Does the Tea Party movement matter? Maybe! Here’s the link to my aforementioned piece on the Arkansas Tea Party movement in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which looks at the phenomenon in a bit more detail and examines some of the challenges they’ll face going forward.
It’s not intended as the definitive word on the movement in Arkansas, but a first stab at assessing its potential to turn into an effective and constructive political force. In many ways, some of the impulses behind the Tea Party movement remind me of those that fueled the Reform Party’s short-lived spurt of relevance in the 1990s (the outsider orientation and focus on fiscal responsibility and economic accountability especially).
One advantage today’s Tea Party movement has over the ’90s Reform Party is a vastly superior set of tools for grassroots communication, coordination and organization. Here’s a Ning social network page set up by organizers in Central Arkansas, for example. (Yes, this comparison to the Reform Party might have added a nice historical perspective to the article, but it didn’t occur to me until too late and it was long enough anyway. And yes, the Reform Party is still around, if you were wondering.)
A couple of caveats: First, the activists I quote in my article are all based in Central Arkansas. There’s a much broader statewide network of activists and organizers who are deeply committed to the Tea Party movement, and if I omit them from this discussion, it was simply a function of time and available space.
If you’re interested in learning more, Mark Moore of the Arkansas Watch blog hosts a weekly Tea Party radio show at this site that’s worth a listen for more insight into how participants in the movement view their involvement and how it’s shaping up. The June 16 episode has some good discussion between Moore and movement activists Laurie Masterson and Bob Porto about the Tom Cox Senate announcement (which caused some perhaps short-lived friction among activists) and other Tea Party issues.
Along those lines, I noticed this site linked from Instapundit today, which lists a variety of Tea Party events around the state on July 4. I’d never seen this site before, which reflects the movement’s decentralized and amorphous quality. Most of these events are likely independent productions, in fact, neither dictated or endorsed by any centralized movement leadership, because at this point such leadership does not exist. (I’ll reemphasize that a huge test of relevance for the movement will be finding ways to do something more constructive than hosting an endless series of protest rallies.)
But enough of that. Just go read my thumbsucker on these matters over at the ADG.
UPDATE: A note on usage: I always write “Tea Party,” but you frequently see it rendered as “TEA Party,” with “TEA” presented as an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already.” I’d been curious about this usage, as I hadn’t seen it used in earlier discussions of the movement, and from what I can tell the acronym is a back-formation (or, as this Wikipedia entry notes, a “backronym”) that developed after the movement had already generated momentum. Most activists and organizers I’ve interacted with do not use the acronym version, for what it’s worth, preferring the simpler “Tea Party.”