Amazing is one way to describe the tea party movement — born a little more than a year ago in a grassroots push-back against the Obama administration's health care proposals and stimulus spending. Depending on how November's congressional elections go, a new word might be applied: historic.
As the counterweight to the big-government policies of President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress, once dismissed and derided as "astroturf" by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the tea party commands new respect.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week found tea party supporters make up one-third of the people most likely to vote Nov. 2. This "isn't a small little segment," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. "It is a huge part of what's driving 2010."
That the movement is significant no longer is debatable, although disagreement over what it means in the larger context of American politics is unresolved.
Journal columnist Daniel Henninger calls it a "new political belief system," which is certainly more fundamental and durable than the explanations of liberal/progressives, dismissing it as a blip produced by rabble rousing from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others.
The New York Times' Tom Friedman calls it the "Tea Kettle movement," because "all it's doing is letting off steam." Friedman doesn't deny the movement's energy or potential electoral impact, but says it is focused on symptoms (mostly fiscal/economic) instead of root problems. "It has no plan to restore America to greatness," he writes.