Broder’s advice for the Tea Party crowd

BRODER’S ADVICE FOR THE TEA PARTY CROWD…. The Washington Post‘s David Broder considers the Tea Partiers in his column today, riffing off the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen’s efforts to place it “in the historical context of other populist movements.”

This strikes me as a very bad idea. For one thing, Tea Partiers aren’t really a “movement” — we’re talking about an effort with no real leadership, expertise, policy agenda, clarity of thought, or internal structure, made up almost entirely of the most hysterical wing of the Republican Party base. For another, Tea Partiers aren’t really populists — they’re anti-government zealots, actively hostile to efforts to materially improve the lives of working Americans.

But Broder seems to see things a little differently, and endorses the notion that Tea Partiers will have more success if they come across as less extreme.

[Olsen said William Jennings] Bryan failed in part “because he made a majority afraid. Some libertarian populists, with their rejection of every facet of the modern welfare state, are likely to do the same — because even this center-right nation does not want to see the welfare state dismantled.” Republican Senate candidates in Kentucky and Nevada need to have those words imprinted on their brains.

The need for Republicans, then, is to do what Reagan did — “to propose alternatives that offer a real change of direction without seeming too radical.” … The new conservative populists, Olsen says, need their own positive vision, one that can “turn an intense but transient public sentiment into an enduring political force.” […]

Building a majority coalition will require a strong, sensible platform. And a clear separation from the kooks and cranks who sank both Bryan and Goldwater.

I suppose so, but isn’t that pretty obvious? It’s like saying, “Building a balanced budget will require a sensible long-term combination of tax increases, economic growth, and fiscal responsibility.” Or maybe, “Building a successful Detroit Lions franchise will require talented players, sensible coaches, and a favorable schedule.” As the kids say, “Duh.”

The trick is figuring out how to make it happen. Would the Tea Party crowd be more popular if they seemed less insane? Well, sure. But we’re talking about a confused group of right-wing cranks working off nothing but blind rage.

The problem isn’t that Broder’s advice is wrong; it’s that his advice seems oddly out of place. The Tea Party crowd will succeed, he argues, if they appear mainstream, craft a coherent policy agenda, back off their demands to destroy nearly every federal program, and distance themselves from the “kooks.”

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but what about the realization that the Tea Party crowd isn’t mainstream, doesn’t know enough about government to craft an agenda, wants to destroy the modern welfare state, and includes an overabundance of kooks?