The Starfish Tea Party And The Spider GOP

Jonathan Rauch from National Journal reports that the Tea Party’s decentralization gives it power – and makes it a nightmare for the Beltway GOP control freaks, as we’ve seen time and time again this election cycle…

Rauch’s printed article has even more detail…

So why would anyone want to form this kind of group, or network, or hive, or starfish, or lava flow, or whatever it is?

First, radical decentralization embodies and expresses tea partiers’ mistrust of overcentralized authority, which is the very problem they set out to solve. They worry that external co-option, internal corruption, and gradual calcification — the viruses they believe ruined Washington — might in time infect them. Decentralization, they say, is inherently resistant to all three diseases.

Second, the system is self-propelling and self-guiding. “People seem to know what the right thing to do is at the right time,” Dallas’s Emanuelson says. “As times change, then our focus will change, because we’re so bottom-up driven. As everyone decides there’s a different agenda, that’s where things will go.”

If a good or popular idea surfaces in Dallas, activists talk it up and other groups copy it. Bad and unpopular ideas, on the other hand, just fizzle. Better yet, the movement lives on even as people come and go. “The message is important,” Wildman says, “but people are expendable.”

Third, the network is unbelievably cheap. With only a handful of exceptions, everyone is a volunteer. Local groups bring their own resources. Coordinators provide support and communication, but they make a point of pushing most projects back down to the grassroots.

Finally, localism means that there is no waiting for someone up the chain to give a green light. Groups can act fast and capitalize on spontaneity. Equally important, the network is self-scaling. The network never outgrows the infrastructure, because each tea party is self-reliant. And the groups make it their business to seed more groups, producing sometimes dizzying growth.

What the Tea Party movement, personified in Rauch’s research by the Tea Party Patriots, represents is something similar to what Tom Woods discusses in his recent book Nullification and other works – namely, that decentralization of government power is a way to maximize freedom and, in the age of the Internet and the information revolution it represents, effectiveness of an organization as well.

Decentralized organizations, particularly political ones, will undoubtedly have mixed records of success. And they’ll often be paralyzed in the absence of a clear consensus on a given issue. But when the basic principles of the organization are agreed upon and serve as a foundation for a consensus, it makes for a highly focused, energetic effort to achieve limited goals. Which is precisely what we’ve seen so far with the Tea Party, which to date seems to be the smartest and most underrated political force of modern times.

It’s clear nobody in the Beltway establishment, right or left, understands the Tea Party. Certainly they don’t understand how to manage relationships with them – because as decentralized groups multiple relationships must be managed, not just an elite few. And this is a good thing.

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