I'm late to note it, but Glenn Greenwald's essay on the Glenn Beck phenomenon and the tea party movement is a remarkable read, not least because it shows one of Obama's critics on the left reaching out to his critics on the right. Greenwald doesn't think much of Beck himself, writing that the talk show host "doesn't really appear to have any actual, identifiable political beliefs; he just mutates into whatever is likely to draw the most attention for himself and whatever satisfies his emotional cravings of the moment." And Greenwald is by no means fond of every element of the tea parties, noting that "this anti-Obama sentiment is being exploited by run-of-the-mill GOP operatives who have no objective other than to undermine Democrats and return the Republicans to power." But he's also aware that "there are some identifiable -- and plainly valid -- underlying causes to these protests that are neither Republican nor Democratic, or even left or right":
Is opposition to the Wall Street bailout (supported by both parties' establishments) left or right? How about the view that Washington is inherently corrupt and beholden to the richest corporate interests and banks which, through lobbyist influence and vast financial contributions, own and control our political system? Is hostility towards Beltway elites liberal or conservative? Is opposition to the Surveillance State and endless expansions of federal police powers a view of liberals (who vehemently opposed such measures during the Bush era but now sometimes support or at least tolerate them) or conservatives (some of whom -- the Ron Paul faction -- objected just as vigorously, and naturally oppose such things regardless of who is in power as transgressions of the proper limits of government)? Liberals during the Bush era continuously complained about the doubling of the national debt, a central concern of many of these "tea party" protesters. Is the belief that Washington politicians are destroying the economic security of the middle class, while the rich grow richer, a liberal or conservative view? Opposition to endless wars and bankruptcy-inducing imperial policy generally finds as much expression among certain quarters on the Right as it does on the Left.
Some central political debates do break down along standard left-right lines (health care and tax policy). But there are many political issues that defy the conventional Left-Right political drama in which cable news traffics and which serves as the prism -- often the distorting and distracting prism -- for virtually all of our political discourse.
On a related note, here's a blogger describing the split that hit the Monterey tea party organization after he asked the local branch of Code Pink to co-sponsor a rally.