When the US was young, general communications were limited almost to gossip, hearsay, and the occasional traveler. Much of the course of the Revolution, and later the Civil War, were laid out with control of information, both among allies and used against opponents.
The telegraph, distributing information to media channels like newspaper and town meetings, began a change. Newspapers carried national politics and news within days of happening. Politicians began receiving letters and telegrams and other communications from a vastly wider cross section of their constituents - and the constituents started getting better insight into what their representatives were doing.
Since the 1960s TV and Radio increased the immediacy and intimacy of broadcast media, challenging the traditional newspapers for accuracy and respect. More people got involved, more special interest groups formed and applied pressure to Congress, the President, courts, and states. Easier communications redefined the role of the representative from acting on his own beliefs, to responding to imminent feedback from his district, often assumed to be the expression of the special interest groups and paid lobbyists.
Now the Internet starts to change the political landscape again. Peggy Noonan writes persuasively for the Wall Street Journal that there are two central reasons for the current prominence of the Tea Party: The clock and the Yardstick. The clock is counting up the cost of delaying drastic remedies to the current crisis of big government having overspent the nation. The yardstick is a measure of how far to the liberal, big government end of the stick so-called Republicans are playing to the liberal goals. The Tea Party is focused on dragging things back to the middle of that yardstick, and quickly.
Chris Anderson of the TED conferences waxed eloquent about Crowd Accelerated Innovation. His components for CAI are content, light, and desire. I might describe the Tea Party movement as substantive issues (content), exposure of deceit and offering plain, responsible remedies, and a real passion to accomplish the needed changes in time to reduce the impact of what has been going on for decades.
I think Chris' Crowd Accelerated Innovation explains how the Tea Party came to be so influential in such a relatively short time, how so many people got involved, how the course of the effort has steadied onto the biggest single factor that most of those interested can get behind - overspending by today's government. Other issues have less consensus, but fail to diminish the force of the movement. This also explains a popular movement without the traditional charismatic leader, though a few have tried to don that mantle. But claiming leadership of a minority to create status and power is an old-boy trick, and this new model of quick and reliable, viral communication exposes and disposes of chicanery, as quickly as it exposed the SEIU shills stuffing the early "town hall" meetings.
Where Peggy Noonan explains the impact of the Tea Party, and in part why the Republican Party establishment is afraid of, and unable to draw power and funds from, the Tea Party, it is Chris Anderson's Crowd Accelerated Innovation that explains why the Tea Party works so well.
The Democratic and Republican party leaderships are still founded on the days of controllable and restricted media of the mid-20th Century, as modified by the cheap energy era - and easy money - that blossomed so grandly for American from the 1950s through the early 2000s.
What brings the Tea Party to the fore now? The United States is called a "capitalist" nation. I had to look that up. Capitalism is a form of government that supports and encourages capitalists. That is, the wealthy, but especially those investing and managing capital investments for industry, commerce, and other kinds of production. Capitalists invest to create profits - jobs, goods, etc. And Capitalism encourages that. Because of the chances for abuse in an unregulated climate, there are a few necessary controls - monopolies and unfair business practices are punished, deceit and fraud are punished. But now we have a President that hates capitalism. In his haste to dismantle the economic basis of what used to be a wealthy nation, a nation that used to rebuild countries in the shape we are in today, he has made the US a second world power, inviting other nations to assert their own dominance in the world. And he continues to punish capitalists - the very people and organizations needed to restore any semblance of a sustainable economy.
Three other important issues highlight the crisis that the Tea Party addresses. Global Warming has been made an international bogey man. Whether or not the climate is changing or will change, the political impact has been felt. Whether or not the political infighting that has tainted any possibility of getting a definitive answer about causes and effects from the science community is moot at this point. The UN and certain factions in the Obama administration are using the argument to continue disrupting the US economy, punish the capitalists that frankly made the US the power it became for World War II, and would be required if any great national effort in the future were to succeed.
The next great issue is biting now. Sources differ, whether the peak oil production fell below world demand, on a day-by-day basis, in 2005 - or will in the next couple of years. Peak Oil means that the demand for oil is and will be forever, greater than the ability to produce oil. Yes, there are reserves of oil to last centuries. But it can no longer be produced at a rate to satisfy world demand today. The result is expected to be a gradual ratcheting up, with spikes of increased cost of energy alternating with relative easing of cost - as various economies retract under the strain, reducing demand. But each cycle will ratchet ever higher. The reasons are clear - existing fields are getting closer to empty, and the cost per barrel is increasing at the same time the amount produced per well is declining. One report shows Saudia Arabia needed $18 per barrel in 2000 to break even. That break even point was $68 per barrel in 2009. New finds are more difficult to get to, regulations and costs make getting that oil to market more expensive, and some of us see a profound change coming in how we look at energy. The promise of alternate energy is about as scientifically and economically compromised as the science behind global warming. Wind power generators are dependent on the wind blowing. Alternative sources have to be online and available when the wind stops, or maintenance needs to be done. The cost of wind energy is currently highly subsidized - it couldn't pay for itself on today's market without soaking up bunches of tax dollars. There are other options - wave and tide motors, geothermal and deep sea cold taps, variations on hydroelectric generators - but Washington keeps spending tax money on labor unions and banks that make a profit off the national debt. Reduce taxes, make business regulations relevant to the "land of the free" and the capitalists might be able to make something work.
To my own delight, the Tea Party is focused on the traditional US Constitution and Bill of Rights to restore responsibility in government, as the means to achieve responsible economic reform. Makes sense to me.