"Glenn Reynolds: Nashville Shows Tea Party Is America's Third Great Awakening
By: Glenn Harlan Reynolds
February 7, 2010
"I attended this past weekend’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and I came away feeling that I had seen something important. The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening.
America’s prior Great Awakenings, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, were religious in nature. Unimpressed with self-serving, ossified, and often corrupt religious institutions, Americans responded with a bottom-up reassertion of faith, and independence.
This time, it’s different. It’s not America’s churches and seminaries that are in trouble: It’s America’s politicians and parties. They’ve grown corrupt, venal, and out-of-touch with the values, and the people, that they’re supposed to represent. So the people, once again, are reasserting themselves.
Most of the attention focused on this weekend’s convention seemed to involve the keynote speaker, Sarah Palin. But though Palin wowed the crowd with red-meat attacks on overspending, weak national defense, and broken promises, the key phrase in her speech was this one: “All power is inherent in the people.”
And the biggest action item that she presented the crowd with wasn’t to support Sarah Palin, as most politicians would have asked, but to challenge incumbents in primary races. Primary battles aren’t “civil war,” she said. They’re the kind of competition that produces strength in the end.
This seemed to resonate with what I heard from conference attendees. Over and over again, I heard from Tea Party Activists that they were planning to take over their local Republican (and, sometimes Democratic) party apparatus starting at the precinct level and shake things up.
The sense was that party politics have been run for the benefit of the party insiders and hangers-on, not for the benefit of constituents and ideals. And most of the conference, in fact, was addressed to doing something about that, not to worship of Sarah Palin, with sessions on organizing, media skills, and the like.
Even the much-hyped counter-Tea-Party protest, featuring three activists from the Tennessee Tea Party Coalition, underscores this point. Despite their small numbers, they drew a large press gaggle hoping to get some negative energy going.
I watched as Knoxville Tea Party organizer Antonio Hinton -- who drew the largest crowd, perhaps because he is black, or perhaps because he’s an excellent speaker - was asked repeatedly by the press to say something negative about Sarah Palin or the National Tea Party Convention, but he called Palin
“a breath of fresh air.”
And he stressed that he and his cohorts - representing a collection of several dozen Tea Party groups around Tennessee - weren’t so much there to complain about the convention as to point out that there was a lot more to the Tea Party movement than that one meeting.
They were right. The Tea Party movement is bottom up, not top down. Lots of Tea Party people think well of Sarah Palin, but I doubt that many, even among the attendees at this weekend’s convention, would do much of anything just on her say-so. People I’ve talked to, both there and at other events, aren’t looking for a charismatic leader.
That’s the Barack Obama model, now somewhat tattered. Instead, they’ve had enough and they’re taking the reins themselves. Over and over again, I heard people at this convention tell me that they had never been involved in politics before the Tea Party movement. And, having tried it, they’re finding that politics can be fun, and they’re encountering the joys of learning that they’re not alone.
Accustomed to major-media treatment that strongly implied that anyone favoring small government must be some kind of fringe wacko, they’re discovering that lots of people feel the way they do, and that they can wield a lot of power if they try. I suspect the power-wielding part is just starting.
In less than a year, the Tea Party movement has gone from a few spontaneous protests against Obama’s stimulus bill to a nationwide phenomenon rating major media coverage, with several political scalps on its belt. And these inexpert activists are getting better with practice at what they do, with a lot of room on the learning curve ahead.
It’s fun to put on a protest rally for the first time and have it work out, but it’s even more fun to elect -- or defeat -- a candidate. Or, as Tea Party activists are beginning to do, to run for office yourself.
Over the next couple of years, these multitudes of virgin political operatives are going to acquire considerably more experience and self-assurance, which means they’re probably going to become considerably more effective, too. Politics may not be the same when they’re done."
Examiner contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds covered the National Tea Party Convention for PJTV.com. He blogs at InstaPundit.com.