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These tea leaves say this party isn't quite over

Curtis Wilkie is a distinguished professor of journalism at Ole Miss, and before that notable for his reporting as a national and foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe. 

This week Wilkie, in an Op-Ed for The New York Times weighed in on the Tea Party's several battles in the current political season, especially races in the South, including Mississippi's  highly contested U.S. Senate election in which the incumbent, Thad Cochran, prevailed in a runoff over his firebrand challenger, Chris McDaniel.

Sassafras was delighted that Wilkie invoked the name and scholarship of the great W.J. Cash, who seventy years ago plumbed the depths of politics in our region in his seminal book "The Mind of the South."  

Just for good measure he threw in references to A.D. Kirwan's 1951 history, "Revolt of the Rednecks,"  which included the rise of James K. Vardaman and Theodore Bilbo, whose racist poitics stirred political passions in the Magnolia State.

Wilkie concludes at one juncture that the Tea Party movement which earlier appeared to be "a mounting wave," may have reached its high water mark in a series of defeats in places like Mississippi and Tennessee.

He ends his fine examination of the currents that drive the politics of populist discontent both in the past and today with this "unsettling question: Which way will the South go this time."

While a good many have determined that the Tea Part adherents have been defeated, or so crippled that it will be difficult for them to recover, Sassafras wonders if the funeral orations are not premature.

The discontent that fueled the movement has not played out so far as I can tell, and none of the matters that drove Tea Partiers to the barricades in Mississippi or other places have been removed.  Barack Obama is still in the White House, Obamacare is still in place, and the deficits and big spending that are irritants to so many are still the hallmarks of the Washington that riles Southern dissidents.

Indeed in retrospect you may examine McDaniel, and his ham-handed political team and dissect their several epic missteps and conclude that the candidate and campaign were highly flawed vessels for the pouring of a political tea party. And yet it took everything that one of the best machines in the land, the Barbour boys with the state's big daddy Haley entirely invested in the venture, spending millions and pulling out all the tricks from their playbook, barely won the victory for their six-term incumbent candidate, Sen. Thad Cochran.

The Tea Party post-loss period has certainly harmed the brand and exposed them and McDaniel as sore losers and worse, and that may hurt them more than the campai-gn itself.  But as Wilkie says in effect, we will see.

But Sassafras believes the Tea Party movement lives because the distrust of many grass roots Southerners not only of Democrats in Washington, but also the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party.  

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