The New York Times op-ed piece cited above delivers the results of several polls which suggest that the Tea Party is less popular in American public opinion than both atheists and Muslims...two groups which inspire less-than-cozy feelings in the average resident of the fifty states. How could a grassroots movement of people who were largely credited for the 2010 sweepout of the Democratic majority in Congress become so reviled? And in such little time?
Part of the problem is what I mentioned in my Ron Paul article, which is that sound bites elude most of what the Tea Party proposes. Compounding their troubles are the complete lack of professionalism and control the movement exercises over who is allowed to speak on its behalf. I realize that part of the movement's initial appeal was how unformed and amoebic it seemed. Protests developed organically. There was excitement in the streets and revolution in the air. YEAH!
Then the worst thing possible happened: success. The new majority, led by Weeping John Boehner, empowered by their bases, promptly started behaving "responsibly," which is code for doing exactly what had always been done before. Previously unthinkable compromises now became the only rational choice.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party continued to decidedly not pick its spots, and a few of its worst apples spoiled the lot by first allowing the specter of racism pollute its messaging (a deathblow in American politics). Then, somehow social conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were allowed to tout their Tea Party pedigrees.
The truth of the matter is that ideological purity is difficult to maintain in the face of success, because people such as the typical Tea Party member (and indeed, myself as a libertarian) thrives on the struggle against the current situation to the point that success befuddles him a bit. Like a lottery winner, many times, the worst thing that could've happened was for him to get what he wants.
I say all of this to make one thing clear about libertarians: though you may find us in selected Tea Party sects, you will never find us agreeing with the social conservatism of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or George W. Bush. No clearer indicator of a non-libertarian is any discussion about a need to return to moral values, or any such statement of nostalgia for a mythological condition this country once enjoyed. Consider it the litmus test, and proceed accordingly.