Originally posted on eurorscgpr.com.
If I had to pick a single symbol of American politics in 2010, it would be the Tea Party, the movement of vitriolic conservative protests that started on tax day last year. Inspired by the Boston Tea Party (“no taxation without representation”), it criticizes big government, the stimulus package, increases in the national debt and possible tax hikes. But what it’s really protesting is Barack Obama.
The reaction to the Tea Parties demonstrates just how polarized we are as a country. Unsurprisingly, Fox News expects Tea Parties to gain momentum in 2010, while MSNBC is skeptical and Frank Rich offered a scathing criticism in The New York Times last weekend.
But it’s a mistake to dismiss Tea Parties as a fringe movement that merely ups the echo-chamber factor in political coverage. (Though it does.) A WSJ/NBC News poll in December found that 41 percent of respondents had a positive view of the conservative/independent Tea Party movement, and 24 percent had a negative view—compared with 35 percent positive and 45 percent negative for the Democrats, and 28 percent positive and 43 percent negative for the Republicans. And the first national Tea Party convention, next month in Nashville (with Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker), is already sold out.
Clearly, people are disillusioned with the way things are. Unemployment is still high; housing prices are still low. Bankers are pulling in big bonuses while so many other people struggle to pay their mortgages. Obama, who based his campaign on promises to change everything, is an obvious target for their anger.
New Jersey and Virginia, states that went for Obama in 2008, elected Republican governors in 2009. Senate races across the country in 2010 are shaping up to be referendums not on the candidates but on the president. On Sunday’s “The Journal Editorial Report,” editors argued that these races are in play because “the Dems are in disarray” and “the American people at the moment are not happy campers.” The National Journal released poll results that showed 50 percent of respondents would probably or definitely vote against Obama if the 2012 elections were held today.
Of course, the Republicans are hardly happy campers. Every day there are new reports of disunity in the party, especially after Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele published an incendiary book about rebuilding the party and told Sean Hannity that Republicans are unlikely to reclaim the House this fall.
Nine years after this country swore in a president who pledged to be “a uniter, not a divider,” and a year after the inauguration of one who promised a new era of bipartisanship, our system is more fragmented than ever. We’ve lost sight of issues that matter and become obsessed with reshuffling people. I’ve gone from being optimistic about the power of change—into something positive—to being dismayed by the hollow buzzword change—away from something—and all the ways it’s now being deployed.
Change we can believe in? Not anymore.