Of all that the Tea Party has accomplished, perhaps the movement’s most unlikely achievement to date is the admiration it has inspired on the activist Left. Disillusioned with President Obama and the rapid dissipation of a long-term left-wing dominance that Obama’s victory was supposed to usher in, left-wing activists and commentators have come to look upon the Tea Party as a model to revive their faded political fortunes.
Speaking for many on the Left, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently acknowledged, “I suffer from Tea Party envy.” Similarly, the disgruntled twenty-somethings taking part in the Occupy Wall Street campaign have styled their protests as a left-wing and anti-capitalist version of the Tea Party. The latest left-wing admirer of the Tea Party is none other than Van Jones, the disgraced former Obama administration official who was ousted from his post as green jobs czar following revelations of his radical past, which included signing a 9/11 “Truther” petition. Time off from professional politics has afforded Van Jones an opportunity to reflect, and like many on the Left he has concluded that in order to regain their relevance, progressives must take a page from the Tea Party’s playbook.
Van Jones made his appreciation of the Tea Party’s success clear on Monday, when he was the keynote speaker at the Take Back the American Dream Conference in Washington D.C. The conference, featuring a number of prominent left-wing groups, was intended as a first step in the left’s attempt to build a cohesive national movement as a progressive counterpart to the Tea Party.
That is clearly how Van Jones sees it. In his remarks, he chastised the Left for its lack of organization and urged activists to imitate the Tea Party’s strategy. The Tea Party “talks individualism,” Van Jones observed, “but they act collectively.” If progressives wanted the Tea Party’s influence, they would have to stop looking to Obama for leadership and create their own national movement. As his own contribution to movement building, Van Jones announced the creation of his new group, which is called Rebuild the American Dream. According to Jones, Rebuild the American Dream will be a “support center” for the Left as it works to build its own movement. Van Jones also praised the protestors of the Occupy Wall Street campaign, which he hailed as a forerunner of the movement that is supposedly emerging on the Left.
At a time when the leading grassroots movement in the country is the Tea Party, Van Jones’s emphasis on structure and cohesion has obvious appeal on the Left. In this account, the problem is not with the left’s political agenda but with its organization. All progressives need to do to rival the Tea Party’s influence is to coordinate their efforts more effectively and accept that, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama will not be their savior.
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