The basic premise in most political campaigns is that if you are a candidate, or a supporter of a candidate, you want to win. That’s a no brainer. I know, because I’m very well aware of the difference between winning and losing an election. In the mid 1980s, I won a seat in the New Jersey State Legislature at 25, becoming the youngest member. At 27 I lost my seat, so believe me I know the difference—and it is a lot better winning than losing.
That brings me to the Tea Party, which isn’t actually a party at all because, once again, political parties are supposed to want to win and I’m not convinced the Tea Party wants to win at all. In fact, after this week’s elections, I’m convinced that many in the Tea Party would much rather rail against incumbents, say all the bums should be thrown out, argue that nothing works in Washington or any state capital around the country, and basically say all politics and politicians stink. They hate Obama and they hate Congress. Basically, there are a lot of people involved in the Tea party who do a lot of hating.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad, but how could we take seriously a group of people who are so intent on attacking incumbents that in the 7th Congressional District in my home state of New Jersey the Tea Party ran three of their own candidates against an incumbent Republican congressman named Leonard Lance. Lance is a really decent guy and is strong on the issues. He backs Obama on some things, but opposes him on most. Yet, the Tea Party had three candidates run against Lance—Bruce Baker, Alonzo Hosford and David Larsen. Lance got 55% of the vote, and collectively, the three Tea Party guys got 45% of the vote.
How is it that if the Tea Party really wanted to elect some of their own that they would allow, and in fact encourage, the three party members to run against Lance, thereby splitting the vote and ensuring his re-nomination to Congress? Fact is, if the three candidates had gotten together like reasonable and serious political participants, they would have realized that Mr. Larsen had the best chance of beating Congressman Lance. Larsen wound up getting three times more than his two Tea Party colleagues combined. Now, if Lance and Larsen had run head to head, there was a good change people would have taken Larsen more seriously and figured he had a good shot at beating the incumbent.
Then again, that would assume that most members of the Tea Party want to win seats in Congress. They don’t. They don’t want to win in Congress and definitely don’t want to win statewide in races for the US Senate or, heaven forbid, the chief executive position of governor. Why? Well, if you actually won, you would have to cast votes on tough issues. You would have to be held accountable for your actions. As a chief executive, you would have to make some very tough choices between what services you would keep in the budget and what you would cut. You’d have to tell people that they can’t have everything they want, so people might get mad at you. You see, that’s called leadership. But, the Tea Party wouldn’t know much about leadership. If a Tea Partier actually got elected, he or she would have to interact with other colleagues or, forgive the word, incumbents. They would have to compromise, negotiate, work things out, give in on some things, and hold firm on others. They would have to organize and do all the things that effective leaders do in getting things done. But, for all the passion, the fury, the anger, the rallies and the screaming and yelling, I’m not convinced that the Tea Party really wants to be in power at all. Think about it. Isn’t it a lot easier to criticize everyone else—to say everyone in government is no good—than it is to actually be in government, make decisions and then have to explain those decisions to citizens? Who wants a stupid job like that?
The bottom line is that I think it’s terrific that people participate in Tea Party rallies, which on some level makes them think they are engaged in an important civic activity. But, the only catch is, the underlying assumption is that you are participating in civic activity to actually improve things and get things done. And yet, in order to do that, you would have to win or, dare I say, want to win.
It’s a lot easier to just have a party, have some fun, criticize everyone else, and then go home and feel really good about yourself. I’m not impressed by the Tea Party until it becomes clear that they are actually in it to win it as opposed to just being a thorn in everyone’s side who actually has the guts to run, try to win, and then ultimately serve in a government post. Am I wrong?