By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media
WASHINGTON – Across the nation, rumblings are being heard of the party coming to an end — and for many people, it’s none too soon. The party, in this case, is the Tea Party.
A recent CNN poll shows that far more Americans now have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party than a year ago. Even more ominous for the party leadership is the fact that low-income, white Americans – a demographic that has been their bedrock of support – represent the largest number of those disaffected with the movement.
They were the Tea Party’s shock troops, waving their crudely made, borderline-racist signs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flags, and posters depicting a demented-looking Obama as Hitler. Once virtual fixtures at the many Tea Party street actions that sprung up during the first year of the Obama presidency, they are now deserting in droves.
Also troublesome for the Tea Party is the current budget fight in Congress that is threatening to decimate legions of education, health, social service and law enforcement programs locally and nationally.
In November, Tea Party backed candidates scored big victories and even upsets of GOP incumbents in a number of races. They had one mantra, which was to shrink government, and shrink it fast. Millions of Americans cheered their war call, and voted for the candidates that yelled it the loudest.
But it’s one thing to scream about big government, bloated federal spending and whopping federal debts, and it’s quite another to actually hold Congress – and by extension, the nation – hostage in an uncompromising, shrill battle to accomplish their objectives. It’s even worse when the hostage-takers start checking off a phonebook-thick list of programs to be cut or eliminated, then compound that by demanding that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security either be radically downsized or dumped into the exclusive hands of private providers and corporations. Their calls for knocking down big government all of a sudden don’t sound so great to the millions of struggling Americans who rely on the federal government for services, jobs and contracts.
Polls repeatedly show that the majority of Americans want Congress and the Obama administration to work in tandem to solve the big-ticket problems of the economy, joblessness, and debt reduction. But they want it done in a responsible way, without the endless finger-pointing and political gamesmanship that have become the trademark of the GOP, egged on by the Tea Party.
But the Tea Party mouthpieces in Congress haven’t gotten the message. While President Obama, House and Senate leaders frantically worked to hammer out a budget compromise that would keep the doors of the federal government open, Tea Party zealots, led by polarizing Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachman, were screaming “shut it down” at rallies, on the web and any other venue where they could get some attention.
The quiet backlash against the Tea Party hasn’t been lost on GOP mainstream leaders, who even in the best of Tea Party days were anxious, if not downright terrified, that their shock battalions might get too unruly and alienate the independents who they wooed back into the GOP during the November midterm elections – the same independents they’ll need to keep in the fold to have any chance at beating Obama in 2012. They are now watching in horror as that chance slips further and further away.
It is too soon to write the obituary for the Tea Party. There are millions who, despite the consequences of the draconian government cuts the Tea Party is bound and determined to ram through Congress, still think the idea of smaller government and spending caps are noble goals worth fighting for. But the polls show that even that fight has limits, and if Tea Party leaders and activists can’t or won’t figure that out, then it’s a sure bet that the plunging popularity of the Tea Party won’t take an upturn. The person who will smile the broadest at that prospect is the one man that the Tea Party has loved to loath, and that’s the man who sits in the Oval Office.