“This is a symbol that the tea party movement and the broader limited-government agenda is huge,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grass-roots director for the national tea party organization FreedomWorks, which set up a booth at the convention to herald Bennett’s defeat. “It’s the center of American politics. It’s everything that we’ve been saying it is. It’s not just a protest movement; it’s a political force.”…

“That the Tea Party would consider Bob Bennett — one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate — too liberal just goes to show how extreme the Tea Party is,” Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “This is just the latest battle in the corrosive Republican intra-party civil war . . . If there was any question before, there should now be no doubt that the Republican leadership has handed the reins to the Tea Party.”

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DAVID BROOKS: This is a damn outrage, to be honest. This is a guy who was a good Senator and he was a good Senator and a good conservative, but a good conservative who was trying to get things done. The Wyden-Bennett bill, which he co-sponsored — if you took the health care economists in the country, they would probably be for that bill, ideally. It was a substantive, serious bill, a bipartisan bill, with strong conservative and some liberal support. So he did something sort of brave by working with Democrats which more Senators should do and now they’ve been sent a message to him don’t do that.

The second thing is the TARP. Nobody liked the TARP. But we were in a complete economic meltdown and sometimes you have to do terrible things. And we’re in a much better economic place because of the TARP. So he bravely cast a vote that nobody wanted to really cast and now he’s losing his career over that. And it’s just a damn outrage.

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This, I think, is the deepest reason why public reaction to the crash of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama took a populist turn and the Tea Party movement caught on. The crash not only devastated people’s finances and shook their confidence in their and their children’s future. It also broke through the moats we have been building around ourselves and our families, reminding us that certain problems require a collective response through political institutions. What’s more, it was a catastrophe whose causes no one yet fully understands, not even specialists who know exactly what derivatives, discount rates, and multiplier effects are. The measures the federal government took to control the damage were complex and controversial, but there was general agreement that at some point it would have to intervene to prevent a worldwide financial collapse, and that without some sort of stimulus a real depression loomed. That, though, is not at all what people who distrust elites, who want to “make up their own minds,” and who have fantasies of self-sufficiency want to be told. Apparently they find it more satisfying to hear that these emergency measures were concocted to tighten government’s grip on their lives even more. It all connects…

But the blame does not fall on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or the Republican Party alone. We are experiencing just one more aftershock from the libertarian eruption that we all, whatever our partisan leanings, have willed into being. For half a century now Americans have been rebelling in the name of individual freedom. Some wanted a more tolerant society with greater private autonomy, and now we have it, which is a good thing—though it also brought us more out-of-wedlock births, a soft pornographic popular culture, and a drug trade that serves casual users while destroying poor American neighborhoods and destabilizing foreign nations. Others wanted to be free from taxes and regulations so they could get rich fast, and they have—and it’s left the more vulnerable among us in financial ruin, holding precarious jobs, and scrambling to find health care for their children. We wanted our two revolutions. Well, we have had them.

Now an angry group of Americans wants to be freer still—free from government agencies that protect their health, wealth, and well-being; free from problems and policies too difficult to understand; free from parties and coalitions; free from experts who think they know better than they do; free from politicians who don’t talk or look like they do (and Barack Obama certainly doesn’t). They want to say what they have to say without fear of contradiction, and then hear someone on television tell them they’re right. They don’t want the rule of the people, though that’s what they say. They want to be people without rules—and, who knows, they may succeed. This is America, where wishes come true. And where no one remembers the adage “Beware what you wish for.”