In January, when Republican Scott Brown was elected to fill the remainder of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy’s term, the activists who helped make it possible traced their political lineage back to the Boston Tea Party. Jubilant supporters dubbed it the “Scott heard round the world.”
This Tea Party wanted to dump into the harbor a plan to expand the federal government’s role in healthcare, and its main enemy was not King George III but President Barack Obama. True to his mission, Scott Brown cast the 41st vote against the healthcare-reform act. The legislation that was supposed to be the culmination of Ted Kennedy’s career was rejected by voters deep in the heart of Kennedy country.
What came next was anything but revolutionary, however. The Democrats were stunned by Brown’s election but decided to press forward. The healthcare bill passed in spite of Brown’s vote.
In retrospect, the Tea Party movement’s first electoral triumph does not seem like much of a breakthrough. What they got was a senator who was conservative by Massachusetts standards—surely, Leverett Saltonstall is spinning in his grave—but fairly moderate when compared with his colleagues on the national scale. Brown later denied that the Tea Party activists had much to do with his campaign’s success, and he declined to address their rally in Boston. But...