Back in 1900, there were six candidates for president — from six different political parties. But since the 1950s, it's been two main parties, with a Green Party here and a Reform Party there (Ralph Nader seized 0.7 percent of the vote as a Greenie in 1996, and 2.7 percent in 2000; Pat Buchanan pulled down a whopping 0.4 percent as a Reformer in 2000).
The times they are a-changin'. There's a new power force in Washington, and it's running the show right now, deciding the very fate of the nation (if you believe the White House on the calamity that would befall America if the debt ceiling is not raised to pay for things we can't afford).
The tea party is flexing its muscles, and that terrifies so-called moderate lawmakers such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who got her clock cleaned by a partyer in the Republican primary but went on to win after she bailed from the GOP. "You have folks who are so black and white, who are so absolutist, that we are in a process now where we are on the brink," she said.
Democrats are horrified, too. Party strategist Maria Cardona wrote on CNN's website of the 87 tea party members "whose selfish and irresponsible demands during the debt ceiling negotiations may very well mean either outright default or what could be even worse and too late to avoid."
What's more, she said, "these 87 little tyrants have no clear understanding of the fallout" of blocking a debt deal because they "have never governed, have no interest in compromising, and have no clue about the history of government or how government really works." She says voters elected tea partyers "to come up with balanced approaches that are fair and bipartisan."
But that couldn't be further from the truth. Voters elected tea partyers to go to Washington and stop the madness — deficit spending. They were angry at Democrats, angry at Republicans, and seeking a third way, one in which the Constitution (not to mention good old-fashioned common sense) rules all.
President Obama's catchword is "compromise." But the Democrats don't compromise — every D in the House voted against the Republican debt plan, then every D in the Senate followed suit. And is compromise really why Americans elected tea party members? Mr. Obama advocates a $1.4 trillion deficit, so do tea party supporters really want their representatives to accept, say, half that, a $700 billion deficit?
Many of those 87 said "no way." They locked down the debate, holding House Speaker John A. Boehner hostage — and 22 refused to support the speaker's final package, giving him the bare minimum for passage. On Sunday, they insisted that a balanced budget amendment remain part of any deal — and even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to capitulate.
The tea party members of today are nothing like other blocs in the two main parties, which usually toe the line during crises. Instead, they abandoned their leader and left him twisting in the wind, caring not a whit about his threats. What they care about is spending, basing their intransigent stance on this simple fact: You cannot take in $2.5 trillion and spend $3.7 trillion. Perhaps they do know how to govern after all.
Some in the MSM will portray Democrats as winners in this debt debate; a few other outlets will award the trophy to Republicans. But the reality is that the tea party is the real victor — and Mr. Obama is the real loser. His approval rating has dropped to a record low — 40 percent — and his disapproval is at 52 percent.
And interestingly, it is the tea party that has the high ground. Why on earth should America mortgage its children's future to continue to spend far more than it takes in? When in the world will America's lawmakers get serious about the spending deficit and just say 'No more!'? Maybe America shouldn't borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Crazy idea, of course, but maybe.
Some wonder whether the anger that swelled during the health care debate in 2009 will still be around on Election Day 2012. That anger drove the 2010 election and, based on the tea party's power throughout this crucial debate, could well drive the next one.
Why? Simple, says Rep. Paul C. Broun, Georgia Republican. The tea party is "about limiting government according to what the Constitution says it should be."
And he's not overstating when he says: "This is truly a reflection of the strongest political force in America."
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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