"Red State Uprising" Details Tea Party's Remaking of GOP

When the forensic scientists perform the coming autopsy on Nancy Pelosi’s House and Harry Reid’s Senate, the words “Tea Party” will pop up repeatedly as there is a mad scramble to explain what happened to the promised/threatened progressive century.

But it is hard to nail down just what the Tea Party movement is and dicier yet to explain how it has changed the modern Republican Party and American politics. Forty years after Woodstock, the number of Americans who claim to have attended a concert with 500,000 in the audience runs into the millions. Already, many Americans “remember” being Tea Party activists, even if baby-sitting woes and actual jobs kept them from physically joining a movement they belong to in heart and thought if not yet in action.

How do you define a movement that Americans can join by telling a pollster and themselves that they are a member? There is no fearless leader. No pope. No dues. No initiation rites. No creed. No establishment or traditions to define or create an exoskeleton to hold the whole thing together. And yet, somehow … it is alive. Very much alive. It draws from America’s Tocquevillian culture of voluntary associations rising up to meet challenges like floods or hurricanes or Obama. 

When you have “a very important movement” that wields real power and even greater potential, a book such as Red State Upising by Erick Erickson, the editor of and Lewis K. Uhler, the founder and president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, is extremely helpful.

Erickson and Uhler have written an informed and informative book subtitled “How to Take Back America,” that speaks to the Tea Party movement: how it came about, what it has accomplished and, importantly, what it can and should do in the future and what pitfalls to avoid. It is full of good history, incisive political analysis and sound policy prescriptions.

Lou Uhler, longtime taxpayer leader from California and member of the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, led the anti-tax fight a decade before Proposition 13’s taxpayer revolt swept California and then the nation. The Tea Party is the second stage in a citizen-led movement to control the size and scope and cost of government. First was the effort to limit taxation: property taxes, income taxes, with requirements for a two-thirds vote for tax hikes. But this movement failed to limit spending at the federal, state and local level. The Tea Party intends to fix that oversight.

Uhler and Erickson describe the power of the Tea Party movement as it cut a swath through the modern Republican Party, forcibly adding “spending cuts” to the “to do” list for all Republican candidates and elected officials.

Unlike standard-issue Republican Party apologists who begin the history of big government with the Obama inauguration, Uhler and Erickson begin with a critique of the Bush years when spending drifted and then lurched upwards. It is painful to read their lengthy indictment of Bush’s agenda of No Child Left Behind—a massive increase in federal control and funding of “education” and Medicare Part D’s explosion of unfunded liabilities for our already most-unfunded entitlement. We are reminded that Teddy Kennedy was cheerfully holding hands with the Bush Administration in both efforts.

Then there were the steel tariffs and the growth of earmarks from the 152 earmarks in 1987 that Reagan denounced as too many to the 6,371 earmarks in one of Bush’s transportation bills. Uhler and Erickson also chide Bush’s attempted “Faith Based Initiatives” because of “the dangerous and very real potential for government encroachment on the free exercise of religion.”

After a well-deserved chastisement of the eight years of drift down the Road to Serfdom of the Bush years—with too little push back from “loyal” Republicans in Congress—Uhler and Erickson describe just how the Tea Party movement has begun to begin to rebuild the Reagan Republican Party restoring—or maybe creating for the first time—a spending restraint component. (It has been a little like breaking a leg, to reset it properly.)

Tea Party candidates defeated or drove out the establishment Republican candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska … and now Delaware. Most of those insurgent challengers will be senators in January 2011. And the old bulls still sitting in Congress are wiser now, having watched their seatmates’ careers end because they bragged about “bringing home the pork.” The radical change taking place in the Republican Party cannot be overstated. Earmarks which were only recently viewed as a sign of virility, power and the sure route to re-election are now seen as craven, corrupt and more likely to get you defeated for re-election than a spare mistress or two.

No movement has forced this large a personnel change within the Republican Party in the Senate this quickly. Not the Goldwater movement of 1964, not the 2nd Amendment or pro-life movement or even the taxpayer movement. 

Noting the Tea Party’s ability to reform and strengthen the Republican Party both Erickson and Uhler comment on the wisdom of the movement in not trying to create a third party. Frustrated activists start new parties. Successful insurgents take over one of the two major parties. Over the past two years the Tea Party movement has benefited from the strategic advice of radical conservative leaders like Erick Erickson and Lew Uhler and in this book they have found honest and helpful chroniclers.