The world is full of opinions, but let’s be totally honest: all opinions are not of equal value. They are worth only the evidence upon which they rest. Opinions, as I like to tell my students, are much like underwear. Some underwear stinks and some doesn’t.
I’ve heard lots of opinions in the last few months regarding the Tea Party. Some of those ideas I’ve read in the written press and some I’ve heard expressed on TV or radio. Some have come from colleagues at the college where I teach. One fellow professor recently told me, “the Tea Party scares the hell out of me.” Another admitted that he believed the Tea Party would “destroy” America.
I can only speak from experience, so let me claim that experience fully. This post is intended to compare my experience with some of the commentary I’m hearing. My only agenda is to be as honest as I can. The things I’m hearing about the Tea Party don’t seem to jive with what I’ve experienced as I’ve met and shared conversations with members of my local Tea Party organizations. Nor have I seen solid evidence to support accusations made by some members of the media. In the following points I’ll list some of the comments I’ve heard and compare those comments with my experience.
The Tea Party hates government. If so, I’ve never heard that expressed from any member of the groups with whom I’ve dealt. They do have concerns about the size, scope, and expense of government, but I’ve never heard any member of the Tea Party express hatred of the government.
Members of the Tea Party are anarchists. This is related to the first point. The many Tea Party folks I’ve met have never expressed a desire to destroy the government. Their intentions are to reform it in light of the Constitution. They are anarchists only if George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were anarchists.
Members of the Tea Party are racists. This one is so ridiculous that I’m not sure how a person in touch with reality could hold such an opinion. I’ve never seen or heard anything remotely racist at any Tea Party event. Thousands of Tea Party people have met around the country and thousands of cameras have been present. With all the video and snapshots made public, there still is no actual evidence for such an accusation. When an occasional Tea Partier (or person posing as one) gets out of line, it’s the Tea Party that polices itself and calls the person down.
The Tea Party is under the control of powerful people at the top who are well funded. Actually, I’ve never seen a political group so eager to maintain its political and social independence. Do they accept money for their political agenda? Yes, of course. Are there wealthy members? Yes. Are they centrally controlled or directed? I can see no evidence whatsoever of such a claim. In fact, while the Tea Party tends to support Republican candidates much more often than Democrats, the members with whom I speak insist that they will not be co-opted by any political party or candidate. They seem willing to cooperate with anyone who shares their values. And to their credit, they are roundly condemned by the elements of both major political parties that prefer big government and more spending.
Tea Party people are extremists. This one may actually be true, but only in the sense of the quotation attributed to Barry Goldwater: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” The name of this blog should suggest to its readers that this is a form of extremism with which I sympathize. To be at the extremes, or the margins of the political center, is to be out of step with the so-called “mainstream.” Because so many of our citizens have grown comfortable with bigger, more powerful and more expensive government doesn’t mean that the situation is good. Political discourse in the United States has moved so far left that the center really isn’t the center at all. In that sense, it appears that the Tea Party folks are calling us back to our constitutional roots. They remind us who we are as a nation. They wouldn’t be extremists if we hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel in the first place.
Members of the Tea Party are just like the “Occupation” Movement. The only similarity I can find here is that both groups are composed of people who have concerns. But what a difference they demonstrate with regard to those concerns! The Tea Party has never occupied any physical locality. Members have never expressed their dissatisfaction by defecating upon a police vehicle. Illegal drug use and sexual molestation are unheard of at their gatherings. When they depart a public protest there is no need for an army of public workers to clean and sanitize the area. They aren’t asking for anything except the “inalienable” rights guaranteed them by the Constitution.
Tea Party people are “nut jobs.” This is the oldest rhetorical trick in the book. It’s called an ad hominem attack because it’s intended to suggest that one’s ideological opponent is unworthy of consideration due to insanity. The tactic is employed by those who can’t make a worthy counter-argument. From my experience, members of the Tea Party are salt-of-the-earth people who love their country and who have well-founded fears for its future. They worry that we are all the proverbial frogs in the pot of water increasing toward the boiling point. They see more than $15 Trillion of debt on the national books while politicians on both sides of the aisle call for more spending. They hear talk of more taxes on their earnings while they recognize that almost half of our citizenry pay no federal income tax at all. They watch as the Federal Reserve prints money at an alarming rate and they wonder when the house of cards will come crashing down. If the Tea Party folks are nutty, then the world really has turned upside down and reality isn’t what it used to be.
To summarize, and to speak only from my own experience and political savvy, I see nothing about the Tea Party that is unhealthy, unholy, or out of touch with the lessons of history. It’s a grassroots movement of citizens expressing grave concerns about our nation’s future. When they leave a place where they are gathered, they leave that place looking better than the way they found it. That, I believe, is the perfect symbol for the America they hope to leave to their children and grandchildren.