Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Tea Party ‘tidal wave’ in US

The recently concluded mid-term elections in the US were closely followed by political analysts and enthusiasts around the world, especially perhaps here in the Philippines, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the capture by the Republican Party of control of the 435-member US House of Representatives represents the first time in the two-year old Democratic Obama administration that there is a split of power between the presidency and the two chambers of Congress.

In the elections of November 2008 these three major political institutions all fell under the control of the victorious Democratic Party led by President-elect Barack Obama, as they mercilessly clobbered the Republican Party that was dwarfed by the shadow of the controversial George W. Bush. In last Monday’s elections the Republicans bounced back to wrest control of the House and a significant number of gubernatorial posts in pivotal states. The  100-member US Senate, however, remains in Democratic control in a race  down to the wire (52 vs. 46 with two undecided at this time of writing).

What this means is that many pet legislations of the Obama administration such as the crucial climate change bill and additional economic and tax measures, could be derailed---further increasing President Obama’s woes until 2012, when his reelection is up. 

 Referendum on Obama Government

In fact, the significant victory of the Republicans in the House and across the states, especially in a traditional battleground state like Ohio where the three Democratic big guns---President Obama, VP Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton---had campaigned up to election eve--- is rightly read as a referendum on the Obama administration. Pundits point to how different the mood of November of 2008 was, compared to November 2010 for Barack Obama---one high on the euphoria of victory for the breakdown of racial barriers, as first US black President was elected despite his utter inexperience in governance, and the other somber and sobering for him and for an America weary of economic woes.

 To Filipinos watching the fate of Obama turn sordid after only two years, the possibility of a parallel case in our inexperienced President at some time in the future cannot be lost.  Let’s hope P-Noy learns from his US counterpart’s plight.

50% don't want Obama to run again

Pre-election polls had indicated that about 50 percent of Americans do not believe that Obama should run again in 2012, and the recent elections reflected this sentiment. Now the speculation is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Republican VP candidate Sarah Pailin could face off for the presidency in 2012:  America’s two famous women---one a brilliant and cool intellectual and the other a flamboyant, fly-off-the-handle  populist. 

Increasingly Americans have become disenchanted with their first black president, and the key issue that damned him obviously is the economy. With America in the worst recession since the 1930s, one out of every ten Americans remains without a job and the US unemployment rate nationally is 9.6 percent. The disenchantment, however, is not only with Obama but with both political parties as well as with government in general---the voters appeared to have rejected big government and big spending, all that Washington has symbolized for decades.

 The rise of the Tea Party Movement

This rejection is reflected in the unsurprising strength of a new political movement that was likened by an elected American official to a ‘tidal wave’ that hit the US---the Tea Party Movement. It was born as a grassroots movement out of the conservative opposition to Obama’s health care and financial stimulus legislation in 2009; in amazingly record time the movement was able to launch a nationwide organization with chapters in various states and cities, on the battle-cry of “Save America.” Thus, key gubernatorial candidates of the Tea Party Movement were able to beat veteran politicians in such states as Kentucky, Utah and Florida, while over 30 of its candidates running as Republicans plucked significant seats in the House.

Roots in a protest movement

The Tea Party derives its name from the “Boston Tea Party” of December 1773, which saw American patriots dressed like Indians throwing overboard 342 chests of tea from three British ships docked in Boston Harbor, in protext of the tea tax slapped by the British Parliament on the overseas colonies. As every American elementary student knows, that Boston tea-dumping decidedly helped usher in American independence in 1776.

Like its historic predecessor, the Tea Party is a protest movement that calls its followers “rebels,” “patriots’ and ‘warriors.” For the moment, it’s considered a ‘fringe organization” within the Republican Party, but it’s easy to see that ultimately the Tea Party could split off if GOP stalwarts eventually don’t adhere to its advocacies and ultra-conservative agenda. Already a recently elected representative sounded this alarm.

The Tea Party’s advocacy of a return to the ultra-conservative values of America is exemplified in stands such as an all-out support for the military establishment, in direct contrast to the flag-burners protesting the various wars the US has gotten embroiled in (e.g., for every donation to the movement above $200, a percentage goes to the “wounded warrior project” for injured US troops). Tea Party is a a protest against big government that includes both political parties, and the gargantuan government spending that has incurred debts into the trillions.

Like its historic predecessor, the Tea Party could change the political and socio-cultural landscape of America drastically in the next few years. The incredible thing is that as per the exit polls in the recent elections, some 40 percent of the voters considered themselves supporters of Tea Party. Given what looks like mounting frustrations with Barack Obama, the movement could grow and grow. At the moment its most visible leader is Sarah Pailin.

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