“Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred.” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Substitute “the tea party” for the 600 charging cavalrymen of the Light Brigade, and you have the most interesting (and to some on both left and right, disturbing) political phenomenon in decades.
The Light Brigade reached its objective, but was torn to shreds in the process. It remains to be seen whether the tea party movement will fare better, but considering the successes they’ve had recently, they deserve a closer look — and one less willing to open fire on them than has been evident on these pages recently.
The tea party movement may not yet count a majority of Americans among its members, but there are plenty of people – Republicans, Democrats and independents – who, while never considering themselves members, understand fully the movement’s deep concerns about the size and scope of federal deficit spending on our children’s future.
And they also see many of our nation’s political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, as either indifferent to those concerns or actively hostile to them.
While tea partiers have been castigated from the left as being an arm of the GOP, that was rather significantly disproved Saturday in a party convention in Utah, a state where conventioneers, not voters in a primary, get the first shot at narrowing down the list of approved candidates. Only the top two go on to the primary, and No. 3 ended up being Sen. Bob Bennett, an 18-year Senate veteran seeking a fourth term.
Bennett is no liberal, but he reportedly was viewed by attendees as a sellout, having voted for deficit spending via TARP and having promoted his own health-care plan that included mandatory coverage.
Plus, he had already broken a pledge to serve only two terms and had piled up his share of earmarks. It is worth noting that one delegate commented after Bennett’s defeat, “Term limits started on May 8.”
Bennett’s downfall has resonated nationwide, even though its circumstances may have been unique. The issues of big deficits and limited government are not confined to Utah, however, and that’s what has many people paying attention.
A 14-term incumbent Democrat lost his House seat in a West Virginia primary this week, too. Rep. Allan Mollohan was involved in ethical issues that may have influenced party voters, but corruption in Washington is also a tea party issue.
With other critical primaries and special elections coming up soon – including ones Tuesday in Pennsylvania and Arkansas in which two Democratic senators, Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, face strong intraparty challengers – the anti-incumbent trend could be significantly reinforced.
Both parties are worried about polls of the national mood, but it looks like Democrats should be the most concerned. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed voters across the spectrum shifting to the GOP.
As the Journal reported, “Overall, the survey found that voters were split over which party they preferred to control Congress after November, with 44 percent favoring each party. But that finding masked the overwhelming Republican advantage among the voters most likely to cast ballots on Election Day.
“The voters who said they were most interested in the November elections favor Republican control of Congress by a 20-point margin, with 56 percent backing the GOP and 36 percent backing Democrats – the highest gap all year on that question.”
The pollsters made it clear that voters didn’t rank Republicans much higher than Democrats in their ability to run Congress, but the anti-incumbent feeling is running so strong that the party in power is taking most of its impact.
If that’s the way this fall’s voting turns out, the GOP will have a limited window of opportunity to prove to voters it can be responsible about spending.
Failing that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong third-party movement developing.
And all that brings us back to Maine, where in a “can-you-hear-me-now” moment, delegates to the GOP convention last weekend tossed out their party’s plain-vanilla platform for one that was part tea party and part vintage libertarianism, with a dash of conservative social issues thrown in.
From the reaction among leftists, you would have thought this was the second coming of Mussolini. It’s understandable they are upset over something that directly challenges them the way this document does — the left holds the reins of power in Augusta and has for a long time, to the point where it feels entitled to run things — but it shows that the times they are a-changin’ in Maine, too.
As one conservative blogger noted, those who give the GOP advice on how to be more like Democrats can’t point to any successes that policy has had.
“Moderation” – as defined by people who are not fiscally responsible and never will be – hasn’t yielded governors or legislative majorities in years. Being more aggressive about lowering the size and cost of government seems worth a try.
Into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell? Hey, if you take cannon fire doing it, maybe it means the opposition finally has reason to fear you.
M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or: