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Dan Quayle: Don't let the tea party go Perot

In the past year, the movement has helped to turn Republicans' mood from defeat and gloom to revival and optimism. While GOP leaders in Congress proved more determined and resourceful than the Democrats assumed after their 2008 victory, it was, above all, the tea party that put the fight back into Republicans.

Survey its ranks and you'll find the kind of men and women who have always recharged the GOP when it most needs recharging. Whether they count themselves as Republicans, independents, libertarians or conservative Democrats, these are our folks -- the natural allies of the party of Reagan.

Since the very first tea party gatherings, the national news media has covered this movement in the only way it knows how -- as something grubby, impertinent and possibly dangerous. Of course, in any movement, violence and unlawful behavior are always to be condemned without reservation. But attempts to portray the tea partiers as a surly mob have the contrived feel of a political strategy.

We got an early glimpse of that strategy a year ago. Asked in April 2009 about the tea party protests, Obama's top political adviser offered this view: "Anytime that you have severe economic conditions," David Axelrod said, "there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy."

Suggestions of this kind aim to marginalize millions of voters, activists and community organizers seeking change in a democratic way. If this were a liberal crowd, they wouldn't be getting grief from Washington -- they'd probably be getting funding.

As Democratic operatives view it, the most "unhealthy" aspect of the tea party is that candidates with its support are winning, and many more are likely to win this fall. The movement has enlisted Americans of every background in political activism, some for the first time, and it appeals to citizens on the strength of ideas rather than party affiliation.

That's been known to happen on the left, too, except then we are told it's a refreshing display of grass-roots democracy. Now that this same kind of movement has risen up in defiance of the Obama agenda, it's going to take more than liberal condescension to answer the challenge.

Dan Quayle served as the 44th vice president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. He is the chairman of Cerberus Global Investments. He will be online to chat with readers at 12:00 p.m. on Monday, April 5. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

From the archives: Recent Outlook coverage of the tea party movement includes "Would Reagan vote for Sarah Palin?" (March 7) by Steven F. Hayward, "In America, Crazy is a Preexisting Condition" (Aug. 16) by Rick Perlstein and "Nice party, but not so revolutionary" (April 19) by Benjamin L. Carp.

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