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Tea Party anger cuts both ways

Populist revolts like this attack both parties, and so may cause as much damage to Republicans as to Democrats. Remember that it was Ross Perot who elected Clinton and Teddy Roosevelt who sent Woodrow Wilson to the White House.
Tea Party protesters marching in Philadelphia in 2009.

Tea Party protesters marching in Philadelphia in 2009. Surfsupusa/via Wikimedia Commons

My Monday Crosscut article regarding national economic distress, and the growing populist outrage flowing from it, used Ross Perot and his 1992 presidential candidacy as an example of such populist rebellion. The Perot candidacy had the unintended consequence of diverting enough votes from President George H.W. Bush to put Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the White House.

Thus far most media coverage has featured Tea Party and other protests as being rooted in the Republican Party and generating 2010 opposition to incumbent Democratic congressional candidates. But consequences could be wider than that. The movement also could hit Republican incumbents and challengers this fall and change the political landscape thereafter.

It is important to differentiate between various third-party and independent movements. What they all have in common is that they are reactionary; that is, they are reactions against policies identified with mainstream parties and candidates.

Perot's candidacy had its roots in disquiet over growing public deficits and debt.

By contrast, Alabama Gov. George Wallace's 1968 and 1972 candidacies were based mainly in populist resentment against what were perceived as the national Democratic Party's leftward tilt and its alienation from middle-American voters and values.

Surveys after the 1968 election, won narrowly by Richard Nixon over Vice President Hubert Humphrey, showed that Nixon owed his victory in large part to defections by traditional blue-collar, bread-and-butter Democratic voters to both Nixon and Wallace in states such as Illinois, Ohio, and New Jersey. The anti-Vietnam War movement was important in the Democratic nominating process that year. But, surveys showed, most peace voters cast Humphrey ballots in the general election. What later would be called Reagan Democrats, voting either for Wallace or Nixon, had been the pivotal voting bloc in the election.

Most media in 1968 saw the Wallace candidacy as based in protest against national Democratic association with civil-rights issues. Actively involved in that year's campaign, I saw it that way too; so did Humphrey. But most of the protest vote turned out to be about what these early-day Reagan Democrats saw as excessive welfare-state spending and social activism — both leaving these voters feeling on the outside.

In 1972, Sen. George McGovern lost by a landslide to Nixon as Reagan Democrats' defections became even more pronounced. These same voters, already uncomfortable with national Democratic leaders' Great Society orientations, were further alienated in 1972 by the party's new social-issue stances. The Democratic national convention of that year was characterized as being the "acid, amnesty, and abortion" convention. (I served as McGovern's platform manager that year; both I and our platform staff members spent much of our time trying to modify what we knew would be politically-alienating demands by single-issue groups intent on having their way, regardless of the effect on their Presidential nominee's fall prospects).

Looking further back, to 1948, the first post-World War II Democratic Party national convention was split three ways: There was the majority faction supporting the reelection of President Harry Truman; a civil-rights-resisting Southern faction which broke off to form the Dixiecrat Party and the candidacy of Sen. Strom Thurmond; and a leftward faction which broke off to form the Progressive Party candidacy of former Vice President Henry Wallace. Truman, almost miraculously, defeated New York Gov. Thomas Dewey in the general election.

In 1912, you recall, the split was in the Republican Party as former President Theodore Roosevelt bolted his party to run as the Bull Moose Party candidate against President William Howard Taft, thus electing President Woodrow Wilson. A good part of TR's support came from Republicans rebelling against what they saw as their party's too-close association with big financial and industrial interests.

What is the nature of the growing 2010 insurgency?

It has much in common with the 1968 and 1972 uprisings by former mainstream Democrats who, by 1980, had migrated in large part to support of Reagan. But it has a more urgent tone because, in 2010, huge numbers of Americans have been personally hit by national financial and economic distress. They are angry, it should be emphasized, not just with incumbent Democratic officeholders — the "ins" who traditionally get blamed when things get tough — but with incumbents in general, who are perceived as out of touch with their grassroots.


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Comments:

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 6:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Ralph Nadar?

Cameron

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

We didn't need much organization for the love-ins in the sixties when we would all meet in the local parks. We still managed to get the issues of the day discussed.

I feel the reason behind most of our troubles and the need for TEA Parties is the government's ability to print up whatever money it wants to get their way.

Maybe this will help make the danger of fiat money clear.

Imagine you and me are setting across from each other. We create enough money to represent all of the world's wealth. Each one of us has one SUPER Dollar in front of him.

You own half of everything and so do I.

I'm the government though. I get bribed into creating a Central Bank.

You're not doing what I want you to be doing so I print up myself eight more SUPER Dollars to manipulate you with.

All of a sudden your SUPER Dollar only represents one tenth of the wealth of the world!

That isn't the only thing though. You need to get busy and get to work because YOU'VE BEEN STIFFED with the bill for the money I PRINTED UP to get YOU TO DO what I WANTED.

That to me represents what has been happening to the economy, and us, and why so many of our occupations just can't keep up with the fake money presses.

They have been beating us with our own stick!!!!1

StokeyBob

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

The Tea Party members are rightfully concerned about federal deficit spending, which neither of the two major parties-who have vigorously and successfully protected their duopoly, is attuned to. On the other hand, my guess is that Tea Party members don't return their Social Security, Medicare, and other federal benefits, either. They'd be more convincing, as would the Republicans who complain about federal spending they helped perpetuate and to sustain, if they did something in starting a "movement" in this regard, including proposing realistic solutions that might pass a majority of Congress rather than just complaining. With the present political system, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to do almost anything significant, and that's where change must begin, i.e. changes to Senate rules. If that doesn't happen, the best we can hope for is incremental change until disaster happens. In the case of "financial," it will probably be too late to act then.

bricsa

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted, Shame on you for buying into the right wing fantasy that Perot had the same impact in 1992 as Nader had in 2000. The numbers just don't line up. Clinton won the electoral college by 370 to 168. The following states were won by Clinton with less than 5% of the vote: GA, OH, NJ, NH, MT, NV, KY, CO, WI, LA and TN.

If every one of those staes had gone to Bush instead, Bush would have won by 275 to 263. But, face it, that reversal is an unlikely possibility. Perot portrayed himself as all things to all people. His appeal brought over a large number of democrat's votes also. It wasn't until the 1996 election that he tried to take over the mantle of Reagan.

So, Ted, allow Quayle and Bush the right to dream about what might have been, but you should treat your readers with a bit more respect.

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm a bit puzzled by your reference to Mike McGinn. As someone who thought, and still thinks, that Mallahan should have been elected, I can concede that the McGinn campaign was a very skilled one, reaching out to and showing interest in the many communities in Seattle, together with providing a strong appeal to a certain demographic. The McGinn campaign did carry something of an outsider motif, but there was nothing demagogic or "populist" about it.

Some of your other comparisons, such as to 1912, also seem a bit strange to me, but I think that the 1968/1972 analogies are good ones. I think a contrast can be made between those who shout the loudest and what the country's real needs are.

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 2:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for your comments to date.

Yes, Ralph Nader could well have been included as leading an insurgency that had significance. He made little impact on the overall 2000 popular vote but did draw enough Florida votes from Vice President Al Gore to
make the difference there.

There also was the Progressive movement of the 20th century...but it was continuing and did not have a difference-making impact on a Presidential election or congressional balance of power.

I would differ with the reader who believes that Perot had little impact in 2000. Perot got a full 19 percent of the popular vote. Post-election surveys showed that a strong majority to two-thirds of his votes would have gone to President G.H.W. Bush had Perot not been on the ballot. Without Perot, would Bush have won enough of the marginal states listed to keep his Presidency? I tend toward the argument that he would have. It was not only Perot's presence on the ballot that hurt Bush but also the injection of Perot's arguments into overall national campaign dialogue.

I disagree with the reader who believes removing the filibuster threat from the Senate (that is, the present de facto requirement of 60 votes to cutoff debate and force a final vote on contentious issues) is central to better governance. The Senate, after all, is the body intended to provide unlimited debate and protection of minority views. It used to be that 67 votes were necessary to cutoff debate---and sponsors of important legislation found ways to break filibusters anyway. Things would be easier without the 60-vote rule but legislative sponsors could reduce its importance by not yielding in advance to any and all filibuster threats.
It is one thing to threaten a filibuster; it is another to sustain one...or two, or three.

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"Reagan Democrats" in 1968 & 1972? Uh, those were Wallace voters, and your lying eyes didn't mislead you at the time, the economic concerns that those polls discovered?- were that shiftless brown-skinned people were getting benefits that are ok for white workers just down on their luck. They went to Nixon both times, as part of his "silent majority". That demographic has become the modern teabaggers, and formed a great deal of the Perot/Buchanan Reform Party. Archie Bunker voters, to put a contemporary period label to them, resenting the rich and the underclass almost equally, but hoping to join the rich while fearing falling to underclass status.
And if you're going all the way back to 1912, Eugene Debs, Socialist, gathered a nearly respectable 6% of the vote in that election, with 24% going to TR's Progressives.

NickBob

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

"The Senate, after all, is the body intended to provide unlimited debate and protection of minority views"
No, no, no. How in the world did you ever make a living in government? Never mind, this is a window in the thinking of our modern Democratic Party moderates. The Senate was created to provide geographic balance in the Federal Government, pure and simple. Minority protection? Like the Minority protection provided to the 3/5's of citizens (but wholely without voting rights) blacks? There isn't a word in the Constitution about either "unlimited debate" or "minority protection" and the rules of the Senate have evolved considerably since the thirteen states became the USA. The filibuster as we now know it has not only changed from the 2/3's of the Senate required to cut off debate, modern rules changed since then allow for Senators to prolong debate without actually requiring them to speak to hold the floor. This isn't Frank Capra's Senate, hasn't been since before Maggie was replaced by Slade. That was almost thirty years ago, for those of you who weren't around at the time. Thanks for the transparency Ted, better late than never c

NickBob

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 6:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Only Ted Van Dyk could say "In 1912, you recall" and mean it literally for himself.

sarah

Posted Sun, Apr 4, 9:58 p.m. Inappropriate

You were there, Sarah, I saw you.

Posted Mon, Apr 5, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Ted, Please do a similarly thought-through treatice on the election that makes for the better or at least more pertinent comparison material, 1994, if you catch my drift. Mayor Mike McGinn will in the future run for Governor and be elected by a wide majority. Tunnelite II.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 13, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Amen, NickBob, re the 1968/72 "Reagan Democrats" demographic. It was in the works the moment that the 'black' delegation from Mississippi was seated at a Dem Convention. Even if the "fear" is gone (or has abated) the antipathy lives on... just as the desire of a Virginia Governor to celebrate the Confederacy indicates. "Immigration" only exacerbates this issue. I suppose that "voting rights for minorities" could be considered a 'leftist' thingy, that, happily, has some foundation in the Constitution.

Debs got nearly a million votes while in prison for defying Wilson's support for WWI. It appears we may be heading in that direction again, with the PATRIOT ACT & "enemy combatant" status standing by. ^..^

ridovem

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