The so called Tea Party Movement has been the object of praise by personalities like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin. It’s already being referred to as the rise of the third party in America. A few questions to consider: Will the Tea Party Movement grow into a powerful third contender in the American political arena? What is the message, or what are some unifying elements of the movement? Is the Tea Party the best way to go about changing Washington?
Before delving too deeply in my responses, I’d like to try and discover for a moment why these people have any right to the “tea party” label. On December 16, 1773, patriots in Boston, fed up with countless abuses of power by a mad prince, his cruel courts, and an intolerable parliament, took action. They would not adhere to the seemingly “for kicks” Tea Act passed by an out of touch and proud of it British Parliament. In this one act, the fundamental issue of the American Revolution was masterfully displayed. Taxation without representation demanded no obligation of the American people, except to make a grand last stand for their freedoms. What the Boston patriots did was not simply a waste of perfectly good tea. (which, for those of us who hate the stuff may already put them a step ahead of our modern day “tea partiers”) The magnificence of what they’d just done in challenging the world power. The imagined consequences were nothing less than a miserable life spent in rat infested, plague saturated European prisons, a public tar and feathering, or most compassionately, death by hanging. Their articulate display of liberty cannot and should not be reduced to such nominal displays as we’ve seen by these right wing extremists who march on our nation’s capitol in the name of Thomas Jefferson. (forgive me of the ad hominem, and any others that manifest.) While I very much expect that Mr. Jefferson would have defended their right to do so, I highly doubt that faced with the challenges of today he would be nearly as critical of Washington, or nearly as self-centered. Thomas Jefferson and the tea partiers are most different in this way: Thomas Jefferson was a man of vision and enterprise, he was articulate and practical, fair and dignified, as well as directed-none of which can also be said of the Tea Party. Thomas Jefferson was generally speaking very selfless, always considering how his vision would affect his constituents. He loved liberty, but most of all that his people had it. These same folks who cracked jokes about those in attendance at the inauguration of our first black President, a truly grand and historical procession, now stand in the same place lining the same streets, declaring themselves the onslaught of a new revolution. It is absurd and should be fiercely challenged for anyone to be comparing this rabble to the men who built this nation. (And although it is a secondary issue, Sarah Palin is no George Washington.)
The Tea Party will not become an influential third member in any branch of government, chiefly because their platform, defined in their own crude terms, is porous and irrevocably near sighted. As a lover of history, I quickly noted some similarities between the tea partiers and the group that I believe to be their doomed ancestors, the “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 50s. I hate to say it, but the majority gives me the awful impression of doomsday preparers and paranoid saps that have never read or considered any of the arguments against their “convictions”. The Know Nothings were nativists and racists opposed to all forms of immigration, legal or not, into the United States. Sound familiar? They proposed harsh crackdowns, strict naturalization laws, and raised anti-Irish, anti-German, and eventually anti-Italian sentiments. No position could be more at odds with the country the founders envisioned and sought to establish. In addition to locked down border nativism, the tea partiers are largely evangelicals, and sticking with tradition, intolerant of other worldviews and perspectives, even amongst themselves. The Know Nothings didn’t last because they ran on hate and isolation, and like all great societies, we evolved out of the primitive states of paranoia that drive such things. I would expect this new second wind for Know Nothing doctrine to succumb to the same fate. The fact of the matter is America is among the most secular places in the world, and this old European style of intolerance won’t be sustained. Most basically however, the platform and reason for this “tea party” is a government that’s too big. Once that problem is fixed, which it will I believe over time, as it always has done, going through flexable periods of growth and downsizing, the Tea Party will die. But perhaps this is what they want, in my understanding, they have no reason other than downsizing government for being. This is why I can say with confidence that this movement will not last or be too influential for very long.
One thing is evident, these people are angry about something. Government being overbearing? The PATRIOT Act? Welfare? Leaders that are too benevolent with “their” money? Legitimate complaints include tax reform, which should be done to make things simpler and promote growth of the private sector, and corruption should be curbed. But for all of us who see these as serious issues, don’t leave it up to the conservative brand of the Occupy Movement for reform.