Is the tea party brewing a revolution?

By RON FOURNIER (AP) – 56 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — They heeded a pamphleteer’s call for “manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny” — the 60 American colonists who stormed Griffin’s Wharf and emptied 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. And with that, a revolution brewed.

Now, more than two centuries later, come the angry throngs of the modern-day tea party. They’ve gotten the nation’s attention. Can they foment their own revolution?

Not yet.

The Associated Press reviewed tea party operations in almost every state, interviewing dozens of local organizers as well as Democratic and Republican strategists to produce a portrait of the movement to date — and its prospects for tilting this November’s elections.

The bottom line:

Though amplifying widespread voter anger at the political establishment, the tea party movement is unlikely to dramatically affect the congressional elections — unless their local affiliates forge alliances with Republican candidates. And how likely is that? Republican operatives look at the possibility of GOP-tea party collaborations with some anxiety, and many tea party activists frankly don’t want to see them.

Born of protest and populism, the United States is a nation of movements — people galvanized by causes, summoned with the latest technologies. But none of those causes — not abolition, women’s votes, civil rights or anti-war — was certain to succeed in its first fateful steps, or even to leave a lasting mark.

It’s much too early for any long-term verdict on the tea party. Even defining what short-term success would be for its members can be a challenge.

Let’s begin with what they’re not.

They’re sure not Democrats. But many aren’t thrilled with the Republicans either.

The tea party itself is not a political party — and there are no signs it ever will be.

It has no single issue around which people rally. It has no clear leader who drives the organization’s message, motivates followers and raises money. Indeed, the hundreds of tea party chapters and tens of thousands of its activists cannot agree on the most basic strategic goal: whether to influence the current political system or dismantle it.

The embryonic movement is not as much a force that drives public opinion as a reflection of it.

“Lot of noise,” says one senior Republican consultant, “no muscle.” But plenty of ability to make a scene: The consultant, who is directly involved in plotting the party’s Senate elections strategy, insisted his name not be attached to that quote, concerned about alienating activists.

Many of those activists want nothing to do with political parties at all.

“The day there’s an organized Tea Party in Wisconsin,” says Mark Block, who runs tea party rallies in the state, “is the day the tea party movement dies.”

America’s tea party is a hodgepodge of barely affiliated groups, a home to the politically homeless, the fast-growing swath of citizens who are frustrated with Washington, their own state capitals and the two major political parties. Most describe themselves as conservatives or libertarians. They don’t like the change wrought by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress.

Last year’s rise of the tea party closely tracked polls showing steep declines in the public’s faith in government, confidence in the nation’s future and approval of Obama and Congress. Government bailouts and Obama’s trillion-dollar push to overhaul the U.S. health care system proved too much for people like Ralph Sprovier, a regional coordinator for Illinois Tea.

“We’re regular people who are p—ed off at our government — period, end of story,” says Sprovier. “Defend us, don’t spend more than we have, get the budget balanced and listen to what we say.”

But listening doesn’t guarantee understanding. Tea party regulars back candidates who support debt reduction. Or free markets. Or states’ rights. Or civil liberties. Or tort reform. Or term limits. Or abolishing federal agencies. They champion some of these issues — but not always all of them — and sometimes many more. Generalizing the movement is a fool’s errand.

This we know: Tea parties know how to produce crowds. In the footsteps of the pamphleteers of the 1770s, organizers use e-mail, social networking and other electronic tools to draw enormous numbers of disaffected Americans together. Some wear revolutionary-era garb and carry signs bearing the language of 18th century patriots — “Don’t tread on me!” is a popular one.

But rally building is no big trick in the era of Twitter and Facebook, when people with cell phones can summon crowds from thin air for events as frivolous as snowball fights and bursts of song.

To read more, visit: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i2bqPClsmNm4BDd-KxIdvJ4gNCCQD9ESRH4G3

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