On the Inevitable Failure of Strategic Infiltration, or, the Degeneration of Tea Party Activists into Petty Party Functionaries

The state of moral, intellectual and political abjection that has been achieved by the Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government has become so deep that virtually every event of some political import leads to calls for third party and independent opposition to the two-party state. Indeed, the reproduction of the two-party state itself appears at this point to hinge on creating the appearance of opposition to the two-party state. For instance, Scott Brown's victory in the special election in Massachusetts was predicated upon his assertion, contrary to fact, that he is an independent and not, as is obvious from his record, a garden variety career politician in the duopolist mold. Perhaps at some point Brown will be forced to declare his political independence from the Republican Party in accordance with the old dictum, attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, that we are what we pretend to be. But, whatever the case may be in that regard, Brown's victory has led to a new consciousness of the power wielded by voters unaffiliated with either of the duopoly parties. CNN's Jack Cafferty, who certainly considers himself an independent, recently asked his viewers what it will take "to get a viable third party going in this country":
what we're seeing in places like Massachusetts, and also in those governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia, is swing voters swinging the other way. It's sort of like watching large groups of people rushing from one side of the Titanic to the other, causing the ship to lurch alternately from port to starboard - left to right. We just went through this a year ago when they all ran away from the Republicans and to the Democrats. Fact is, neither option is any good. Both parties stink. Our government is broken and no longer serves the needs of the people. Time for real change. Here’s my question to you: What will it take to get a viable third party going in this country?

Of course, this is precisely the wrong question to ask since there already are a number of viable third parties in the United States. The more pressing question is: what will it take to get US voters to end their abusive, co-dependent relationship with the duopoly parties? Consider how many tea party activists have proven incapable of liberating themselves from the ideology of the two-party state and now advocate an infiltrationist strategy that stands in direct contradiction with the movement's original opposition to Democratic-Republican politics as such. Ironically, if they continue down this road, they will likely suffer the same fate as the progressive anti-war movement, which was co-opted and then defeated by the Democratic Party. Support for Scott Brown's Senate campaign among tea party activists is a clear sign of the movement's degeneration. Many might be surprised to learn that the day after the election, Brown emphasized that he supports national health care, saying "there are some very good things in the national plan that's being proposed." But not all tea party groups fell for the ruses of the duopoly parties' propaganda machines. The Boston Tea Party, for instance, endorsed independent Libertarian Joe Kennedy's bid for US Senate in Massachusetts.

Establishmentarian Republicans no longer even hide the fact that they are explicitly pursuing a co-optation strategy with respect to the tea party movement. Neil Cavuto recently interviewed Dan Quayle and asked the former Vice President about "that whole tea party stuff" and whether it represents a "potent third party." Dan Quayle came right out and said it:

here's the challenge of my Party, is basically to co-opt the populist movement, the so-called Tea Party Folks whether they are Republicans or Democrats.

Naturally, tea party activists overtly and vehemently reject this notion even as they tacitly accept it. At Right Wing News, Warner Todd Huston writes of Quayle:

These guys just don't get it that the Tea Party goers have the political power here. They don't understand that their flawed Country Club Republican way of thinking has been rejected by the people. If they want to stay in power, the GOP better come to terms with the ideals and principles as espoused by the nation-wide phenomenon that is the Tea Party movement . . . You can't "co-opt" us, Mr. Quayle. You will be lucky if WE co-opt YOU!

But the co-optation of the tea party movement by the Republican Party is already in full swing, and is perhaps most clear in the adoption of the neighborhood precinct strategy. Bob Adelmann sums up the idea at the New American:

The strategy that has spread rapidly across the internet is “The Neighborhood Precinct Committeeman Strategy” which, according to the popular website Resistnet.com “entails a tried-and-true, peaceful, Constitutional, ballot box solution to our present political predicament.” According to the strategy, all one has to do is to “go to a Republican Party meeting or walk a precinct on behalf of a candidate.” According to Darla who outlined this strategy in detail, presidential candidate Obama used this strategy to defeat Hillary Clinton.

The infiltration of the Republican Party by tea party activists is the co-optation of the tea party movement by the Republican Party. Such groups are as deluded as their progressive counterparts in the Democratic Party. Their emulation and adoption of the Obama strategy, which they deride as "far left radicalism," is evidence of their complete capitulation to that which they claim to oppose. Instead of organizing real, independent opposition to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government, these activists have chosen to accommodate the ruling political establishment by becoming its willing functionaries and call it resistance!


Samuel Wilson said...

You can understand why a tea-partier might think differently. You've seen their reasoning expressed on your own pages. In their embrace of Brown they've revealed themselves as a reactionary rather than revolutionary movement. Their main purpose at this moment, for whatever reason, is to thwart "Obamacare" and alleged "socialism." Reaction inevitably resorts to expediency as a matter of perceived necessity. The expedient option for reactionary TPs is to make common cause with the GOP, whether through "infiltration" or "co-optation." The permanent threat of Democratic ascendancy will, as usual, compel the TPs to settle for whatever the Republicans choose to offer. They can never really hold the GOP to account unless they can stomach Democratic victories over the time it takes to build an independent, truly representative movement. It's that absolute fear of one party that keeps us stuck with two sharing power, and if the TPs bring nothing to the discussion but complete fear of "liberalism" then they're part of the problem, not the solution.

d.eris said...

This is the trap of the lesser-evilist mentality, which, ironically, tea party Republicans have fallen into along with progressive Democrats. Making them both the enemy of the greater good.

At the same time though, there are numerous tea party and progressive folks who recognize the problem represented by the two-party state and are organizing independent and third party opposition in their respective locales.

d.eris said...

As it so happens, there is an article at Talking Points Memo on the split within the tea party movement between reactionary Republicans attempting to hijack it and actual independents who seek a new politics. It reads in part:

""I think what we have in the movement is the GOP trying to take control, and a lot of the groups are trying to fight them on this," Robin Stublen, a Tea Party Patriots (TPP) volunteer, told TPMmuckraker recently. . . . But many of the rank-and-file Tea Partiers whose energy helped launch the movement last spring -- and among whom a more libertarian ideology often prevails -- remain deeply wary of getting into bed with the GOP. And lately, they've started speaking out.

In an impassioned cri de coeur that reverberated around the movement last week, Kevin Smith, a Nashville activist who had worked with Tea Party Nation, denounced the organizer of the national convention as a patsy for the GOP. "What began as cries for true liberty and a public showing of frustration with the big government policies of both Democrats and Republicans," Smith lamented, "has now been co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform."

Shane Brooks, a Texas-based Tea Partier, echoed that message in a recent web video, fondly recalling the early days of the movement last year, and warning "We must not allow the Tea Parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP." . . . As for Knapp, he said he's now working with some of the disaffected Tea Partiers from Tea Party Nation to start building a nationwide third party movement based on Tea Party principles -- with no ties whatsoever to the Republican party. And he denounced his fellow Tea Partiers who have tried to work with Republicans. "They're living in Disney Land," he said, "if they think they can reform the GOP.""