The Tea Party Movement!
By John Silveira
Issue #123 • May/June, 2010
I don’t know why Dave Duffy’s poker-playing friend from California, O.E. MacDougal, doesn’t just move up here to Oregon—except that he says the poker down south is better. I guess that makes sense. But I walked into the offices of Backwoods Home Magazine the other day and there he was, once again, sitting in a chair in Dave’s office. Dave, of course, is the publisher of BHM.
Mac nodded to me as I entered, but he was listening to a question Dave was posing. The question started with Dave asking about the origins of the Tea Party Movement that seems to have much of the media preoccupied these days, and ended with him asking Mac his opinion of it.
“Well,” Mac began, “the Tea Party Movement had its origins in 2007, during Ron Paul’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It was his race that inspired it. But it’s unlikely his attempt to win the Republican nomination or the Movement’s birth could have happened without the Internet. I’m sure that if we were back in the pre-Internet days, Paul wouldn’t have made his run and there’d be no Tea Party, either.”
Dave kind of scowled and said, “Makes me glad the Internet is still free.”
“What do you mean ‘free?'” I asked.
“That it’s not ‘owned’ or controlled by anyone; otherwise, there may come a day when things like this will never be able to happen.”
Mac subtly nodded, then continued, “But Paul has made his run, and now we have the Tea Party Movement to show for it. Both were, and remain, reactions to Big Government, namely, huge government expenditures and unconstitutional government policies.
“The reason the Tea Party Movement arose is that politicians have promised smaller government, reduced spending, and constitutional government in their campaign speeches for decades. But once in office, most of them have invariably done exactly the opposite of what they’d promised they’d do, and they’ve gotten away with it.”
“For decades!” Dave said. Mac nodded again. “The Movement has become a way for members of the electorate to finally band together and show their disenchantment, and perhaps, finally, bring about some change.”
“I would guess that’s why the Internet’s been so important,” I said.
“That’s right. The Internet made it possible that the Movement was not the creation of any political party. It’s a true grass roots movement, from the bottom up. And unlike most movements, the Tea Party is interracial and multiparty. It’s scaring both major parties since they didn’t have a hand in creating it and they haven’t been able to figure out, yet, how to either control it or destroy it
“And trust me, both parties are trying to do one or the other and may yet succeed. The difference is that the Republicans are trying to co-opt it first, before they try to shoot it down; the Democrats were trying to destroy it but are lately trying to woo it.”
“The Democrats are trying to win it over?” I asked. “I thought they were against it.”
“The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, had originally made the statement that the Republican Party is hijacking the movement. She called it an ‘astro-turf’ movement, implying it wasn’t really coming from the People. At other times she’s claimed Tea Partiers are neo-Nazis who brandish swastikas at meetings. She’s apparently unconcerned that many Tea Partiers are Jews and some are even children and grandchildren of concentration camp victims.”
“In other words, she’s trying to defuse it by claiming it’s a bunch of right wing extremists,” Dave said.
“Yes, but she’s right when she asserts the Republian Party is trying to take the Tea Party Movement over—and they may yet succeed. Some of those attempts have included meetings with Newt Gingrich, the man who founded the Contract with America in 1994, then betrayed it.
“But she’s recently begun an about-face. She’s attempting to identify with the movement by claiming that it and the Democratic Party share some common ground.”
“Just as the Republicans claim,” Dave interrupted.
“I was about to say that,” Mac said.
“What brought about her change?” I asked.
“The demographics of the Movement are coming to light. For example, it turns out that something like one in six people involved in the Movement in Iowa are Democrats, only two in six Republicans, and fully three in six see themselves as Independents.”
“That means two thirds of the people involved there are either Democrats or Independents, not Republicans,” Dave said.
I interrupted. “I read that it’s mostly young, white, upper-income, conservatives.”
“Yes, there are plenty of those in it,” Mac said, “and focusing on it is meant to be another insult. In other words, it’s an attempt to turn ethnic minorities, the poor, and anyone else who doesn’t fit that demographic against it.
“But if those political demographics in Iowa are true in other states, that’s a significant number of potential voters the Democrats could lose. I think the Democratic leadership is coming to realize that even many of the party faithful are fed up with the free-wheeling spending constitutional abuses…”
“Of both parties,” Dave said.
“…of both parties,” Mac echoed. “The Democratic leadership sees what the Republicans apparently saw first, that as the Movement’s message gets out, more and more people are liking what they hear. More and more are seeing it as a vehicle for real change, not just the ‘campaign-promise’ change. And more and more elections may be determined by how the Movement’s membership and its sympathizers vote.”
Mimicing Mac’s tone of voice, Dave said, “That means more and more politicians are going to be afraid to oppose it or to ignore its message and maybe they’re going to have to start following through with their promises.”
“It’ll be the end of the world,” Mac laughed.
“Is there a precedent for this Movement?” I asked.
“Well,” Mac began, “the last thing to even remotely resemble it, and capture the attention and imagination of ordinary citizens, was the Contract with America, initiated by the Newt Gingrich and the rest of the Republican Party going into the 1994 elections. It’s likely that it was the Contract that swept the GOP to power and allowed them to capture both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954.
“In the Contract the Republicans promised smaller government, reduced spending, and all that good stuff—many of the things the Tea Partiers are demanding, now. The problem was that, in the end, the Contract was not much more than campaign rhetoric and, when they assumed power, the majority of Republicans soon went on with Big-Government-as-usual. Eventually, they old-timers even went so far as to chastise freshmen Republicans who tried to hold the Party to its ‘promises.'”
“I remember it,” Dave said. “Before the election the Democrats attacked the Contract; after the election the moderate Republicans and neo-cons betrayed it.”
“What do you mean the Republicans betrayed it?” I asked.
Mac said, “By 2006, when the Democrats took back Congress, the Republicans who had sworn to restore smaller government and make spending cuts had spent record amounts, run up record deficits, expanded the size of government, and lit matches to the Constitution with, among other things, the PATRIOT Act. They became the opposite of who they ran as.
“The irony is that they failed to see that had they just stayed with their promises, they had the world by the tail and could have retained power for decades, while doing the country some good.”
“What you’re saying is that they sold out and subsequently paid for it,” I said.
“That’s my opinion.”
The nutcase Tea Partiers
“In its editorials, the New York Times is accusing the Tea Party of being made up of nutcases and extremists,” I said.
“Whatever that means,” Mac responded.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“The biggest reason they’re being tagged with the extremist label by the mass media is that most of the Tea Partiers want the government to reign in its free-spending ways and to adhere to the Constitution, which are restrictions the left doesn’t want.
“The Times, like most newspapers, is a left wing paper, and the Movement’s core message is powerful and attracting attention. It’s scaring the daylights out of the Times and many other activists on the left. So they want to neutralize its message with pejoratives.”
“So there are no nuts in it?”
“I didn’t say that. Of course there are nuts in it. There are always some nuts who associate themselves with every movement. But you can’t characterize anything—a race, a religion, or a movement—by citing only the worst and most extreme elements associated with it. Think about it. When all Moslems are condemned because some are terrorists, or all blacks are condemned because some are criminals, the media is quick to point out the error of that kind of thinking. But they intentionally ignore the same error when they themselves are guilty of it. For example, they go to a gun show and look for a guy with Nazi paraphernalia, then print stories that focus only on him. Or they print stories about a nut who kills his family or a cop with a gun, but ignore the thousands of times annually a law-abiding citizen protects himself or others with a gun. And they claim every hot day is proof of global warming, but fail to mention that this winter’s record cold days may be providing evidence to the contrary.
“In the same way they’ve gone looking only for the nuts that have glommed onto the Tea Party Movement, so as to imply that all Tea Partiers are nutcases. The media is the biggest perpetrator of these kinds of hate and discrimination tactics, but when others do it they pretend to abhor it.”
“They abhor it when it suits them,” Dave added.
“But even Bill O’Reilly warns about being attacked as being extremists if Tea Partiers make comments such as calling Obama a communist,” I said.
“Yes, and I wish he’d added that the left is guilty of the same thing. For example, question affirmative action and you can be called a racist; disagree with anthropogenic global warming and be equated with Holocaust deniers; disagree with their healthcare agenda and they’ll vilify you as being a stooge for the corporations or as an uncaring, unfeeling, ignoramus. They can do it with impunity. Everyone realizes they are the perpetrators and benefactors of this hypocracy and double-standard, but no one dares point it out for fear of…”
“Being labeled a racist, extremist, homophobe, or whatever,” Dave said.
Mac nodded again and said, “But O’Reilly is correct: Those in the Tea Party Movement do have to be careful in the way liberals don’t. Every misstep or misspoken word is lunged upon and paraded out by the mass media. On the other hand, anyone who makes boneheaded comments on the left can make them without condemnation or scrutiny. Guys like Al Sharpton and Sean Penn come to mind.”
“The actor Sean Penn?” I asked.
“Yes. He recently said anyone who speaks out against Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, and calls him a dictator should be thrown in jail. With that comment, he’s on record as being for the suppression of free speech. But the left was silent on the matter. Imagine if Sarah Palin had said anyone who speaks out against some right wing leader should be thrown in the clink? They’d have a cow.”
“I never thought of it that way,” I said.
Advice for the Tea Party
“But there are some other problems with forces trying to hijack the Movement,” he continued, “and the Tea Partiers should not let them dilute their message. Joseph Farah, the founder of World Net Daily, which is one of the most influential online political movements in the country, spoke at the first Tea Party Convention and used the Movement as a platform to raise questions about whether or not Obama is a U.S. citizen and therefore whether he’s legally the President of the United States.
Before he opened his mouth and wasted a lot of valuable time, he should have asked himself whether, even if Obama was thrown out of office, anything would change? Look at who’s going to replace him: Joe Biden. Would Biden cut spending, shrink government, or adhere to the Constitution?”
“But the question of Obama’s birth is a constitutional issue,” Dave said.
“I’ll concede that. But at this point, Obama’s citizenship is the least of the constitutional issues we have to face. It’s an issue that distracts, rather than focuses, the attention of the electorate.
“Guys like Farah are focusing on the wrong issues. In fact, the Democrats would love to have those who oppose them continue to focus on it, because it’s really a procedural issue and and it distracts us from the bigger problems and what’s fundamentally wrong with this country.”
“What about Sarah Palin saying that the Republican Party should merge with the Tea Party Movement?” Dave asked.
“Absolutely not! The Republicans already showed, with the Contract, what they’ll do once they control an issue and feel they can safely ignore you. Rather than the Movement becoming Republican, Republican candidates should simply live up to their campaign promises when they get elected, then they’ll get Tea Party support all the time. Same with the Democrats. Who do you think Bill Clinton was trying to appeal to when he so famously said in his 1996 State of the Union Address, ‘The era of Big Government is over’? And who do you think he betrayed when, once re-elected, he went on building government as usual? Neither party should be allowed to co-opt the Movement.”
Besides, there really is no Tea Party Movement to co-opt. The Tea Party Movement is a ground-up swell of popular opinion of what is wrong in America and how things should change. There really are no leaders, no organization, no “Party” to deal with. This is a “People’s Movement” that transcends political parties.”
“Will the Tea Party change the political landscape of this country?” Dave asked.
“I think the landscape may already be changing. But is the Tea Party changing it, or is the Tea Party the result of that change? I think the latter. The Tea Partiers represent a part of the country that is reacting to unkept promises by polticians. Americans want limited government and maximum freedom. They don’t want to be corralled by too many laws. They are a fun-loving, freedom-loving people.
“When that guy from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, won the Senate seat previously occupied by Ted Kennedy for almost 37 years, it was a manifestation of the people’s disenchantment with Big Government. And Brown may not realize, just as the Republicans of 1994 didn’t realize, but he has the world by the tail if he doesn’t betray the people who, in one of the greatest political surprises of all time, gave him that seat. But my impression of him is that he’s really just another neo-con and my guess is that he won’t realize how he got into that seat and he’ll turn his back on those who put him there.
“If history repeats itself, his constituents will re-elect him even if he betrays them. Then again, we may be witnessing a new age where even guys like Brown, who were carried into office because of the People’s disenchantment with the current system, may throw him out if he doesn’t come through.”
“That would be nice,” Dave said, and I agreed.
“Last thing,” Dave said: Do you think the Tea Partiers should form a third political party?”
Mac thought about that several seconds, and finally said, “I’m not sure they could or they should. Keep in mind this is a grass roots uprising among the American electorate, so there are no clear party entities you can identify. You have citizens who are simply fed up with the politics of the day, the free-spending policies, the bend toward socialism, the willingness to spend, spend, spend like there was no tomorow. That’s what they’re reacting to. But they are just folks — Democrats and Republicans — who want restraint.
“Since I?am a Libertarian, my opinion is that the logical party to throw their support to would be the Libertarians because they have the most in common with them…you know, the desire for smaller government, less spending, and the whole load.
“But I think it would be better for them to throw their support to any candidate who genuinely espouses what the Movement believes in, especially the Republicans and Democrats, but support the Libertarian candidates when the others won’t come through.”
“Kind of what the NRA does when it supports any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who’s for the Second Amendment,” Dave said.
“You’ve got it,” Mac responded.
“The movement is getting pretty big,” Dave said. Having Tea Partiers throwing their support to the opposition would probably become a cause of concern for the major parties.”
“And well it should,” Mac said. “Lunch?” he added. “I’ll buy.”
“Free food,” Dave said to me. “Let’s go.”
And we did.