Tea for 3: The Tea Party Revisited

As a result of a New York Times article dated February 15, 2010, I thought it might be worthwhile to comment on the Tea Partiers again combining someone else’s perspective.  When I wrote (twice prior) about the Tea Party movement, I really didn’t think they required much more attention or thought.  Apparently I did not give the Tea Partiers quite the weight and consideration that the New York Times thought was necessary.  I find this interesting.  My initial opinion is that Fox News is not the only merchant of fear these days.  On the other hand, perhaps I’m not taking this grassroots movement seriously enough.

You decide.  Read David Barstow’s article, HERE.

I will take this opportunity to highlight a few thoughts.*

*Note: I will be using Tea Party (or some variation) throughout this piece in order to simplify my arguments.  However, it is being used to represent the Tea Partiers in addition to all the various smaller groups like the Patriot movement and 9/12 Project too.

1.  According to the article, the Tea Partiers don’t seem to understand the Republic’s foundational rule – majority rules.  There seems to be a discrepancy regarding what many people consider to be unconstitutional (including our judicial system) versus what these protesters believe is unconstitutional.

In turn, I get the impression that they’re ignoring our elections.  On the other hand, perhaps they didn’t vote last time around and are discontent with the result.  Either way, I think that participating in free, open elections is the best possible response for groups who believe this strongly.  (Also until we see them vote, I don’t think we can guess about the true size of lack of size of this restless minority).

2.  Similarly, many of the Tea Party demands are completely unrealistic.  I’ll try to isolate three.  First, this idea that the federal income tax or Federal Reserve system (or some combination of both) is unconstitutional.  And if that’s not what’s being called unconstitutional, what is?  I don’t fully understand the broad claim that “our federal government is violating the constitution, everyday.”  I get it on the wiretaps (which I guess is why these people distrust Republicans now too).  But it’s hard to imagine where you can take a political movement or, thinking farther ahead, how you can create legislation around this type of claim.

Second, there is clear anti-Obama sentiment.  At one point in the article, this 66-year-old woman is talking about her petitions that support Sarah Palin and call for the impeachment of Barack Obama.  What’s his offense? I’m not entirely sure.  It seems to be tied to this vague notion that the entire federal government is “out of line” and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.  However, regardless of what most Americans think of Barack Obama, I suspect the majority of the country doesn’t believe he should be impeached.

These are not the platforms and claims of a long-lasting political force.  This is crying wolf.

Three, the article highlights a group of Sheriffs who are banding together to refuse enforcement of any law they deem unconstitutional.  There’s a reference late in the article to “stupid laws” that Sheriffs should not enforce (like those at Waco or Ruby Ridge).  Now, I understand I was young”ish” at the time of Waco but I remember there being an issue with the safety of innocent woman and children.  Calling the FBI stupid and tyrannical seriously undermines a lot of credibility in my book.

3. The article is written to imply in some cases, and outright state in others, that violence is just below the surface.  This borderline violence is one of the reasons we’re supposed to be afraid of the Tea Party movement.  This is one criticism I had with Barstow’s article.  It seems to promote and encourage the readers to assume the worst in terms of racism and violence.   I could be totally off base here, but there were far more references to militias and guns than in the previous Tea Party articles that I’ve read.  This could mean one of two things. Either Barstow did more in-depth, sophisticated and quality research than any previous journalist covering this segment of America. Or he (pre)determined a theme and decided to drive home a connection that isn’t as strong as the article implies.   In this I will agree – it’s scary.

If he accurately depicted the mental state of these participants, I will be willing to use a word that I didn’t think was accurate only a week ago – extremist.  Yet, I can’t get over the fact that the people he interviewed were a Mary Kay saleswomen, an IT/wireless tech guy and a used car salesman.  These are not the Idaho militiamen who seek revenge for Waco and Ruby Ridge.  Though those two episodes were cited frequently throughout the article.  According to the article, the ties between the Patriot movement, 9/12ers, Tea Partiers and OathKeepers (a fringe right-wing militia of sorts) are strong and growing.

I’m just not sure how to react.  Are these people capable of violence? Maybe.  Is their obsession with current events and underground political websites distorting reality? It’s hard to tell.  I know at least one friend reading this right now is thinking, “It only takes one.”  And there’s certainly a lot of truth in that. But without a lot of research, it’s unfair to paint racism and violence with such a broad brush.

But it’s also hard to tell how organized these groups really are.  For example, they had trouble organizing a conference and haven’t coordinated any fundraising or national TV/mailer campaigns.  In fact, it’s tough to tell what’s more responsible for Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts – anger over healthcare, Tea Party grassroots movements or Martha Coakley’s mistakes.

4.  There is an issue, which Barstow addressed in the context of militias and violence that I do think gets to the heart of my problem with this entire movement.  On page 5 of the web article, Tony Stewart, leader of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations in Northern Idaho is quoted as saying that he was bothered by the “common message of intolerance for the opposition.” “It’s either you’re with us or you’re the enemy,” he said.

This is upsetting and points to a division that continues to grow culturally and politically in our country.  Not only is this mentality grid-locking our government at the moment, but it appears to violate the principles on which this country was founded.  I always thought America was intended to be a place where no one ideology, religion or political party (read monarchy) dominated the populous.   So, from the beginning, we all needed to work together and we knew we’d be living in a land that defending other’s rights to their beliefs.  Within our system of checks and balances, we allow the majority of voters to elect leaders who then debate varying beliefs and ideas.  This is why I’m not entirely sure what it means to “get back to the system that our Founding Fathers intended.”

This is the perfect example of how I think many of these groups violate the values they claim to be worried about.  They do not approve or promote a “republic”an view of politics; they are arguing for their own tyranny.  It’s just a tyrannical horse of a different color.

5.  There seems to be major implications for the GOP.  It seems clear that ideologically – small government and fewer taxes – the Republicans are closer to the Tea Party movement than the Democrats.  Does this mean we are headed for a splinter group?  If so, will Republicans try to play both sides, the way they did with the Religious Right and fiscal conservatives?

Are we ripe for a 3rd party? The split would seem to form along the lines of moderates who are likely to be socially liberal but fiscally centered (and probably voted for Obama as soon as McCain picked Palin) versus the strict Constitutionalists of the Tea Party and other groups (who dislike McCain and align with Glenn Beck).

Finally, there’s one thing I can’t shake: what about reality?  Even if we stipulate some of the conspiracy theories or other facts alleged by these groups in the article, it still doesn’t get us very far politically.  Ok, Congress, the Federal Reserve and the President are conspiring to support and fund an international, wealthy class of elites.  That doesn’t seem to offer many solutions.  Now what?  Another Constitutional Convention?  Elect a President who dissolves Congress and vows to rebuild the government piece by piece?  I guess I don’t understand how these ideas will occur or be implemented.  And if there’s no real plan for actual solutions to our country’s mounting problems, then what’s the point?

As Aaron Sorkin penned for President Andrew Shepard in The American President, “We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character…If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people, and your 15 minutes are up.”

When I first heard about the Tea Party movement, I was thrilled that Americans were rising up and organizing to tell the government how to improve our lives.  I thought of Ron Paul and how much sense he makes.  I thought that calm, reasonable-minded libertarians were banning together through the power of the Internet to let the both parties know that we won’t stand for waste and irresponsibility.  Since that moment, this movement has expanded, risen, fallen, contradicted itself and scared many people in the press.  It seems to have lost sight of the original complaint and thus lost the ability to make an impact by spreading their energy across all of American life.  I’m not sure what to take away from this – that the New York Times is scared of them or that this author is not.  I do know they figured out a way to make their voices heard but seem to have squandered any opportunity to make a real change.

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4 responses to “Tea for 3: The Tea Party Revisited

  1. Here’s an interesting and generally historical article on the recent ‘push’ to ‘End the Fed’:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2009/0803/p09s01-coop.html

    And right wing radicals have been around for a long time and I believe represent a predominance of responsibility for violent political crimes on American soil. But it’s certainly worth distinguishing whether these groups are simply gaining visibility because of media exposure or rather a product of the current political environment? Is there a real threat from these folks or are they disorganized and soft? One might consider if it’s a small, ‘stitch-in-time’ movement or something reflecting bigger problems.

    I do like the idea of a legitimate third party.

    • Thanks for the comment and the article. I’ll be sure to check it out tonight. Regarding the larger implications here, I agree and I think the jury is still out on whether this is a series of well timed circumstances (recession, Obama, access to technology) drawing out a previously quiet crowd OR the beginning of a major undercurrent in society. I guess, as with most things, time will tell. But I don’t mind if it gets people talking about real solutions, that’s for sure.

  2. I attended the first tea party rally last April 15 in Oklahoma City and can only speak for why I went and what I saw at this individual rally.

    The “Tea Party Movement” was started spontaneously after Rick Santelli went on a tirade against President Obama’s economic policies on CNBC. He said American’s should rise up and have a second tea party to show the government we aren’t going to put up with this anymore. This spoke to me as a Libertarian and I was eager to go check it out. What I saw were a bunch of average Americans and contrary to media reports it was a very mixed crowd. Different ages, races, genders. There were about 6000 people there and only once did I hear anyone hear someone shout something inflamatory and when they yelled “kill ’em all” He was loudly booed down and he ended up walking away. Leading me to believe that he didn’t very much care to be there for the rally but just to yell that.

    My feel for what the tea party is, is that it is a bunch of average citizen’s who don’t align usually find themselves to be political but just got fed up with being fed a line of crap from politicians. Bush 41 promised no new taxes and raised taxes and was voted out of office. Clinton largely held his promises and didn’t rock the boat after his failed attempt at health care reform. Bush 43 draped himself with the legacy of Reagan but then pushed one big government program after another and I think a lot of Americans were not happy at all of the bailouts under Bush and the continuation under Obama. I really don’t think that it is a Republican movement, and at least for me I can’t stand the Republican’s. I think that if Bush was still in office last April the tea parties would have still happened.

    I think people who normally sit at home quietly and watch the news and see how there interests are never taken care of finally got sick and tired of it.

    The tea party is not a uniform body with uniform goals. The tea party convention was a joke lead by people who are trying to grab the reins of power for a group.

    Liberals are always trying to paint those who aren’t liberal with the broad brush of racism, sexism and violence. Yet a black man was beaten by union members at a tea party rally last year. The professor who just shot 6 colleagues in Alabama was a liberal who was fanatical about Obama. There are kooks in every group and it is dishonest to paint one group in a certain light.

    I think there is no national tea party movement, and the second it becomes a national movement it ceases to be what it set out to be. It is a bunch of independent Americans who are tired of the status quo. They are tired of not being able just to live their lives without being told that their taxes are going to go up, or their health care is going to be different or they have to live on less money per month while the government lives on more.

    I think both ends of the political spectrum have the tea party wrong and it is to there detriment. There was a sleeping giant of quiet American voters who is now awoken and they aren’t for one party or the other, but they are paying attention to what is said and done in Washington and they aren’t going to get away with business as usual.

    • Thanks for the comment! You mentioned a sleeping giant of American voters and I’m curious about that. For years we’ve heard from Fathers, Grandfathers, Aunts, Cousins, co-workers and others about how fed up and frustrated everyone is with government and paying taxes. Not a new refrain. So, without a national level organization, or combined voting power, is this really a sleeping giant? I guess it is in the sense that it’s going to continue to be “sleeping” (meaning dispersed across the country). But I doubt that this will impact any politician or political party because any given district is only going to have 15%-20% or whatever of Tea Partiers voting. So, without consolidating leverage, these voters will have a tough time impacting any one election. But as you said, consolidating nationally is unlikely and potentially violating its original purpose. It seems that a national level movement is the catch-22 for any person or party outside “the Big 2.”

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