Five years ago yesterday, the home mortgage market was melting down, and as hundreds of thousands of people per month were being laid off from their jobs thanks to a recession the financial sector caused and created, Rick Santelli went on MSNBC (you know, NBC, the liberal network, where the Tea Party was born) and said:
Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water.”
Santelli Continued, “We’re thinking of having a tea party”. And with those magical words, the Tea Party was born.
As Wonkette points out, no matter that it was started on NBC’s business channel by a hard-right corporatist Republican like Santelli, and not as some populist uprising, and no worry that it was started in a response to helping distressed homeowners during the worst economic downturn in generations, this movement was about regular people rising up against a tyrannical regime!
But more important, on this, the fifth birthday of the Tea Party, is the actual results the they have gotten in congress and at the polls. There is no doubt, those Tea Party Republicans elected in 2010 and ’12 have held much sway in Washington, pushing the discourse much further to the right than even the most cynical liberals would have expected. Tea Partiers like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have catapulted themselves from obscurity to the precipice of a Presidential run.
But when it came to elections, especially in the Senate, the Tea Party has made possibly its biggest mark, and not in a good way. In states like Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, and Utah, Tea Party fueled candidates with far-out views, that ultimately proved to be too extreme for the general elections, lost each of these races to Democrats who would not have otherwise won.
Currently, the Democrats hold the Senate with an advantage of 54 to 45, with one Independent in Maine’s Angus King, who regularly votes with the majority. It is not a stretch to say that, save for Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski (R) was able to overcome the Tea Party candidate who defeated her in the primary and return to the Senate, if more moderate Republicans had won those seven Republican primaries, the GOP would hold a majority in the Senate today.
With that leverage, they would have been able to continually send bills to President Obama’s desk, that he would then be forced to either veto or sign, putting Democrats in a very difficult position going into this year’s election and the 2016 Presidential. In this counter-factual, it is even possible that, had Republicans been able to use the structural advantage of a unified legislative branch against President Obama, they would have been able to beat his popularity down enough to give Mitt Romey the Presidency in 2012, and unified Republican control of the law-making branches.
Instead, we have a divided government, with Democratic control of the senate and Presidency, a massively unpopular Republican party that is seen as reactionary and atavistic by the vast majority of the American people, and a leading Democratic contender for the Presidency that is crushing all potential rivals in hypothetical 2016 match ups.
So, Tea Party, on this your fifth birthday, I salute you. Please, please, whatever you do, don’t stop being you, and don’t stop refusing to compromise on your ideals. It’s working out so well!