If you have not done so, I encourage you to mosey over to the National Journal and read Jonathan Rauch’s in-depth analysis of the Tea Party movement: How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders.
The Tea Party movement which has arisen over the past two years has proved an enigma to politicos and pundits alike. Unable to grasp its essential nature, caricatures and character assassinations have abounded, and the straw man thus erected — angry, racist, extremist white men, secretly funded by corporate America and puppets of the Republican Party — bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground. In reality, the Tea Party represents open source politics — individuals empowered by connectivity and the internet, functioning in many ways like a living organism.
If you have been reading John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog (and you should, if you want some deep insight on how society and the nation-state are evolving to something radically different than that to which we have known over the past half-millennium) you will recognize well its form: the empowerment of individuals and small groups by technology and connectivity, undermining and hollowing out centralized command-and-control structures, whether they be military, governmental, or political in nature, utilizing their very size, ossification, and inertia against these institutions in sociopolitical jujitsu.
The Tea Party movement has grown out of the widespread frustration with aristocratic, corrupt government and politicians, of both parties, indifferent and contemptuous of their so-called constituents, running a nation reeling toward bankruptcy as their “experts” increase their control over society with increasingly reckless and destructive policies and plans.
The goals and concerns of the Tea Party movement are laudable and widely held: reign in out-of-control spending and massive expansion of government; address our disastrous spiraling national debt; increase the accountability of politicians and civil servants to the public; foster transparency and rational governance among the elected. The Tea Party has the potential to bring about enormous changes in our political system — which is why those entrenched in power fear it so, while understanding it hardly at all.
But we would be foolish if we were to ignore the downside potential of this 21st century phenomenon. The potency of connectivity and instantaneous communication, unbounded by geography and national borders, resides in the leveraging of the Lilliputians: a small terrorist faction with a few thousand dollars can destroy an oil pipeline carrying billions of dollars of crude; an unknown pastor with a match and a Koran can trigger a global crisis in Islam. A miscreant with a web site can expose tens of thousands of secret military documents, endangering the lives of thousands of informants and forcing changes in strategy in billion-dollar military campaigns. A broker with an incorrect trading order can spark a flash crash in global stock markets, potentially triggering a financial crisis costing trillions.
Our current government has become profoundly dysfunctional. Its massive size creates an enormous inertia rendering it incapable of responding appropriately to even the most straightforward problems; it is a paraparetic pachyderm crushing everything it stumbles toward. Its politicians and civil servants have created an impenetrable fortress, gerrymandering their way to eternal election, indenturing the the taxpayer to support lavish and corrupt lifestyles and unsustainable public salaries and benefits. The Tea Party is a response to the widespread frustration and helplessness engendered by a preening, ignorant, arrogant aristocracy which treats its citizens with utter contempt as it squanders their grandchildren’s future to further entrench themselves in power. Party no longer matters; all are spoiled royal heirs whining and squabbling over who wears the king’s robes.
The Tea Party movement — loosely organized, decentralized, superempowered by modern technology and connectivity — may represent our best, and perhaps last, hope of reversing the disastrous and destructive bent toward an economically bankrupt aristocratic dystopia. It is by no means assured of success; our fate may already be preordained, and we do not know how well those elected by them might govern. But the genius of our young republic resides in the checks and balances of tripartite, representative government. It is not a populist democracy, as was ancient Greece — indeed the Founders saw the dangers of purely populist government, where charismatic despots or a fickle and easily-swayed populace could make drastic changes in governance ultimately destructive to the health and integrity of the nation.
The empowerment of a populist revolt is not without risks: an enraged and empowered populace could sweep into power those supportive of despotism, or religious persecution, or reckless policy-makers who could trigger financial or social meltdown.
But one thing is clear: the rules of the political game have changed, forever. Let us hope and pray they have changed for the better.