What a difference a year makes. From the beginnings of the Tea Party, in the spring of 2009, liberal Democrats have made no effort to conceal their hatred for the movement. President Obama said the Tea Partiers ought to be thanking him instead of protesting his policies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Tea Partiers of harboring Nazis. Most famously, actress Janeane Garofalo said "this is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up." Since then, this liberal meme has been repeated endlessly in an attempt to discredit the Tea Party as nothing more than a collection of angry, mean-spirited, old white people.
Meanwhile, the movement has played by the rules, organized and grown all over the country, and become a force to be reckoned with in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. At least seven incumbent senators and representatives have been knocked out of office by Tea Party insurgencies so far, and the only question remaining seems to be how many freshmen congressmen will join the Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill in January 2011.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Tea Party movement, however, is the absence of a leadership hierarchy or centralized line of authority. There are thousands of Tea Party groups across America, including several that have established distinct national profiles. As Tea Party Patriots coordinator Mark Meckler told National Journal's Jonathan Rauch, "what we're doing is crowd-sourcing. I use the term 'open-source politics.' This is an open-source movement." Or, to put it in traditional terms, the Tea Partiers are a genuine grass-roots movement whose adherents span much of the political spectrum. "You could do worse than to think of the Tea Party Patriots as a left-wing organization with a right-wing, or at least libertarian, ideology," Rauch said.
And the movement is anything but racially segregated. Thirty-five percent of black likely voters identify with the Tea Party, including 17 percent who strongly identify with it, according to Vic Rubenfeld, director of polling for Pajamas Media TV. As for the liberal Democrats who have attacked it, the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll finds "likely voters say they are considerably more likely to vote for a candidate the president opposes than one he supports. On the other hand, 50 percent of voters said they would be more likely to vote for a Tea Party-backed candidate while a third of Americans said Tea Party support would dissuade their vote for a candidate."
With numbers like that, Obama must wonder what the Tea Partiers know that he doesn't.