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An ongoing discussion about conservatism in New Jersey.
The Tea Party is not doing very well in NJ, for good reasons
Peter C. Hansen  (March 3, 2010, 10:47 pm)

A recent poll showed that the Tea Party is viewed favorably by 27% of New Jerseyans, as opposed to over one-third of Americans nationally. A 27% support rate is nothing to sneeze at, but it hardly shows a major warming trend in the Garden State. How could this be for a group in pro-Christie New Jersey that allegedly seeks "fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and limited government"?

As always in politics, popularity is determined by likeability, with policy points used to put feelings into respectable words. If you like to hang around with Tea Partiers, you probably support them. If you are scared of them, abstractly bothered by their existence, or are simply worried that talking with them will spark anti-immigrant tirades in public, you don't support them. Likewise, if you are put off by Sarah Palin playing to a stewing cultural resentment that you don't feel, you likely don't support the Tea Partiers.

Most New Jerseyans long for fiscal responsibility and some brakes being put on the state's careening government. They also don't like their creepy neighbor who mutters about "shooting all those crooks" and "those damn (insert ethnic slur)" after a beer or two at the picnic. It is this clash of sensibilities that likely explains the significant but not whole-hearted NJ embrace of the Tea Party. Many rational folks want to have a vehicle to express the revolutionary spirit of '76 and to wash out the Garden State's Augean Stables. They are also worried, however, about being associated with John Birchers and assorted wackos. They don't want to be the creepy neighbor's new best friend.

It is unfair for politicians to smear the Tea Partiers with unfounded allegations of racism, but the Tea Partiers do themselves no favors by pulling stunts like trying to recall the duly elected Sen. Menendez. Just because recalls are allowed by Art. 1(2)(b) of the NJ Constitution does not mean that election cycles should be ignored. If the Tea Party can't build a regular opposition that can survive until 2012 (when Menendez is up for re-election), it can cynically and perhaps accurately be viewed as just a mob of undirected populists that will soon fade. If the Tea Partiers want recognition as a true movement, they need common and articulated ideals, and organizations that will effectively press for political expression of those ideals. (See David Larsen's effort in NJ's 7th District, for example.)

Bill Buckley is renowned among conservatives for casting out the wingnuts and setting up the modern era of conservatism. The Tea Party is still a protean notion, with lots of well-meaning and rational people doing their best to make their mark. At the same time, however, the Tea Party opens the door to the once-banished crazies. Extreme caution must be exercised to ensure that the hard-won gains of conservatism are not tarnished and reversed as a result of this renewed association.