A few liberal pols get all the press, but the real work of movement-building is happening in the states
Saturday, Jun 28, 2014
After supposed RINO Thad Cochran relied in part on African-American voters to defeat Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel and win the Mississippi GOP’s nomination to the Senate, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe was very upset. Kibbe was so angry, in fact, that he was moved to petulantly declare, “If the only way the K Street wing of the GOP establishment can win is by courting Democrats to vote in GOP primaries then we’ve already won.” This Black Knight-like declaration of victory following conspicuous defeat was widely mocked as yet another example of the Tea Party’s preference to curate reality.
Not every Tea Party opponent was so dismissive, though. Calling “the daily vicissitudes” of the battle between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment “beside the point,” the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote that McDaniel’s defeat obscured a more significant truth: “[O]n many key issues, the business community is getting nothing for its investment in the GOP establishment’s picks.” He went on to cite immigration reform, the Export-Import Bank, and federal spending on infrastructure as just three obvious examples. The obvious conclusion to be drawn? Maybe what Kibbe said wasn’t quite so silly after all.
At the very least, those on the American left hoping to push the Democratic Party away from the centrist, neoliberal policies it’s embraced since at least Bill Clinton (and arguably earlier, beginning with Jimmy Carter) and more toward a more populist, redistributionist approach should be lucky to be so silly. Indeed, members of what little there is of an American far left have long admired the Tea Party’s effectiveness, if not its goals. When, during last October’s Tea Party-inspired government shutdown, Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara wrote that “Tea Party-like success … would be a tremendous advance for those looking not just to protect, but to expand, the welfare state,” he wasn’t playing contrarian but rather echoing a sentiment I’ve heard many times from leftist friends over the past four years. (For those unaware, here’s a good rundown as to why Occupy Wall Street, for all its virtues, doesn’t count.)
Some pundits have argued that the rising popularity of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is proof that, even without a left-wing Tea Party, demographic changes are pushing the Democratic Party inexorably leftward. There’s no doubt at least a kernel of truth to this. But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s nothing new about unapologetically liberal politicians coming out of the Big Apple and the Bay State. And the narrative gets even screwier if we keep in mind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fiscally conservative record, as well as his pending, almost certain, landslide reelection. Above all else, focusing on high-profile pols misses what makes the Tea Party so powerful: its ability to rally American conservatism’s activist troops.
As Ned Resnikoff recently wrote in the Baffler, if there’s to be a true left-wing Tea Party, it’ll have to be a bottom-up affair, one that is driven as much or more by longtime activists, issue-advocacy groups, organized labor and disaffected youth. It will have to be a movement, not a P.R. campaign. And as is the case with the Tea Party, it’ll have to derive much of its power and influence from hard work on the state and local levels, saving the more glamorous — but often less fruitful — work on Congress and the White House for last. As is the case for the real Tea Party, there would no doubt be politicians who seek to align themselves with the movement; but its real power players (at least at first) will have names you’ve never previously heard.
I frame a left-wing Tea Party as a hypothetical because, quite frankly, it right now manifests itself chiefly in tremors and glimmers of something bigger that may one day come. For this piece, I spoke to a handful of state-level candidates who fit that description — politicians whom Howard Dean might describe as coming from “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But while fondness for the party as it currently exists varied among them, a belief that Democrats need to do a better job pushing for economic justice — and against corporate prerogatives — was universal.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/2014/06/28/a_left_wing_tea_party_may_be_closer_than_you_think/