April 15 is the day that Jackie Robinson officially integrated Major League Baseball. It's also the day that the government (maybe) asks you to pay up. And -- although not 100 percent accurately -- it's the day that Tea Party claims as its unofficial birthday...April 15, 2009.
To paraphrase Meat Loaf, one out of three ain't bad.
Still, a few years back, the Tea Party was interesting, where "the action" was, even if you thoroughly disagreed with their agenda. I went to machine gun shows in Kentucky and hung out with "Sheriff Joe" in Arizona so I could write a book about what the hell was going on. Still, by its third birthday, the "Party" was all over but the shouting, and now even the shouting is nowhere to be heard. Remember when there were decent (if numerically overhyped) crowds for Tea Party rallies and events? Where are they now?
Look, at its core, the base of the Tea Party is the same 20 percent or so of political dead-enders who've been around for decades --they were the John Birch Society in the early 1960s, hardhats pummeling hippies in the streets of Manhattan in 1970, the Moral Majority in the 1980s, and so on. Then the Tea Party magically sprung forth in the winter of 2009, just days after the Jackie Robinson of American politics, Barack Obama (although his batting average is a bit lower) officially integrated the Oval Office.
But while I do think that racial politics -- especially the fear that whites will soon be a minority in America -- is in the DNA of the Tea Party, I also think something deeper was at play, especially in the halcyon days of 2009 and 2010. The rank and file of the Tea Party was being used, by two-bit entertainers like Glenn Beck and politically by the likes of the Koch Brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
How so? The myth is that the Tea Party was inspired by TARP and the Wall Street-bank bailouts (I didn't find a lot of evidence of that in my reporting) but the reality is that the Tea Party elected representatives who want to repeal Wall Street reforms and make it easier for the oligarchs to swindle us all over again. On the other hand, I did find that rising joblessness among 50- and 60-somethings was one of the factors boosting the backlash in those years after the 2008 collapse -- and yet the folks they elected have blocked long-term unemployment benefits...while the rich get even richer.
If that's not being used, what is? Where did those moderately large Tea Party crowds of five years ago go? They stopped showing up places -- because Fox News realized (probably after disasters like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware) it had created a monster and so it stopped telling its dittoheads to do that.
Today, there's a lot about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul that I really, really disagree with, but I do find him interesting in 2014 much as I found the Tea Party interesting in 2009, and he gave a remarkable speech in New Hampshire this past weekend. He blasted corporate welfare, and said that his Republican Party needs to start showing compassion for the unemployed. Then he added this: “If you want to be consistent, if you want to grow the movement, we cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people and Wall Street. There’s always a bigger working class than an owner’s class. I’m not against the owner’s class but I want to tell the workers in America that we’re on their side.”
We'll see. Paul also didn't offer anything in the way of policy other than supporting tax cuts of the kind that have made the 1 Percent so much richer since the Reagan years. This sounds like more Koch-flavored bait and switch to me. Could there be a true libertarian movement -- one that supports smaller government at the Pentagon as much as at HHS? I kind of doubt the Fox-fueled puppeteers of modern conservatism will allow that to happen -- even as the Tea Party they invented fades into complete irrelevance.
But as another Tea Party/Fox invention, Scott Brown, once tweeted, “Bqhatevwr.” Enjoy your 5th birthday, Tea Party...while you're still here.