It was reportedly Eric Hoffer who offered the famous, entertaining political assessment that “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
Hoffer’s observation has been borne out on a consistent basis, and examples proving it are legion. The most recent comes courtesy of a Tea Party leader from the Atlanta suburbs named Debbie Dooley, who is now traveling the South shilling for solar energy as part of the Sierra Club-funded Green Tea Coalition.
Dooley has set up shop in Louisiana of late, attempting to save the doomed state tax credits for solar energy that a recent study calculates is costing Louisiana taxpayers a net $63 million per year — making those tax breaks a certified goner amid a budget deficit of some $1.6 billion thanks in large part to depressed prices of oil and gas. There is little appetite in the state legislature, and not much more on the Republican-controlled Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in Louisiana, to continue subsidizing rooftop solar energy.
And that’s been borne out by the results of last fall’s elections; a group named the Alliance for Affordable Energy, funded by the suspected likes of George Soros and Tom Steyer, not to mention a solar energy provider named PosiGen, dispatched one of its officers to run against PSC chairman Eric Skrmetta. Forest Bradley Wright, the activist in question, had run in a different PSC district as a Democrat in 2012 and earned only 20 percent of the vote in a blowout loss to Republican Scott Angelle, but learned his lesson well last year. Wright, who lives in neither Angelle’s district nor Skrmetta’s, switched parties to run against Skrmetta and had third parties spend the better part of a million dollars accusing the incumbent of being corrupt. In doing so, he forced a surprise runoff with Skrmetta, actually beating him in the jungle primary, before losing a close race in one of the most dishonest political campaigns in recent Louisiana history — so much so that Wright actually had a judicial injunction issued against his attack ads.
With that race over and most of the state’s conservative activists itching to punish the solar industry for appropriating the brand for distinctly non-conservative purposes, Louisiana is the last place Dooley and her Traveling Talking-point Sunshine Show would want to land. It will end badly for her at the state legislative session which begins next week, and her homecoming — she’s the daughter of a Bogalusa, Louisiana preacher — will end largely in irrelevance if not disdain.
But Dooley isn’t alone in finding lousy political partners and causes to trumpet. As one of the initial founders of the Tea Party movement, a designation no article about her in suddenly-friendly mainstream media outlets can avoid, you’d expect her to be a big star in conservative circles and have gigs at Fox News or with AFP, FreedomWorks, Citizens United, or one of the other consequential organizations within the overall movement. Lots of other Tea Party figures have made the jump into mainstream conservatism; so much so that it’s not inaccurate to term the phenomenon a rapture of sorts.
But if there’s a rapture, there will be those left behind.
And Dooley is one of those; not without reason. Her Greater Atlanta Tea Party has partnered with the Occupy movement and the AFL-CIO to kill a bill that would ban mobs from demonstrating on the front lawns of corporate CEOs, for example, and her shilling for solar energy — it’s a “free market” solution, subsidies be damned; it’s “decentralized” energy — hasn’t impressed many.
But she isn’t alone. When the Tea Party movement took off in 2009 and 2010, it attracted a large number of talented, savvy, and passionate people new to political activism, and those people have made a huge difference in revitalizing conservatism after it lay largely in ruins at the end of the Bush administration. The Republican Party’s majorities in Congress and state legislatures come chiefly from that revitalization few seem to recognize; it was the energy of Tea Party activists working within the party at the state and local levels, not to mention Tea Party activists stepping forward as candidates, which created the change.
But if you look around at your local Tea Party group, more often than not you’ll find a rump organization with tiny membership and not much productive focus. You’ll also find leadership that isn’t savvy, doesn’t understand policy well, and in lots of cases can’t get along well even within the Tea Party movement.
Those are the Left Behind. Some of them are more relevant than others. Dooley might fit that description; then again, how relevant to the conservative movement can you be if the Sierra Club is dispatching you from state to state to tout the crony-capitalist solar racket?
That’s only a viable activity if your movement has become a racket in its own right. In Dooley’s case, at least she’s apparently found a way for somebody to pay her bills.