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'National Tea Party Unity Convention' canceled. Is the movement slipping?

If anything, cancellation of the National Tea Party Unity Convention may indicate the strength and vastness of the movement. Like Democrats and Republicans, 'tea partyers' are numerous enough to justify infighting.

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Other recent tea-party-related events have failed to live up to expectations as well, including the “LibertyXPO” in Washington earlier this month. The second “9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington” had a smaller turnout than last year.

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Writing in the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen suggests that a movement with no formal leadership, structure, agenda, or membership is likely to have a hard time gathering a crowd for such an event as the National Tea Party Unity Convention – particularly when tea-party rallies are held somewhere in the country just about every weekend.

“Is it any wonder that gathering fatigue has set in?” he writes. “I've never even heard of a movement trying to organize so many national events in such close proximity to one another, and actually expecting folks to show up.”

For their part, liberals say the size and potential political impact of the tea party movement are overblown.

Liberal retort

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. asserts that “the Tea Party constitutes a sliver of opinion on the extreme end of politics receiving attention out of all proportion with its numbers.”

As evidence, he points to recent GOP Senate primary elections in which tea-party favorites such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware “were built on small shares of the electorate” – winning by just a fraction of their state’s overall voting population. He also notes recent polls showing that a relatively small percentage of Americans consider themselves tea partyers.

“Last April, a New York Times-CBS News poll found that 18 percent of Americans identified as supporters of the Tea Party movement, but slightly less than a fifth of these sympathizers said they had attended a Tea Party rally or meeting,” he writes. “That means just over 3 percent of Americans can be characterized as Tea Party activists. A more recent poll by Democracy Corps, just before Labor Day, found that 6 percent of voters said they had attended a Tea Party rally or meeting.”

But 6 percent (or even just 3 percent) probably is more than the percentage of Americans who have ever gone door-to-door for a candidate, manned a phone bank, or even put up a yard sign. Millions of tea partyers have showed up, and not just out of curiosity. According to recent polls, millions more are ready to “throw the bums out,” be they Republican or Democrat.

Despite what he says is a “tempest in a very small teapot,” Dionne notes that “the Tea Party is not the only small group in history to wield more power than you'd expect from its numbers.” And here, he sees a clear warning for political progressives like himself.

“Sulking is not an alternative to organizing, and weary resignation is the first step toward capitulation,” he writes. “The Tea Party may be pulling a fast one on the country and the media. But if it has more audacity than everyone else, it will, I am sorry to say, deserve to get away with it.”

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

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