On April 15 at Dallas City Hall, I looked out over a sea of attendees at one of several national gatherings that launched the Tea Party movement.
As the throng dissipated that night, messages of liberty and fiscal responsibility still ringing sweetly in their ears, the shared question was: Will this ball keep rolling? Or will it simply wane into pleasant nostalgia, a fading memory of a one-day pushback against out-of-control government?
Almost a year later, the ball still rolls. The Tea Party movement is one of the most noteworthy grassroots uprisings in recent American political history. And one of the most misunderstood.
So as this year unfolds toward an election day that will show how much nationwide clout the movement can muster, let’s review what Tea Party passions are – and what they are not.
The Tea Party movement is not a nascent third party. Most tea partiers know that splitting the voters looking for less spending and lower taxes is a guarantee of more domination by Democrats with no interest in either.
The Tea Party movement is not “anti-tax.” It is against confiscatory taxes, outlandish taxes, excessive taxes – choose your adjective. But this “anti-tax” nonsense is the same kind of obnoxious slander as calling people who favor strong borders “anti-immigration.”
The Tea Party movement is not driven by social conservatism. That doesn’t mean you won’t find plenty of tea partiers who are devout advocates of protecting the unborn and traditional marriage – it’s just that the Tea Party engine is driven first and foremost by a desire to return government to its proper constitutional limits and run it with a lot less money. Anyone driven by that passion is welcome in any roomful of tea partiers, no matter what views they may hold about God and gays.
That is, by the way, part of why the movement is so strong. If it were to adopt some litmus tests for admittedly important social issues, it would see its ranks dwindle mightily. Electing people to bring back fiscal sanity in 2010 and 2012 will require the help of millions of voters who may be centrist, libertarian or even socially liberal. How do you think Scott Brown won in Massachusetts?
Finally, the Tea Party movement is not some subculture of bug-eyed lunatics. Any political movement is going to have some characters ranging from colorful to occasionally unhinged, but the insulting tone of much of the coverage of the movement would have you believe that these are fringe extremists who could snap at any moment.
Well, the truth is, they have snapped already. The sound we are hearing is the proverbial camel’s back breaking after years of reckless spending, punitive taxation and usurpations of liberty that have crippled every citizen’s opportunity to enjoy the full promise of what America is supposed to be about: freedom and opportunity, with the least government necessary to maintain an ordered society.
The people drifting toward the Tea Party movement are not extreme. They are, in fact, fighting extremism – the extremism that has brought us a government that takes far too much, spends far too much and runs our lives far too much.
At long last, people who might disagree on a number of other things are uniting in a fight for strong but limited government, run responsibly and frugally. It took Democrats and Republicans to create this mess, and entrenched members of both parties could soon find themselves back in the private sector if the enthusiasm of tea parties and town halls carries all the way to the November elections.
With participants from so many walks of life, and no rigid structure or leadership, it can be a challenge to define exactly what the Tea Party movement is. But I’ll tell you one more thing that it is not: It is not going away.
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