cut to size, losing savings, jobs, homes and self-esteem; leaving the American Dream clinging to life support and unemployment benefits.
The party most mentioned in recent media reports isn't one of the two traditional standbys. The Tea Party tilts toward the GOP, but it's an entity without steadfast loyalties to any party establishment; delighting in rebellion, upstaging and toppling Republican incumbents with the gusto it attacks Democrats. They might call themselves the Tea Party, but the loosely affiliated group -- defined by a laundry list of grievances, among them a disdain for taxes, big government, illegal immigrants and anything that vaguely smells of socialism -- doesn't resemble a political party in the traditional sense. While the movement fashioned its image to reflect the Boston Tea Party, it more resembles the Alice in Wonderland Tea Party, full of paradoxes, naivety, hypocrisy and conundrums. Democrats typically portray Sarah Palin as a Mad Hatter and position sensible Americans as Alice. As Wikipedia describes the ordeal: "Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to." Democrats hope that Americans will ultimately become not only baffled but reject the numerous riddles the Tea Party provokes such as Senator John McCain's reposition on immigration reform. They are also hoping that Americans, like Alice, dismiss the Tea Party as nonsensical while attempting to stir the apathetic voter who might sleep through the Tea Party and the midterms like Dormouse.
Though the term "Tea Party" is new to the modern political process, most of the participants aren't. While presenting itself as a latter-day version of the Boston Tea Party that preceded and precipitated the Revolutionary War, the contemporary war today's Tea Party wages more resembles the troops and aspirations that preceded and precipitated the Reagan revolution. The usual suspects of the social and fiscal conservatives that comprised the Moral Majority (later the religious right) alongside the tax-trimming, antiregulatory types have found a new political niche and marketing moniker. For good measure, throw into the party mix those pining for the days before hippies, druggies, peaceniks, civil rights activists, sexual deviants and other oddities of the sixties perverted wholesome American culture. Of course, the Tea Party has attracted some followers not even born during the heyday of Reaganomics and Jerry Falwell, let alone the Eisenhower era, but many of them are ideological heirs; not so much a new phenomenon as extension of those cliques. Most threatening to incumbents of both political parties are those voters - not natural political allies of the Tea Party but skittish about the national deficit and persistent unemployment, and feeling disillusioned with politics in general -- who are seeking recourse anywhere outside the Beltway. If they listen to the Tea Party's much-publicized rhetoric and act on it, even if it's only with a one-time protest vote this November, incumbency could be fatal.
And the Tea Party's rhetoric, broadcast loudly and widely, is concerning. Often catcalls spawn recalls. Recall Gray Davis. And, while not with formal recalls but midterm elections, much the same happened in 1994 and 2006 when voters collectively recalled their earlier decisions two years prior, and decided to switch parties and Congressional control. It's incumbent upon Democrat candidates (especially incumbents) to convince the electorate that the Tea Party isn't so much a patriotic revival of the rebellion that gave birth to our republic and its ideals as it is a revival of relevancy of the conservative cliques that wielded power only a few years ago.
When members of the Tea Party state their aim to "take our country back," it means to reclaim the nation not only from the sixties, LBJ's Great Society and the changes initiated by the sexual revolution, civil rights movement (on this particular one, there's waffling and ambiguity about the Tea Party position as seen in Rand Paul's recent gaffe) and defeat in Vietnam. The Tea Party would take our country back... all the way back to 2005 when more than a few of its proponents were in power. Does the majority of Americans, who recently and enthusiastically voted for change, want to really "take our country back" rather than forward? Maybe we are like Alice in Wonderland, living in an awe-inspiring land populated by Mad Hatters, paradoxes, riddles and ironies. But I'm one American who won't be attending tea parties anytime soon.