(or; how liberals can stop cruelly maligning it, learn to love liberty and join the club!)
Last spring, I had occasion to visit a classic car exhibition at Lime Rock racecourse in Connecticut, accompanied by our company’s CPA. On the subject of collectible cars and automobile mechanicals in general, Bruce is the most knowledgeable layperson I know and, of course, a darned good accountant too!
Driving through the splendid Connecticut countryside, we discussed the issues of the world; Greece’s brush with depression and collapse, financial worries in the former Tiger economies of Japan, Germany and South Korea and America’s own threats of long-term debt (then approaching $18 trillion) and unfunded liabilities (then as now in the neighborhood of some $300 trillion). I noted the White House’s failure in achieving economic growth targets (scarcely 1% at the time) and the stubborn problem of getting Americans back to work in real employment (i.e., not plain, menial service positions alone, but manufacturing-related, product creation with long-term stakeholder benefits in job security, career advancement into management ranks, private union-membership and related benefits).
Bruce casually offered “Yeah; Washington can’t get it right. That cursed Tea Party is always blocking legislation! I was thrown by his switch from keen economic commentary on lapses by the Obama White House, the Departments of Labor and Commerce and by the Federal Reserve to crude, knee-jerk Tea Party denunciation. Do you mean to say that the so-called Tea Party (let us abbreviate to TP) is responsible for the record underemployment rate, low labor-force participation levels, unrivaled food stamp subscription, and abysmal record of growth and productivity under the Democrats? I asked, Precisely how? It was unnerving hearing a clear-thinker falling prey to the blithe prejudices of the low-information media/academic and entertainment elites (more specifically; late night talk show televidiots, circuit-comics, under-employed sociologists and law professors, celebrities like Matt Damon and Kanye West).
How a local, community-grown local movement like the Tea-Party (which as you should be aware, is not a party in the traditional sense; not usually endorsing candidates, raising campaign funds regionally or nationally like the Republican and Democratic parties do) could be miscomprehended and its simple, historic name sullied by name-calling and disregard for the facts is confounding. On what other subject is the unanimity of the chattering classes more universal and comprehensive?
You have heard the insults; the TP is bigoted, narrow-minded, selfish, and ignorant. Its track record of citizenship and lawfulness is spotless, however. Interviews with members at a function in White Plains recently only confirmed this; citizens of all backgrounds; classes; ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds; and gender affiliations. There are no conditions of membership or even dues (other than a general rule of courtesy in allowing others to speak their minds without interruption).
Of course the notion of a unified, centrally coordinated Tea Party is a fantasy. Local businessmen and businesswomen concerned over increasing property tax burdens and diminished police, fire, EMT, public works and educational services often serve as informal leaders. There is little formal hierarchy; volunteers undertake projects like public awareness campaigns and letter writing suggested by fellow members. Membership is drawn from small business owners, teachers, administrators, laborers and agricultural workers, professional licensees like barbers, beauticians and restaurateurs. There is absolutely no central administration of the thousands of chapters throughout the nation; concentrated in the South, Central and Lower Midwest and the Southwest; represented more sparsely on the East and West coasts and urban areas generally.
Funding is provided by tag/bake sales, 50/50 raffles at meetings and contributions from individuals. Critics have cited corporate support by the Koch brothers and other right wing political syndicates but chapters in upstate New York and Westchester have enjoyed none of such beneficence (party activists see nothing wrong with it anyway, as long as it is open and lawful; besides, where is the controversy over subsidies to leftist causes by the Clinton Foundation, currency speculator George Soros and Progressive insurance billionaire Peter Lewis?)
And where, oh where is real evidence of claimed Tea Party misconduct and lawlessness?
The national and regional press revels in maligning them and imputing dark motives to activists, but the portrayal does not bear scrutiny. Among gatherings of Tea Partiers across the US, there has not been a single report of violence or police response. Compare the record of the Occupy Movement, a darling of the media and Hollywood limousine-liberal class where in 2013 at Zuccotti Park near New York’s Wall Street alone, there were 68 arrests, and claims of sexual assaults and violence against bystanders and participants! Individual experiences may vary, but as a vague national community of interest with essentially no coordination of meetings and protests, TP’s track record is remarkably blemish-free.
In the absence of compelling anecdotes and tangible evidence, how has the scraggly collection of casually organized and scantly funded Tea Party groups earned a reputation so abysmal?
In light of the Tea Party’s engrossment over regulation/finance of all levels of government, jobs, border security and other essentially political/economic subjects (excluding abortion, gay rights, and personal and cultural matters that have never been a focus of the TP movement; media intimations to the contrary) the question is dauntingly complex. It is worthy of multi-disciplinary omnibus research combining graphic/textual analysis of television/radio news coverage, study of individual/crowd psychology and economic indicators, philosophical considerations of individual liberty and the duty (if any) of the individual to the state. But leaving intellectual and statistical undertakings like these to qualified academics, we may speculate that the movement has been a victim of the time-honored political tactic of character execution.
When the modern, non-historical Tea Party first appeared, reacting to the frantic Washington response of bailouts and emergency aid (Troubled Asset Relief Payments or TARP being the richest example) following the recessionary conditions, bank finance calamities and record household mortgage failings through 2009, the chords of political preservation of establishment Democrats and Republicans were struck mightily. Individual, moderately-conservative/libertarian Americans of all backgrounds found a voice. Hostile to elected officialdom, the Tea Party challenged the binary nature of American politics wherein solutions were issued by the class of incumbent politicians and party officials; who hereto, had identified all the appropriate legislation, political actors to be employed and economic and social solutions required.
Stuff-shirted party leaders could not contain the TP’s organic, community-based expression of popular democracy; members bristled at being forced through the customary channels of Republican and Democratic organizations. And so, like any entity; private, public, for-profit, not-for-profit or non-governmental-organization confronting a new competitor, existing parties and cooperative media personalities and companies resolved to destroy the upstart.
A natural confluence of interests thus sired a powerful beast. It was to be primarily: establishment-based; of vague philosophical origins but mildly leftist in political terms; friend of Big Government, Big Labor, Big Corporations; crony-capitalist inclined (for the question must be answered: Who is going to pay for all of the regulatory favors, preferences and subsidies central to the time-honored binary system of Republican/Democratic rule presently endangered? And not least of all, a compliant media complex headquartered in New York City, in occupation of the nation’s capital and the lately subservient mini-capitals of the 50 states (for the question must be answered, “How to inspire, inform and prepare for political combat a wildly spaced establishment required to enforce ideological consistency against the dangerous new aspirant for local and national political ascendancy, the Tea Party?” for the express purpose of embarrassing, defaming and discrediting the newcomer, using all the accustomed tools; ridicule, suspicion of newcomers, bigotry, and the ultimate, Stalinist/Hitlerian weapon, The Big Lie. And not forget to use other tricks of the rhetorical arsenal, including misattribution of quotes, misstating of platforms, and political correctness.
How this campaign of defamation and obfuscation slowly unfolded will be the subject next time. At conclusion, it is hoped that readers of ordinary sensibilities will have gained an appreciation for the genuinely natural and homespun origins of the hardy band of individualists, entrepreneurs, people trying to get ahead and simple street-folk of this outrageously misrepresented and unfairly maligned group; surely, the most compassionate and idealistic assemblage of taxpayers and citizens this nation has seen perhaps in several generations: the Modern American Tea Party. There; I said it.