In an interview with Politico, Sen. Jim DeMint credits tea-party activists with successfully blocking health care reform legislation so far:
"The only reason we don't have national health care right now is you — is the people outside of Washington," DeMint told a gathering of tea party activists gathered Wednesday night in Washington for the premiere of a documentary about the movement. "I think we do have a shot at stopping this thing," he said of the health care reform bill the Senate began debating this week.
DeMint, one of the Senate's more reliably conservative voters, was speaking at the premiere of a movie about tea party activists, and so, by one of Washington's well-known unwritten rules, was basically expected to declare that attendees were not just influential but the deciding factor in some major political battle. Is it true? As always when attempting to discern causality in politics, it's tough to say. Infighting amongst Democratic factions and constituencies, senior worries about Medicare, and Republican delaying tactics have also been highly influential in slowing reform to its current glacial pace. And polls from the August to September period during which the tea parties were most visible paint a mixed picture: Opposition to the bill trended upward, but, starting mid-August, so did support (though support has fallen in recent months). But certainly, the tea parties have been enormously successful at focusing media attention on opposition to health care, and on making legislators feel as if there is substantial activist pressure to block the bill.