Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Peasants in Revolt

Last spring and summer, when the Tea Party movement started its near spontaneous combustion of grassroots fervor, the Beltway Cocktail Circuit viewed it all with some amusement.  Establishment Republicans.  Democrats.  The national media.  The K Street consortium.  They all pointed, chuckled and said: “Look.  The Peasants are revolting.”

Amusement became curiosity.  Curiosity—particularly among the GOP establishment—became cynicism, as the party thought they might be able to harness the energy, ride it back into power, and then co-opt the freshmen.  The curiosity among the left morphed into concern, and then abject terror. The Peasants are Revolting!

My, my, my.  How things have changed.  The political Torch and Pitchfork Parade has engulfed a lot of people who never thought all those un-nuanced peasants would ever be able to tell the difference between a Republican and a conservative.  It has been a huge and costly miscalculation for the establishment.

As of the last major party primaries held September 14, the Tea Party movement—a movement of ordinary, center-right Americans—had their candidates best establishment Republican favorites in six states’ senatorial primaries:  Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah.  Grassroots’ favorites in gubernatorial elections also won their GOP nominations, including Iowa, New Mexico and South Carolina.  The Tea Party movement’s favorites haven’t won every battle, though.  They’ve lost some high-profile primary races in Alabama, California and Kansas, among a few other down-the-ballot races.

It’s the Senate races that bear the most interest because, if you’re going to start shifting the center of gravity, the most deliberative body of Congress is the place to establish a long term trend.  The Senate elects one-third of its members every six years. And, because of the rules of debate in the upper chamber, the minority party holds considerably more power than a minority in the House of Representatives.  If you’re going to make an ideological stand, it makes sense to put your assets in play in the Senate, and take a few risks with candidates who line up more closely with the principles espoused by the movement.  The power of the minority party allows you to block measures that run counter to the center-right agenda while building coalitions with moderate Democrats to pass measures supporting the center-right agenda, all while building for the next cycle of elections, where you’ll have a shot at another one-third of the seats.  How do you think the Democrats did it?

You’re not going to win every race. Angle faces a formidable foe in the sitting Senate Majority Leader.  That’s a toss-up.  Rubio is up against two candidates, one backed by a well-funded Democrat party apparatus; the other the sitting Governor.  Another toss-up. O’Donnell has the longest, tallest road to climb in beating a Democrat in a deep blue state without any party establishment support at all.  That’s almost surely a loss. 

But you will win some of them, and you’ll win enough of them so that your voices are heard loudly on Capitol Hill for the next six years.  And, you’re also putting the GOP establishment on notice—conservatives are willing to lose races by nominating candidates on conservative principle.  That is to say, conservatives—and the grassroots movement that became the Tea Party—are willing to sacrifice a race here or there by nominating principled conservatives and unwilling to sacrifice conservative principles just to win.  Conservatives will nominate a “non-electable” candidate if they think the “non-conservative” candidate isn’t worth voting for. It will cause establishment-type Republicans to think twice about seeking nominations in the 2012 and 2014 Senate cycles while encouraging principled conservatives to explore and possibly seek seats.  This is a long process, but it’s the best one if we’re ever going to see center-right common sense on Capitol Hill.

This process is never what the GOP establishment expected to see happen when the uprising began.  It amused them at first, and then they cynically sought to have establishment dolts like Bennet, Castle, Murkowski ride its fervor back to the Beltway Cocktail Circuit. But with the Miller win in Alaska and the O’Donnell win in Delaware, the establishment realized that the peasant revolt was taking aim at them, as well.

This has the potential to get even more troublesome for the establishment, because as people see that their friends, neighbors, coworkers and parishioners are making a difference, they’ll get more involved.  Americans who’ve thrown up their hands in frustration at ever being able to effect real change could catch the scent of a real revolution, grab their own pitchforks and torches, and head for the…  Castle Walls, if you will.

The peasants aren’t revolting against just the Democrats.  It’s a revolt against the establishment. Democrats who think this means a great party divide gives them hope for survival in November are making an even worse miscalculation than establishment Republicans.  If the political heads of establishment Republicans need to fall in the baskets along with the leftists, so be it, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to escape.

Off with their heads.  All of’em.