One Lump or Two?

I’m a little confused as to what the fuss is all about. Turn to one news channel and you’re likely to hear all about violent racists who hate immigrants, are against aid to the poor, and want to secede from the nation. Turn to another, and you’ll hear talk about a sweeping movement of patriots who are trying to restore honor and sanity to the system. Ask one person and they’re heroes, ask another, they’re villains. I guess tea is no longer just a drink with jam and bread (and yes, I realize I’m losing credibility by using a Sound of Music reference).

While I can’t speak for the nation, and I certainly don’t represent any national group, I have been to a couple of the Tea Party events held downtown. And I can honestly say that, on the whole, I think both accounts are wrong. From what I’ve seen, what spurred the creation of the Tea Party movement wasn’t politics, but fellowship. When I attended my first protest, I wasn’t overwhelmed by people looking to overthrow the government, I was surrounded by individuals looking for a sense of community.

The Tea Party was born out of a desire of traditional fiscal conservatives to find out if there were other people out there who were having some of the same misgivings about the state of the economy. And guess what, there are. As it turns out, there are quite a lot. More, I think, than anyone in Congress thought there were. And once they got a true appreciation of their numbers, all bets were off at the ballot box.

But here’s where the problems start. Now that its initial purpose has been met, a struggle has begun over what to do next. Polling indicates that a large portion of the voting populous would be receptive to having the Tea Party become its own independent political entity, but once that process begins, what’s to keep the purity of their ideals from suffering the same problems that currently plague both the Democrats and Republicans? And, who’s to really define what those ideals are in the first place?

Using the term "Tea Party" pays homage to the original Boston Tea Party while also drawing on the modern acronym of “Taxed Enough Already.” But outside of their unanimous dislike of increases in government spending and the resulting increases in debt and taxation, there is no underlying consensus in the group on all the other major issues that help define a political party. Are they pro-choice or pro-life? Are they for or against NAFTA? How do they feel about war, peace, gun control, immigration and the increasing number of defining issues in between?

Adding to the difficulties are a countless number of outside influences hoping they can tap into this newly found popularity. Candidates are coming out of the woodwork trying to catch a ride on the bandwagon whose only real price of admission seems to be a disassociation from the status quo. Agencies around the country are coming out with poll after poll trying to nail down the essence of what has quickly become one of the most important political demographics.  And there seems to be no shortage of individuals who are stepping forward hoping to lead the pack.

But the reality is that this isn’t a political movement, it’s a philosophical one. Outrage against taxes, spending, cap and trade, and healthcare are all symptoms of the real disease: a perceived lack of true representation. The people aren’t coming together over a specific policy; they’re amassing out of general frustration. Massachusetts didn’t just elect a conservative Republican; they elected something different, anything new. And the fact that the change happened in an election for the seat previously held by Ted Kennedy seems like poetic justice.

When the founding fathers set pen to parchment, they built a government around the premise that a country could successfully be run by ordinary citizens stepping up and representing the will of their neighbors. They knew all about the pitfalls of a government held hostage by career politicians. They were all too familiar with the premise that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So they did what they could to keep the power in the hands of the people.  They gave the federal government only such specific and enumerated powers as would be minimally required to provide peace and prosperity.

And now, less than 300 years later, it seems (or at least a growing percentage of the population believes) we’ve come full circle. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find politicians who were once regular citizens, working for a living. Instead of business degrees and industry backgrounds, today’s political elite come straight from school with classes in Political Science and a pocketful of lobbyist cash. Forget about automotive production, big oil, pharmaceuticals or any other PAC, today’s biggest industry is government. And that’s what the Tea Party is against.

Sure, they want less spending, and more responsibility, but most importantly, they want to feel that the men and women making the laws truly understand what it means to have to live with them. That’s why the Tea Party may never gain success as a political party, but will absolutely be unavoidable as a political power.

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 8:31 AM, 02.24.2010