“What’s Your General Opinion On The Tea Party Movement?”

That was the question a political operative asked me last night. The short, general answer would be, “The Tea Party movement is very good for the country and the Republican Party.”

Of course, if you get into the details, it’s more complicated than that.

First off, the Tea Party movement deserves a lot of credit for putting some steel back in the spine of the Republican Party. Sadly, during the Bush years, the GOP became a political party that was trying to be too many things to too many people. They wanted to be the party for small government people while they were touting “compassionate conservatism” and trying to prove they were comfortable with big government. They wanted to be the party for fiscal conservatives, but simultaneously, they also cared little about getting spending under control. In other words, the GOP talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. The idea behind this was supposed to be that it would make it easier for the Republican Party to win elections, but not only did that turn out not to be true — if you don’t believe in anything, what good does it do to have you in office? This isn’t a football game where people should cheer for the Republicans because they’re “our team.” People support political parties because they want them to do certain things and if they’re not even willing to try, then ultimately, people will decide there’s little reason to back them.

By supporting genuinely conservative candidates and perhaps more importantly, by targeting establishment Republicans for defeat, the Tea Party helped force the Republican Party to start living up to its principles again. If you want to know why fiscal conservatism is back in vogue with Republicans in D.C., it’s because of the Tea Party.

Perhaps most importantly, the mountain of debt that this country is accumulating is one of the biggest crises in our nation’s history. Our Super Power status, the future prosperity of our nation, and the American Dream itself are at stake here and could be lost, perhaps even within the next decade. And what do we hear from our politicians? Well, Barack Obama, in his State of Union speech admitted that our level of spending is “unsustainable” — which is absolutely true. But then, he went on to propose new spending that will probably add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. The Tea Party is saying that’s unacceptable, that we can’t continue down this road, and that we need to handle this now before we have to deal with it seriously for the first time in the middle of a bankruptcy that will destroy our economy.

Last but not least on the positive side, it’s worth noting that the Tea Party has gotten the base fired up and has gotten millions of people to get serious about politics in this country for the first time in their lives. There’s not a chance in the world that the GOP would have had its biggest night in forty years last November without the existence of the Tea Party.

That’s not to say the Tea Party is perfect. As you’d expect with any large, leaderless movement, there are a few creeps, flakes, attention seekers, and weirdos involved and a little intemperate rhetoric comes with the package. Also, as you’d imagine, in an enthusiastic movement full of people new to politics, sometimes they lose sight of the big picture and make some bad choices (See Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, & Carl Paladino). Additionally, although the fact that the Tea Party is leaderless has generally been a positive, it does sometimes lead to chaos with person after person stepping up and claiming to speak for the Tea Party.

There’s also another danger, one that hasn’t been realized yet, but that could very well materialize in the next two years. Because the GOP performed so poorly during the Bush years, they’ve received an enormous amount of well deserved criticism. The Tea Party expects them to now walk the walk — and rightfully so. The danger is, though, that the Tea Party could ask too much of the GOP. They only control the House, not the Senate or the White House. So the Republicans in the House can’t be expected to push unpopular legislation that will hurt them at the polls in 2012 if it has no chance of passing and serves no ultimate purpose other than proving something to the base. This country has been spending far too much for far too long on far too many useless government programs and the Democrats want to spend even more. The GOP has to start somewhere and stopping new spending, cutting off the funds for Obamacare, and starting to aggressively pick the TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS in low hanging fruit should be what they’re doing for the next two years. As long as people keep that in mind, that danger I speak of won’t be realized.

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