When Tea Party marching began a few months ago, I was quick to jab it a bit and dismiss the street noise as another gathering of fringe hangers-on, misfits and assorted malcontents. I may have been too hasty in some ways. (At this time, I’ll turn to the far right and utter a soft (partial) mea culpa.)

But the truth is, while some honest, angry folks are part of the mix, it contains many of the aforementioned and likely will for some time. The movement is in its infancy. Because it has no real, grassroots leadership, effectiveness is questionable and it could likely fall on its collective tail.

Fringe groups have a long history of failure because they “eat their young.” Robert Welch, Liberty Lobby, the Birch Society and others got just so far down the road then, because of the conspiratorial nature of the participants, they began to distrust each other, splintered and lost their way. There are already competing “tea parties.”

At the moment, the biggest problem facing the Tea Party is the only real structure is being provided by people paid to stir things up … people who have been very shaky with truth and facts. If the group wants to be effective, it has to get away from the paid, far right element trying to steer it and the far right money used to bankroll it.

It also has to find a niche in the mainstream of the two party system. It will never be successful from outside because finding a place on the ballot in many states is impossible. Or illegal.

Ironically, the reason I’m willing to cut the tea group some slack is because of the new Coffee Party. This loose collection of some 350 “chapters” (so far) has emerged from the center. Or maybe a bit left. Its avowed purpose is to get the discord and deadlock out of our politics and promote consensus issues from the center. As a registered independent, put me down for a membership card.

Given the mess Republican and Democrat parties and most current members of congress have created … and seem determined to perpetuate … I think a focused, more moderate, legitimately led group could be effective. But only working within the political structure the nation has adopted. And only after an election or two. Or three.

Call me a dreamer, but what if some of the responsible members of the Coffee and Tea Parties, real citizens and not paid hacks, got together and spent a few days getting to know each other and did some brainstorming? What if they could put on the table the things they agree on and temporarily put aside the issues that are near and dear to their hearts?

Suppose the dialogue started this way: “The two parties have created an unworkable mess; congress is not responsive to our needs and today’s economic conditions; a piecemeal approach undertaken by small outside groups from either side of the spectrum will not be successful; we need … we demand … more bottom-up solutions and less top-down bureaucratic direction; we want civility and bi-partisan cooperation, working together for several national cycles we can elect new faces with new ideas who … at least initially … will be more concerned with governance than job security.”

Neither group … nor any other … will succeed alone. Today it takes not only tried, true, experienced leadership but big bucks, access and really effective organization. It also requires extremely intelligent use of the latest electronic technologies to effectively reach the widest possible audience. It takes tools and access no small “party” has no matter the sincerity of the cause.

Having been involved in politics for a long time as a reporter, lobbyist, campaign worker and manager, I can tell you a lot more progress is made when people with honestly-held opposing views get together over a good burger. Or even a beer. Or two. When you work face-to-face from the basis of what you agree on rather than what separates you, it’s amazing what progress can be made.

The worst problems we have in congress and both parties now is division and entrenched positions. Democracy was never intended to be lock step. “My way or the highway” was not found in needlepoint on the walls of that first congress. Slavery … a more divisive issue than any we have today … was dealt with not to the satisfaction of all but in ways that didn’t stop the progress of forming a nation.

Tea Party or Coffee Party. Your choice. But commonality will beat ideology every time.

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