While the Tea Party movement has often been dismissed as a crank movement manufactured by the folks at Fox News, it does seem to have the potential of being both a significant and a positive movement.
On the negative side, the Tea Party movement does have some unpleasant elements that play to base fears and various prejudices (racism, anti-intellectualism, and so on). There is also the concern that the movement is a political tool that has been manufactured as a weapon against the Democrats and to serve the good of certain Republicans rather than the country as a whole.
On the positive side, folks in the Tea Party movement has presented some legitimate criticisms of the folks in power and its shows that there seems to be a growing independent movement. Since I have long been critical of our two party system that enables the scoundrels in the two parties to merely swap power back and forth, the idea of some serious competition is very appealing.
Of course, the Tea Party is not yet a political party in a meaningful sense. In fact, some Tea Party folks are explicitly against political parties (of course, some are not). There is also considerable conflict and infighting among those claiming membership in the movement. This conflict is further exacerbated by the fact that the Republicans seem rather inclined to try to get control of the allegedly independent movement. If the movement becomes a mere attack dog for the Republican political machine, then that will be a rather sad end to what could have been a revitalizing political movement.
While the Tea Party is generating a great deal of media attention it might turn out to be a mere flash in the media pan. After all, the movement was inspired (in part) by Fox and seems to be partially sustained by the media attention. But, like all media darlings, it might simply fade away into obscurity. Or not-as always, time will tell.
Currently, the Tea Party seems to be advantageous to the Republicans. After all, the Republicans seem to be running some parts of the movement and Republican politicians like Sarah Palin are very popular with the Tea Party folks. Of course, the Republicans do not have mastery over the party and there has been some criticism of Republicans from some Tea Party folks.
For now, the Tea Party seems to be an aid to the Republicans. However, the Tea Party folks seem to be often driven by a genuine dislike of business as usual in politics. So, when the Democrats hand power back to the Republicans, they might find that the tea is no longer quite to their liking.