Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, is retiring after twenty terms in Congress. (That’s terms, not years.) For four decades, he has represented one of the most liberal districts in the country, which pumps millions into Democratic coffers.
Yet whom does he blame for his departure? The Tea Party: “”It’s been frustrating because of the extremism of Tea Party Republicans. Nothing seems to be happening,” he told the New York Times.
There is a Tea Party on the west side of Los Angeles. There is even one in my new hometown of Santa Monica. It has a Facebook page that was last updated on February 15, 2011.
In reality, there are more Tea Party haters than Tea Party members in the 33rd congressional district. On weekends, two aging hippies man a table at the Third Street Promenade sporting a giant anti-Tea Party sign. (They seem to do quite a lot of business, for socialists.)
There are hardly any Republicans around, never mind Tea Party supporters. The man who ran against Waxman in 2012, Bill Bloomfield, came within less than 8%–but he was a self-financing candidate who buried his former Republican ties and ran as an independent.
There are a few Hollywood conservatives, but they had always seen Waxman as part of the cost of living in West L.A., like traffic, smog and taxes–i.e. there was not much to be done.
Not much, that is, unless you count the efforts of one Andrew Breitbart, and the news company he founded, in the very heart of the 33rd district.
Hidden in plain sight, Breitbart News became the voice for millions of voters–many of them in winnable districts!–who were fed up with Washington and the mainstream media. In the 2010 election, Breitbart’s websites played a key role in the downfall of many of Waxman’s party colleagues.
And what gave rise to the Tea Party, to begin with?
The new opposition emerged at the end of the Bush era, with outrage against Wall Street bailouts that both parties, and both presidential candidates, supported. President Barack Obama’s $862 billion stimulus in February 2009 provoked an even larger outcry, rising from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, where CNBC analyst Rick Santelli gave the movement its name and its symbol.
Yet what fueled the growth of the Tea Party from a protest movement to a political force was the slew of radical legislation that followed, especially the American Clean Energy and Security Act (a.k.a. the cap-and-trade bill, which only passed the House) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).
Waxman sponsored the first and helped write much of the second. He remains a staunch defender of Obamacare today.
So when Waxman complains about the Tea Party, he really only has himself–and Obama–to blame.
For all the vaunted strategic genius of the Obama campaign team, they picked the worst possible year to trigger a public backlash. The 2010 election not only gave Republicans control of the House, but also swept hundreds of GOP candidates into state legislatures, giving Republicans great influence over the post-Census congressional map.
After Obama was re-elected, Democrats held out hope that they could overcome the geographical disadvantage, with the president even predicting that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would regain the Speaker’s gavel. The government shutdown of October 2013 boosted those prospects.
And then Obamacare began taking effect. Millions lost their insurance. The government websites did not work. And the president’s lies were exposed.
Republicans surged in the polls, and reality set in.
Thanks to Obama’s–and Waxman’s–proudest achievement, senior House Democrats would likely be trapped in the minority for many years.
Still, the Tea Party was not a direct threat. If anything, it was an asset: it was fighting Republican leaders over immigration reform, defunding Obamacare, and crony capitalism. It was also, according to the consultants, damaging the GOP brand.
Yet Waxman could not let the Tea Party go. Nor could other liberal Democrats, like New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer, who devoted an entire speech at the Center for American Progress–the brain trust of the Obama administration–to laying out his strategy to defeat the Tea Party. (His plan: more government!)
For true-blue Democrats, the Tea Party is more than a scapegoat. It is a persistent fear, disproportionate to any direct threat.
The Tea Party is the living spirit of political accountability, in an era when the old checks and balances of the Constitution have been brushed aside, and the media serve as eager propagandists for the state.
In his heart of hearts, Waxman knows what the Tea Party really is. He was elected in the wake of Watergate, when voters gave Democrats a two-thirds majority in the House. Forty years later, Waxman knows for whom the bell now tolls.
Mere hours after Waxman’s retirement, Democrats rushed to declare their interest in running for his seat. No Republican has yet stepped forward, and there is almost no chance a Republican would ever win.
But Waxman’s departure is a sign of how powerful the Tea Party really is–even in “unwinnable” blue states and districts. The torch of liberty may flicker, but it chases shadows clear across the country.
We’ll keep it burning at Breitbart.