Six months ago, the vocal factions of the Tea Party revolt organized among anti-Obama right wingers were mostly an annoyance to the Democratic Party. Today, the Congressional Democrats are scared for their political lives after Scott Brown, with the help of a Tea Party-organized online "money bomb" and get-out-the-vote campaign, won back for Republicans Ted Kennedy's former Massachusetts senate seat. The "money bomb" is a tactic borrowed from MoveOn and the liberal netroots movement through which the Tea Party activists raised way over one million dollars online in 24 hours for Scott Brown. Even though the Republicans have only reduced the still large fifty-nine member Democratic senate majority by one person, the fact that Brown ran an uphill campaign that came from nowhere and steamrolled to victory means that all the Congressional Democrats are now looking over their right shoulders, fearing a similar populist attack as the 2010 electoral season heats up.
The Tea Party money bomb has also blown up Obamacare, the President's muddled health care reform plan. While many pundits point to local issues that helped Brown win, the fact is that Brown ran hardest against Obama's health care bill, and won despite personal appearances in Massachusetts by Obama and Bill Clinton, and despite a desperate but failed Democratic effort to beat back the insurgency.
Freedomworks, and other groups behind the Tea Party populists, have long claimed that they would create the Right's equivalent of MoveOn, and they have. Indeed, the best efforts of MoveOn and Obama's much-touted, but very ineffectual Organizing for America, to rescue the Massachusetts senate race failed miserably. The grassroots political momentum in the country is now with the right wing populists who have tapped into a great disillusionment with Obama and his Democratic Party. Indeed, given the inevitable political stalemate this stunning Republican upset will cause in Washington, the most interesting political action in 2010 is going to be found in examining what takes place at the grassroots among populists of both the Left and the Right. Can the progressive Left once again become a force for change in America, or will it continue to take the role of cheerleader for Obama and cede the grassroots to the Right?
How ironic that smug Democrats in the Administration refused to allow the single payer, medicare-for-all option to even be considered as a possibility for America. They declared it off the table, pushing a "public option" plan that was quickly jettisoned by an Administration happy to cut deals with the drug and insurance lobbies. The result is a massive mess, difficult to understand, that has shrinking public support. It was hung like an albatross around the neck of Martha Coakley, the loser in the Scott Brown race.
If the Obama Administration had embraced the single-payer option -- some type of which is in place in every country that does have universal medical coverage -- it could have ignited the Democratic grassroots and educated the public. Instead, the health care debacle has become a massive political train wreck, and Barack Obama's Democratic Party is pinned in the wreckage.
John Stauber is an author and activist. His views are his own.