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What we Progressives can learn from the Tea Party’s Success

November 21, 2010

House Majority Leader - Elect John Boehner with leadership team. Photo: (Photo: Scott J. Ferrell, Congressional Quarterly / Getty Images)


Yep, Election Day was a pretty sad affair: the Senate will be far more conservative; the House – Republican landside takeover with as many as 80 new law makers whom are Tea Party activists or allies.

But, we’ve had nearly a month to grieve the election results. Now it’s time to move on. And let’s not waste energy demeaning the Tea Party – instead let’s learn from their remarkable success.

Of course it is tempting to blame the likes of Dick Armey (FreedomWorks), Karl Rove (American Crossroads) the Brothers Koch, and the Supreme Court (Citizens United) for unleashing megabucks for rightwing candidates. However, I am convinced that the Tea Party has a legitimate grassroots base with a level of anger, energy and message that resonated with a frustrated public. Show potential – the money will follow. Build it they will come.


Although progressives will take very different stands, the organizing principles used by the right wing Tea Party have proven effective — they learned it all from the left!

Ten Tenets of Tea-Party Success

  1. Don’t wait for deliverance from elected officials.
  2. All politics are local.
  3. Show up at town hall meetings and get heard.
  4. Focus on small number of issues (jobs, jobs, jobs)
  5. Run your own candidates at local, state and national levels.
  6. Don’t form a separate party, but challenge your party’s establishment.
  7. Run in primaries against incumbents whom are not on board.
  8. Be highly focused and explain the issues in simple, straightforward terms.
  9. Have training sessions for local leaders.
  10. Charisma counts – Grizzly Moms score media. Don’t be wishy-washy.

Let’s stop being defensive about “pork.” Tea Party folks are not wishy washy or defensive. So with regard to so called “pork” let’s call it what it is, meat and potatoes (M&P). M&P has provided a great things for communities around the country –from schools, to roads, to municipal buildings, and research centers. It’s a much better use of money than the enormous subsidies that Congress has given big corporations. Take the offense and highlight the difference between a boost to a community college and billions in tax breaks to big oil[1] Don’t forget local M&P means jobs. There are lots of folks wanting jobs – Go down to the Congressman’s home office for a friendly Saturday chat. Bring up unemployment insurance extensions while you’re there (talk about MM&P = mortgage, meat and potatoes). Bring kids along – a good educational experience.

City Life/Vida Urbana Protest halts Boston Foreclosure

A good example of taking charge locally comes from the Boston area. Community organizers have developed a “take it to the streets” model for fighting foreclosures – it has been quite effective in getting the banks to reconsider. See it here.


An opportunity: The coming months will demonstrate more clearly than ever the real right-wing / Republican agenda — attacking social security and Medicare. They will likely work to slash budgets for community health centers and continue to block extensions of unemployment compensation while pushing tax cuts for the wealthy. And Republican Governors and Governors-Elect are already at work cancelling federally funded commuter rail projects. (Link). These actions will produce real harm to increasingly large numbers of people – from construction workers to teachers to police and firemen, to local business (benefit from M&P), to scientists (dwindling government support), and so forth.

Big tent: I just Googled up “Tea Party politics / images.” (If you don’t add the word “politics” you get illustrations from Alice in Wonderland). With very few exceptions the people in their demos are White. This is not to cast any aspersions, but to point out that the Tea Party-infused GOP has a huge vulnerability. African-Americans and Latinos will be disproportionately harmed if to the extent that conservatives are successful.

Tea Party Event Boston. Click to enlarge.

No Congressional districts will be spared and every district is an opportunity to organize locally from the bottom up. The challenge for progressives is to mobilize and organize a broad coalition around economic issues – a coalition that can win elections and economic justice.

[1] See also David Cay Johnston’s wonderful book Free Lunch – How the Wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill) Link

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Henry S. Cole, Ph.D. permalink*
    November 21, 2010 9:47 pm

    Thanks, Hoboduke

    Please let us know what you find out about your friend’s Medicare coverage ( lack thereof).
    Were you able to get a meaningful explanation from Medicare’s help line?

    Our readers will be very interested in what you learn.

    We ask any readers with further information to contribute.

    All the best to Judy and her recovery.

    Hank Cole

  2. November 21, 2010 6:20 pm

    People are not campaigning to elect a candidate based on some vague campaign platform. People are voting on voting records, or if new, their position on improving, repealing, or adding laws on specific issues. My friend Judy has been on Medicare health benefits for several years, and last year she started a cancer treatment that proved not effective. In January her oncologist started a newer drug that has been effective. She has improved and the cancer is in remission. In July Medicare informed her and doctor that the new healthcare law removes this treatment from payments. Welcome to the facts that the new law introduces guidelines that didn’t exist before. Is this an improvement for Judy? Her oncologist said he will not take medicare patients anymore, because he does not want to let patients die that can be treated. I voted because we told we were too dumb to understand that healthcare law was to force greedy insurance companies to promote better treatments, not restrict treatments. So only government insurance like Medicare can deny treatment but not private insurance companies? This is only a small example of why the tide has turned on citizens trusting their future to politicians without direct oversight by the voters. Citizens don’t need to be fed a pile of manure, and told trust us on the future benefits.

    • Henry S. Cole, Ph.D. permalink*
      November 21, 2010 6:39 pm

      We welcome all serious comments including those with differing or divergent views.
      In this case Hoboduke may have some valid points about flaws in Medicare. If others have knowledge on this or have had similar issues please speak up.

      In my own experience Medicare (with AARP supplemental insurance) has provided me with wonderful care for my cardiac ups and downs. These programs have paid for nearly all surgery and However, I can tell you from personal sticker shock that the so-called donut hole make it very expensive to get the medication you need when you reach the threshold.

      It’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I believe that the terrible complexity and flaws in the Health Care reform Act stem from the bad way that the Administration and Congress handled the process. They should have held field hearings on the severe problems and covered those. Instead they put Senators into Town Hall meetings to attempt the impossible — explain a bill they didn’t understand and have to do it with the Tea Party crowd shouting them down.

      Lets learn.

      • November 21, 2010 6:46 pm

        The volume of shouting at Town Hall meetings was a shock to the nation. Because it showed the emotional connection to the issues at hand. Especially politicians bumbling and stumbling about specific questions on the law they never read before signing into law. I still don’t undertand how Medicare approved and paid for 6 months her medicine, and now won’t based on the new law. Everyone insisted there is no “death panel” which is TEA party nonsense. Judy does not care about politics, she cares about seeing her grandkids for Christmas for maybe the last time. We will ask our newly elected Republican Representative to assist in finding where and how Medicare has been changed on paying for Judy’s life saving treatment.


  1. Updates on the stories we’ve covered « Ekos²

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