Tea Party's Leaderless Movement, 'Beautiful Chaos'?

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The Tea Party has made a significant impact on this year's election. Who should get the credit for the movement's successes?

The Tea Party has no central leader. Some said that's part of the genius of this movement, and that's exactly how they want to keep it.

Much has been made of the fact that the Tea Party wants to be leaderless.

Political observer Jonathan Rauch said a business book, The Starfish and the Spider, explains the appeal with its subtitle The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.

"The Tea Party is like a network: it doesn't have any central brain or any leadership, any hierarchy, and that's the way they want it," Rauch said.

They can adapt faster, move resources faster, and they can't be decapitated or stopped. That's also the starfish's weird power.

"A starfish doesn't have a brain," Rauch added. "It has distributed intelligence, and in some species, if you cut off a leg, it grows a new starfish and the old starfish grows a new leg, and you have two of them."

"It's definitely a challenge," said Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, one of the biggest Tea Party-type groups. "I call it 'beautiful chaos,' though."

He said why this chaos functions is because of the old-fashioned free market. Various Tea Party groups propose ideas or actions, and if they're really good, other Tea Partiers chime in.

"I'll never do this again, but I'm going to quote Chairman Mao: 'Let a thousand flowers bloom,'" Kibbe added. "And if we have all these great ideas, you can sort through the process. And there are going to be some bad ones. But the activists aren't going to pursue those ideas."

Dick Armey, a former House Majority Leader, who is also with FreedomWorks, said nobody better try to lead the radically free-willed Tea Party people.

"And yet they have this sense of unity and purpose," Armey said. "They don't need a leader. And anybody that jumps up and says 'I'm the leader of the Tea Party,' just take it prima facie you have a fraud on your hands."

"The Tea Party is very libertarian and it believes the whole problem that it set out to solve was leaders that got corrupted and stopped listening," Rauch said. "They don't want that to happen to them, so they're living out their ideals by saying 'everyone's empowered here.'"

"The Lord God Almighty gave us the right to be our own person on our own terms," Armey said. "Now He's taking a big chance with us, and He's had enough respect for us to maintain the integrity of our freedom and our liberty. You've got a right to be you."

Armey says a great strength is how tolerant people in the movement are of all the other Tea Partiers' free will and beliefs.

"They're going to have quirky ideas. They're not going to be my ideas," Armey said. "Well, bless their heart. They have a right to be that. And I don't need to start bossing people around."

Rauch believes this radically leaderless style is so central to the Tea Party, they'll fight anyone who tries to claim the mantle of leader.

"They don't want to be corrupted or co-opted." Rauch said. "They don't want incompetent leadership to take them down or to try to take over their mission from the outside. And if you're totally decentralized, there's no way you can do a takeover because no one's in charge."

"People who have those kind of needs have missed the point," Armey said. "If it's about you, you lose. If it's about power, you lose. This is about freedom."

Rauch said the Tea Party is all about long-term reformation of America, not short-term political gain.

"If you get someone elected to Congress, you just have to keep coming back every two years, doing the politics," Rauch said. "If you change the way people think about government, the people become the watchdogs against big government. So their main focus actually is on education."

That's why the Tea Party is about so much more than politics. They don't want to be leaders -- they want to make leaders.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.