Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Endangered and Missing Animals: Will the Tea Party Movement Follow the PUMA PACs into Obscurity?

Hey, whatever happened to the whole PUMA PAC movement?  I had all but forgotten the PUMAs, People United Means Action or Party Unity My Ass, whoever you wish to believe, but as I was cleaning out my inbox this morning, I came across some information about the PUMAs that someone had forwarded to me some time ago.

Interesting stuff.  It seems like that for a brief time they were a red hot news item.  The media practically fell all over themselves trying to cover the PUMAs.  Anyone identifying themselves as even tangentially associated with the PUMAs was thrust before the camera to voice their outrage and their determination to fight until the bloody end.  They vowed they would not give up.

But as the 2008 presidential campaign kicked into high gear, and the MSM found bigger stories elsewhere, their enthusiasm tapered off.  And then election night came and went, seemingly ending the PUMA’s whole raison d’etre.

Today, I did take the time to Google PUMA PAC.  Most of the many blogs supporting their cause that proliferated during that time are no longer active;  it is like they are stuck in time.  Most abruptly end around July of 2008.  Some continued through the election, though, but eventually the blog authors seemed to just give up and throw the towel in.

Chief PUMAPAC spokesperson and founder Darragh Murphy still has her page, pumapac.org, up, but it now reads more like a personal site rather than a site representing a nascent political movement with the potential of changing the American political system as the PUMAs were reported to be.

However, in assaying the meteoric rise and fall of the PUMAs, I could not help but recognizing the parallels between the PUMA’s and the Tea Party Movement.

First and foremost, both groups were founded primarily to protest the legitimacy of the winning candidate in a political contest.  According to their line of reasoning, somehow collecting the most actual ballots cast and the most of any other measuring apparatus somehow means the will of the people has been subverted.  I don’t actually understand it;  perhaps it’s some kind of Falstaff-ian Jedi mind trick.

And both were born of a bored media, desperate for a sensational story, and driven and buoyed by an over-exaggeration of actual numbers leading to an over-exaggerated sense of importance.  

The PUMA’s and the Tea Party Movement both tendered estimates in the millions of members.  However, closer examination revealed actual membership and participation was far below estimations, and furthermore, leaders and members were not who they claimed to be.  In the case of the PUMA’s, the most prominent leaders  were purported to actually be Republican operatives attempting to disrupt the unity of the Democratic Party.

In the case of the Tea Party Movement, it was found that what was maintained to be a grassroots movement was actually being organized and supported by a number of conservative organizations and think tanks.  In addition, what was thought to be a broad coalition of disaffected voters was discovered to simply be the most radical and vocal members of the Republican party.

Yet, while the PUMA’s quickly fizzled out, the Tea Party Movement remains strong.  But can it continue to flourish?  I think not. 

First of all, history is against the Tea Party Movement.  No third party has ever had any significant success.  And while they have managed to influence the trajectory of the GOP, how long before that influence wanes? 

Even now they have succeeded in pushing the party further and further to the right.  Many GOP party leaders who were once considered too extreme and controversial are now writing policy on the right, while the best and brightest are being pushed out because they do not meet some conservative litmus test. 

And while the base may be aroused and enthused, Independents and moderates are slowly walking away, turned off by the vitriol.  At some point, the GOP will look around from its place in the back of the line running behind the Tea Party Movement and realize that those they most need to be successful are retreating in the opposite direction.

And just like the PUMA’s, the Tea Party Movement will have then outlived its usefulness and it will have run its course.  The Tea Party Movement leaders talk about making history but at some point in the future, just like the PUMA’s, they will become history.
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