Did The Tea Partiers Party Too Soon?

5133203All across `Glennbeckistan,' a spring and summer of fury fueled the hope that the Democrats' push for health care reform would wind up stillborn. Add in the forced resignation of Van Jones and the public embarrassment of ACORN and the tea party movement was ready to celebrate its high water mark.

But did the trumpets of triumphalism sound prematurely?

After weeks of mixed signals, the leadership of the Senate Democrats now says it will offer a health reform plan that includes the public option, a move welcomed by a newly-reenergized liberal base. (Another measure of how big a deal this is: Consider the absolute fit National Review's Rich Lowry is having over the latest turn. Up until recently, Lowry and his cohorts on the right were smugly predicting the imminent morphing of Barack Obama's presidency into the second coming of Jimmy Carter.)

I think Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight is onto something when he notes the tea party movement's amorphous critique of public policy has turned out to be its Achilles heel. Despite the attention it garnered on Fox and right-wing blogs, the movement's lack of focus contrasts with the focus liberal groups have put on the public option.

"Whereas liberal activists have been focused on a laser like the public option, conservative activists have been distracted by ACORN, Van Jones, the NFL's conspiracy against Rush Limbaugh, and who-knows-what. Usually it's liberals who have amorphous, omnibus critiques of the government, and conservatives who bear down on specific policies; the polarity seems somewhat to have reversed."

(A last minute decision by the insurance lobby to release a flawed Price Waterhouse Coopers report helped foster the perception that big corporate interests had been pulling the strings of the anti-health care reform movement from the get-go.)

Another sign: The cat fight in New York's 23rd congressional district where conservatives have abandoned the Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava in favor of Conservative Party party candidate Doug Hoffman. On Monday, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stuck it to the extreme right, which he accused of orchestrating a party purge.

"This idea that we're suddenly going to establish litmus tests and all across the country we're going to purge the party of anybody who doesn't agree with us 100 percent; that guarantees Obama's reelection, that guarantees Pelosi as Speaker-for-life," he said on Fox News Monday night.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.