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Slimantics: Turn out the lights, the Tea Party's over


Slim Smith



The fever appears to be breaking. The Tea Party movement, much like the Know Nothing Party of 150 years ago, will soon have run its obstructionist course. 


As is the case with most national trends, that fever will break last in Mississippi, which seems to be on a perpetual two-year time-delay for most national trends.  


That delay may be enough to keep Phil Bryant in the governor's office, although I wouldn't bet on it. When you deny 300,000 Mississippians access to health care, as Bryant vows to do, you are likely to be met with challenges from both within your party and without. There is no shortage of conservatives in either party, after all. The temptation to give the reins of power to a conservative without that Tea Party albatross hanging around his neck will be enticing to a voting public which is becoming increasingly aware that Bryant is more devoted to ideology than the people. 


Politicians who have aligned themselves less overtly with the Tea Party are beginning to look for an exit strategy. 


Here's why: 


In a January Rasmussen poll, the number of grassroots Tea Party organizations in the country have fallen from a high of 900 in 2010 to just 600. What's more, the poll indicates that voters who identified themselves as Tea Party members have dwindled to a paltry eight percent, down from a high 24 percent that came at the time the president's national health care legislation was signed into law.  


Before you are inclined to shoot the messenger, it's worth noting that Rasmussen is widely considered to be a right-leaning polling entity. It is the polling group most often cited by Fox News, lest you dismiss the poll as some sort of conspiracy concocted by the great, mythic "liberal media." 


Karl Rove, who is sort of the John the Baptist of the GOP, has taken direct aim at the Tea Party. It's a civil war and the Tea Party has about seven bullets and a rusty rifle at its disposal. The movement is toast. 


That is not to say its stubborn residue will not remain a continuing nuisance on the national landscape. In Congress, particularly, and in many governors' offices it still exerts influence. 


But the Tea Party's grip on public opinion, limited to the most conservative of conservatives, has never been more tenuous.  


Within a couple of years, it will be relegated to the realm of forgotten movements, its effect on history little more than a footnote. Like the Know Nothings, a nativist movement that aided in the splintering of the Democratic party in the 1860s, the Tea Party will be remembered for its unintentional role in achieving precisely what it fought against -- in this case, assuring the reelection of President Barack Obama, strengthening the Democratic Party's hold on the Senate and diluting GOP strength in Congress. 


Like most "one-idea" movements whose appeal captures a polarized segment of the population, the Tea Party proved to be one that could only obstruct and never produce. 


To date, there is not a single instance where the movement has ever been able to achieve anything of lasting value, aside from driving some moderate Republicans out of office and thereby ensuring grid-lock in Washington. You couldn't get Mother's Day passed through Congress these days, thanks to the small, but rabid Tea Party contingent that has its collective finger permanently poised above the "Nay" button.  


The movement's singular idea -- small government produced by dramatic cuts in spending and taxes -- is embraced only by degrees among most Americans, who correctly understand that we can't have an 18th-century government in a 21st-century world.  


The model the Tea Party always loves to cite -- comparing the government's economic situation to that of a typical American household -- was badly flawed from the start. 


The argument was that, when times are hard, the typical family cuts back on spending to make ends meet. If you only take it that far, it's a plausible notion. 


But what the Tea Party has always proposed is counterintuitive in one important way. That family might indeed look to cut spending where it could, but no one in the family would suggest that it would be wise to cut its income as well. Yet that is precisely what the Tea Party philosophy advocates -- a government that not only spends less but brings in less through tax cuts.  


Born of anger and frustration, it should be no real surprise the Tea Party has always adopted the most simplistic view of the economic landscape. Americans, according to the Rasmussen poll, are rejecting that argument. The poll reports that only 30 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Tea Party. 


If there remained any doubt of the movement's march toward irrelevance, consider that the latest target for the movement is a fight for the "right" for people to ride manatees. In Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department announced restrictions that would prevent people from riding on the backs of the docile and endangered mammal. From the Tea Party's perspective, it's a serious matter, yet another example of how Americans are being stripped of their liberties, another theme the movement loves to promote. 


Tea Party folks are always talking about the imminent threat to our "American Liberties," although they are generally hard-pressed to cite a real example -- unless you hold dear the inalienable right to be a Manatee Cowboy. 


Of course, the ban on manatee riding is just the start. It is only a matter of time until monkeys will be forbidden to ride on the backs of dogs at county fairs.  


Is this the kind of America we want to live in, an America where manatees or dogs are valued more than patriotic American people and monkeys who love to ride? 


Are you comforted to know that the Tea Party is defending these cherished rights? 


Yep. It's safe to say the Tea Party movement has progressed from dubious to absurd.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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