Journalists are noting the first anniversary of the Tea Party movement this weekend. My local paper juxtaposed a retrospective article with an item on the birth of a counter-movement, the Coffee Party. The article attributes the new movement struggling to be born to one Annabel Park, but like any such phenomenon it seems now to be spreading beyond her original inspiration. On the evidence of the Facebook page, the Coffee Party aspires to nonpartisanship, compromise, civil discourse and "Reason and civility in public affairs."
The question confronting the Coffee Partiers is this: how far do you go in outreach, and how much do you compromise for the sake of progress? Is the sheer existence of a separate, distinctly labeled movement meant to exclude the Tea Partiers, or do you intend to try to communicate with them and seek common ground? In simplest terms, do you see yourselves as the enemies of the Tea Partiers? Their rhetoric notwithstanding, I think enmity is inevitable. The Coffee movement seems to have come from frustration with a paralysis in government that is believed to result from partisan obstructionism, abetted by the Tea Partiers' often-hysterical anti-statist stance. I suspect there's little sympathy with the TPs' concerns among the CPs. One writer on the Facebook page said that "government is not the enemy," and if that's representative then the CP is just about automatically antithetical to the default ideology of the Tea Parties. The TPs themselves can be expected to take a "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude that will likely guarantee antagonism wherever CPs go public.
Wherever it manifests, the Coffee Party can expect to be challenged by Tea Partiers, to be called "liberals" and "Obama worshippers" and so forth. If so, what is to be done? We've all had a year to test the Tea Partiers' amenability to reason. If they can't be reasoned with, can they simply be ignored? Perhaps as individuals, but their ideology must be challenged and refuted in public if the Coffee Party hopes to amount to anything. The existence of a figuratively if not literally opposite movement forces the question of which one speaks more truly for America. Like it or not, the question involves an appeal to emotions. CPs may fancy themselves the calm, reasonable people, but it is no time for dispassion when fear and anger appear to reign. What's needed is the agitation that a good strong dose of coffee promises. It isn't necessarily partisan to question the anti-statism and anti-egalitarianism of Tea Partiers; there are philosophical issues involved in these questions that transcend the party lines of today. In fact, the emergence of two popular movements presumably independent of the existing partisan Bipolarchy may provide the occasion for a genuine discussion of first principles. Leave debates over the merits of this or that bill to the politicians, as well as debates over the merits of this or that politician. If the Coffee Party exists because people believe the Tea Party is wrong, its mission should be to find the direct, non-partisan, non-ideological language in which to say so -- a language that the Tea Partiers themselves just might listen to.