Politics needs bad guys to thrive. Opposition is more fun than advocacy. Just ask the tea party.
Since the loose-knit national political movement spread its wings about five years ago, it too often has found itself the brunt of political attack instead of the bringer of it. It’s not hard to find people who despise the tea party without knowing precisely why. Just as one example, some Americans apparently think the movement is white racist without having a shred of evidence to support that belief.
What the tea party in Georgia needed to re-energize it was two things. First, a perceived big-government bully at the local level. Cobb County’s lightning strike announcement that it will host the Atlanta Braves’ new stadium has provided that political nemesis.
Critically, the issue is one that is concrete and thus comprehensible. Debating the pros and cons of the federal deficit is an abstraction to most people. A higher property tax bill or a longer commute home from work because of a stadium traffic jam — these are headaches that even the politically disinterested can feel.
Second, a newly relevant tea party also had to find a way to get some favorable media. Too often, and fairly or not, they have been characterized in the press as irrational right-wing fanatics.
But the stadium issue has drawn all stripes of political players into a rather motley coalition. It includes some of the usual, left-leaning suspects who often surface when big business, big government, or both start flexing their muscle.
This has served to draw sympathetic press to the Cobb County and Georgia tea parties from national media, including reliably left-wing publications.
What the stadium issue is forcing some of these media to realize is that the tea party in perhaps its healthiest incarnation is not so much anti-government, anti-business or anti-Democrat as it is anti-elitist.
When government and business join forces to impose their will on a taken-aback public, then opposition to this kind of political behavior strikes a chord in most fair-minded people of any partisan stripes. Suddenly media coverage is less about a “Republican civil war,” and more about citizens as David versus elites as Goliath.
Where this ends is a mystery — and now a bona fide political drama. It’s hard to imagine the Cobb stadium won’t be built. Even if the announced lawsuit to challenge a portion of the county’s financial plan to build the stadium is successful, it’s likely that Cobb and the Braves would find another avenue to produce the needed cash.
What could be more important for Georgia politics is the blood transfusion that stadium issue is giving the tea party in metro Atlanta and the state. That the building of the stadium will be an ongoing affair for years could be even better for the tea partyers.
Watch to see if the coalition of, say, anti-tax activists and environmentalists remain willing and able to forge an ongoing, anti-political elite alliance that can carry over into state-level politics.
And watch to see if Democrats can find a way to this whole affair to drive a wedge between Republican political masters and rank-and-file GOP voters next fall. Jason Carter, are you listening?