Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party -- a Book Review

In March of 2013, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) criticized his colleagues Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), calling them wacko birds for their outspokenness and refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along style of working in the Senate. McCain, once proudly known as a maverick for his outspokenness and sometimes refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along Senate style, was particularly upset with Paul's "nearly 13-hour filibuster that pressured President Barack Obama's administration to clarify its position on the use of domestic drones."

Paul later retorted, "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered."  

Although McCain later apologized for his public criticism -- intra party disagreements are usually resolved quietly with little, if any, publicity -- this exchange revealed the split between the old "stale and moss covered" Republicans who often seemingly differ from their Democratic colleagues in nuance rather than as true opposition and their more conservative, younger members, the wacko birds.  

But just who are these wacko birds? Where did they come from? What do they believe in? Will they be able to influence the Republican Party? This country? What about their success? Failures? Joel B. Pollak explains in his important new e book Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party.

A wacko bird himself, Pollak first gained notoriety as a Harvard Law student persistently questioning then Rep Barney Frank (D-MA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, about Frank's responsibility for the global economic meltdown. A little over 10 years later, in 2010, Pollak, formerly a very liberal Democrat, challenged extremely liberal 10-year incumbent Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), for a Congressional seat in a midnight deep blue district. (Full disclosure: I worked on and contributed to his campaign and even served as a genuine Republican election judge to combat any election irregularities.) Although Schakowsky won easily, Pollak managed to reduce her victory percentage. He is now Senior Editor at Large and in-house counsel for Breitbart News. So he writes from experience, as an actual participant in the political process, as well as a political analyst.

One by one, Pollak examines the more prominent wacko birds, the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party candidates and legislators, such as Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Sarah Palin, and even Christine O'Donnell, the failed Delaware senatorial candidate "witch", candidly analyzing their successes and failures and their impact on the party and the country.  

For Pollak, "the wacko birds of the Tea Party and the new conservative opposition were the authentic voices of a frustrated electorate, and to some extent, a counter culture."

Rubio, an original wacko bird, defeated Florida's governor Charles Crist and opposed ObamaCare while emphasizing the importance of the Constitution, including gun ownership. But he was for immigration amnesty with strict border enforcement; most members of the Tea Party oppose the former.  

Rand Paul "pioneered creative tactics" to get his message across, proposing economic freedom zones, an idea that even Obama has embraced. But his isolationist foreign policy views and opinion that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not Constitutional alienated many within the Tea Party.

Ted Cruz's leadership on the debt ceiling led to the government shutdown, proving that strong Republican opposition to the Democrats is possible. But while the shutdown thrilled many both within and outside the Tea Party many others, including old-line Republicans, were upset.

And then there was Sarah Palin. Palin, McCain's surprising choice for a running mate in 2008, was the successful governor of a non-swing state, Alaska, and formerly a small town mayor. A middle-class wife and mother, she entered politics on her own, without strong political family connections or money, unlike some prominent female Democrats. (Yes Hillary Rodham -- and now Clinton -- and Michelle Nunn, I mean you.) Had she been a Democrat the media would have loved her and her story: small town girl makes good, good marriage with five children, including a loved handicapped youngster, very attractive. But she was a Republican.  

As Pollak points out, the mostly liberal media protects Democratic eccentrics and those with views outside the Democratic mainstream. But Palin was a Republican. Consequently, she was mocked and ridiculed for everything, including not aborting her Down's Syndrome baby. "Saturday Night Live's" Tina Fey shot to fame impersonating her; "I can see Russia from my house" became her tag line. Of course, Palin and McCain proved to be correct about Russia but no matter. Obama's murky past and Biden's many gaffes, including the mildly racist "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking," and imitating an Indian accent.  

Nevertheless, Pollak claims that the Tea Party has a solid record of achievements, including bringing a freshness to American politics by providing a place for those Americans opposed to Obama and the political class in general. As a result, they stunted Democratic political consultant James Carville's prediction that the Democrats would be the future majority party, helping Republicans win and proving that the U.S. was not turning hard left, or in the words of a contemporary Newsweek cover, "we're all socialists now." Most importantly, while they didn't reduce federal spending, they decelerated its rise while also slowing down spending at the state level. And they increased the strength of the alternative media: while the mainstream media ignored Rep Anthony Weiner's (D-NY) sexting scandal, Breitbart exposed it, countering his excuses. Ultimately, Weiner, who married one of Hillary Clinton's top aides and was thinking of becoming a New York senator, was forced to resign in disgrace amidst much mockery.  

But the Tea Party also had its failures, mainly its lack of success twice to take the Senate and later to produce a strong enough Tea Party opponent to defeat Obama. More reactive than active, they couldn't effectively counter the Occupy movement's obsession with the fabled 1% and notions of inequality and jealousy. Their inability to widely influence the Republican Party towards more conservative stances as the more leftist Democrats had turned their party left diminished its presence. The wacko birds also lacked leadership and thus were not confident enough to challenge the established powers thus "the basic failure of the Tea Party comes down to develop leadership and public representatives who could make the case for the movement's principles."

Pollak concludes that the left -- and the U.S. -- need the Tea Party and its wacko birds, to show the country that the Constitution is important and that not all citizens want or need government programs that "help" them.

As the title states, the Tea Party may have fallen but it will also rise if we become an informed and vigilant citizenry.