By all accounts, Republicans are on track to make major gains in Congress in November. Disenfranchised with the Democrats and energized by the Tea Party movement, voters appear to be prepared to give the Republican party a chance at governing for a while. Thus, the pendulum swings once more.
The question that needs to be asked, however, is what does victory for the Tea Party actually look like? Is victory simply defeating as many Democrats as possible in the fall election? Every Tea Party member and activist that I’ve spoken with adamantly decries any attempt to paint the movement as affiliated with the Republican party. So defining victory as obtaining Republican majorities would seem to run counter to their core philosophy.
Then is the measure of victory the number of incumbents that are thrown out of office, regardless of party? Here again, we would find a contradiction as the Tea Party has appeared to embrace Senator Jim DeMint, Congressman John Boehner, as well as other incumbents. Measuring success by the number of Congressman that are not returning, then, also appears to be off the table.
Additionally, it appears impossible to measure success by the ideology of the candidates, as the Tea Party is supporting candidates of various ideological stripes all across the country. Some support private accounts in Social Security, while some do not. Some have gone so far as to say that Social Security is unconstitutional, others consider it a vital safety net. On social issues, they are all over the place, as well. Some are pro-life without exceptions, while some would allow abortions in almost every circumstance. Political ideology does not appear to be a large factor.
How, then, can anyone wake up on November 3rd and measure the electoral success of the Tea Party movement? Frankly, you cannot. The media will spin whatever happens on election day however they feel best advances their own interests. Both major parties will issue releases declaring victory in one form or another, with Republicans laying claim to a mandate from the electorate and the Democrats claiming that it could have been worse. And the reality is that none of this matters, as the Tea Party can already claim victory.
Others have written that they are victorious because President Obama’s agenda is dead or because the Republican party is now more conservative or because the Democrat party is a little less liberal, and on and on. But I would submit that none of these things are really that big of a deal, as they are all simply political concerns. Political concerns are the playground of the establishment, not the tools of the revolution. Where the Tea Party has won is in beginning the war to reclaim our nation’s heritage.
The Tea Party has made our founding documents cool again. Average citizens are now reading the Federalist papers and discussing them with their friends. Conversations are now happening all over the nation about what the proper role of the federal government is. While health care reform and the economic stimulus package were the real eye-openers for the public, citizens are now going back and examining things like education and welfare spending and questioning whether or not the federal government should be involved in these things.
It is a journey that will take some time, no doubt. A conversation is just now beginning, and it is a conversation that will likely take some time to achieve real government reforms. The Tea Party must have some success at the ballot box in this election cycle in order to be seen as credible by the public, but its long-term success depends not only on electing good conservatives but also in achieving real policy success.
Eventually, the movement will mature and the conversation will begin to shift toward those reforms that can truly return America to greatness. Right now, we’re discussing eliminating ear marks and repealing health care reform. We need to be talking about transforming Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to be talking about education spending and the proper size of our military. We’ll get there, but the fact that the conversation has (finally) started at a national level is something that the Tea Party can already count as success, no matter what happens on November 2nd.