Is a Progressive Tea Party a Good Idea?

New Orleans   The other day I was warning that progressives speaking out and organizing against some policies and programs of the new administration were already being lectured by the mainstream media, as some call it, about how boycotts should be conducted and whether or not anarchists attaching themselves to demonstrations could be disciplined. Today’s story conflates some of what is happening around the country with the Tea Party. Some seem to embrace the comparison and there’s never any harm in organizers adopting tactics and strategy that work, but is this a good idea or just reductionism to the lowest denominator that will sow confusion in the future?

First, it is worth remembering that the Tea Party and its moment have passed. No one really pretends that anything other than a sentiment and a diffuse base exists from its effort some years ago, regardless of how skillfully Trump seized the opportunity. At the least we need to differentiate anything we might be trying to do now as something more than a flash in the pan that can be endured while it lasts and then ignored. Secondly, please recall the recent history when the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader for the Republicans essentially slammed the door on the Tea-people and their elected representatives and stonewalled and marginalized them. Tactics and strategy without organization are always going to end up walled into a box canyon.

Some former Tea organizers are kind about it all in some ways, referring to efforts in various communities around the country as nothing more than good “civics.” They are particularly talking about efforts to rally around Congressional offices and participate in town hall meetings organized when the local representatives come home during the upcoming recess. Reportedly, one clever group responded to its representative’s claim that no meeting space was available by booking space in each of the four counties he represented to call his bluff. Needless to say, be careful what you ask for, since such public forums could turn out to be proxy fights and shout outs between the right and left, which will be hard to count as a tactical advance. If it’s working, run with it, but this could be a flickering flame without something more substantial.

There’s energy and fire in the country now that would seem to demand something new, not something derivative. The grassroots is grabbing the straws that they have seen available, so in absence of something better, that’s good news. We’ll have to take a longer look at these self-described “indivisible” chapters and their playbook. The base is moving faster than the wannabe leaders and strategists meeting in their conference rooms and think tanks.

If something new and stronger is going to be built from this unique opportunity, now is the time. The tail is wagging, but the head is lagging. The progressive body has to be put together quickly for the long race, not just the current dash.

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Report from Behind the Bunker, that What We’re Doing is Working

New Orleans   There’s no reason to get the big head. It’ll be a long four years. Or longer. Eventually, they’ll get this right or at least righter. Nonetheless, there’s some evidence that we, the big WE, the collective we of all progressive Americans and maybe more, including those who are not progressive but at least aren’t haters, anti-immigrants, anti-women, anti-Muslim, are having some real impact, and that Trump is even semi-getting it, as well as others.

An article, obviously fueled by leaks from the White House, to Wall Street Journal reporters Carol Lee and Peter Nicholas, quotes the President telling his top aides last weekend, while protests were blossoming like wild flowers at airports all over the country, that, “This has to go better.” Supposedly he tried to straighten out his chaotic staff structure where chaos has prevailed for most of the last two weeks. The always wacky, wild-eyed editorial writers for the Journal were even quoted in a story in their competitor, The New York Times, calling the travel ban rollout “incompetent,” though that seems a kindness. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s Rasputin, writing in the op-ed page of the Journal spared no words in his criticism and included a grade-school level primer in his column on how quasi-normal governments would have gotten away with such an order.

And then in the most interesting bonbon to come our way, here’s former Reagan speechwriter and hardcore Republican stalwart, Peggy Noonan, calling out a very clear warning that allows us to count coup even while a long way from winning the battle or the war. Here she goes:

The handling of the order allowed the organized left to show its might, igniting big demonstrations throughout major cities. And not only downtown – they had to make it out to the airport to give the media the pictures, and they did. In Washington I witnessed a demonstration of many thousands of people carrying individualized, hand-letter signs.

If all this was spontaneous, the left is strong indeed. If was a matter of superior organization, that’s impressive too.

You should never let your enemy know its own strength. They discovered it in the Women’s March, know it more deeply now, and demonstrated it to Democrats on the Hill. It was after the demonstrations that Democratic senators started boycotting the confirmation hearings. They now have their own tea party to push them around.

The handling of the order further legitimized the desire of many congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the president, something they feel they’ll eventually have to do anyway because they know how to evaluate political horse flesh, and when they look at them they see Chief Crazy Horse.

Sorry about Noonan’s Crazy Horse reference, she went cheap there, but she’s going deep the rest of the way. There is no Facebook fawning here. No Twitter triumphalism. She’s a veteran, and she knows effective political organization when she sees it, and says so.

Can we be our own “tea party?” That might be something to be proud of right now, but we have to be careful. Our strength is showing, but it can’t dissolve into arrogance and can be frittered away without tactical and strategic care. We also have the Times poking us about “black” teams and anarchist growth that no one controls, but they will try to make us own. A Times columnist even tried to lecture all of its readers, and all of us, about the proper way to target and conduct a boycott, while whitewashing Uber. Both of good reminders of how quickly the worm will turn.

We’re not winning, but we’re holding our own. At least for now. We live and work in interesting times, and we’re adding our spice to the stew. Nothing but good can come of this.

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