A Tale of Two Tea Parties

First there was a “Tea Party” whose members said they did not care about party, but principle. They railed against corporate America’s tax-funded bailouts, they demanded more transparency at the highest levels of government, and they stuck up for the little guy against the establishment.

Though predominately composed of “right-leaning” Americans (whatever that means), their anger at a shady, secretive, corporate establishment should have made even Michael Moore proud. Indeed, they echoed the very themes of President Barack Obama’s campaign- change, transparency, reform, accountability. In 2009 something truly amazing seemed to be happening in America- an army of white, middle-class, middle-age Americans were actually raging against “the machine“!

When it came down to it, they proved their earnestness and “principle-before-party” politics in the NY-23 special election by opposing the Republican candidate for not being principled enough. Instead they threw their support behind a virtually unknown third party candidate, Doug Hoffman. This gave lie to the claim that the “Tea Baggers” (as they’ve often been called) were simply hacks of the Republican machine. If that were the case, why would the GOP direct them to support a non-Republican and cause the GOP to lose a seat it has held for over a century?

But where is the Tea Party now? It emerged that at the first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Sarah Palin may be getting paid as much as $75,000 to speak at an event that will be closed to the press, and tickets to the event are going for $549. Then Palin announced that she would be campaigning for her former running mate, John McCain’s reelection in Arizona (remember, the guy that voted for Bush’s policies 90% of the time and for the TARP bailouts of wealthy banks on Wall Street with your money?).

This week, something even more alarming happened- Scott Brown won the special Senate election in Massachusetts, which pushed the members of the Tea Party movement into the throes of ecstasy. The spirit of celebration resounded through the blogosphere, on Twitter, in talk radio interviews, and on Fox News. But how many of those celebrating knew that Scott Brown had voted for universal health care in Massachusetts? That he had voted for a major tax increase on the residents of MA? That he actually supports universal health care on a national level?

Indeed, based on his voting record as a state senator, Scott Brown may be to the left of Senator Olympia Snowe. And the “principle-over-party” people were celebrating!? In the Massachusetts special election this week, the Tea Party movement did the exact opposite of what it so proudly did in the New York 23 special election.

What makes it even worse is that the Tea Party folks had an even better alternative than Doug Hoffman this time around- Joe Kennedy, a third party candidate with superior credentials, a meatier message, and a lot more personality. For goodness’ sake- his name was even Kennedy (no relation to the Kennedy family though). Why didn’t the same thing happen in Massachusetts that occurred in New York 23?

Could it be that the Tea Party movement is losing its focus? Could the skeptics and naysayers who derided those “tea baggers” as establishment puppets be right after all?

It would certainly appear that the Tea Party of 2010 and its leaders seem to be entirely different than the Tea Party of 2009.