- Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 June 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 16 June 2010 05:00
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I’ve been guilty of this myself, but it’s become commonplace among political commentators to dismiss the Tea Party Movement as just a collection of far right fringe activists. “Wing nuts” as one of my Democratic friends called them. Some have been labeled racist, reactionary, and depending on whom you talk to, dangerous. None of which seems remotely fair. I am not a tea partier myself. Not even close. And no one who reads my column would think that. But I do think the Tea Partiers are getting a bad rap. And while it pains me to quote a term Sarah Palin pioneered, it’s coming primarily from “the mainstream media.” OK, yes, the Fox Network likes them, big surprise there, but for the most part, the other major media outlets make no effort to understand them. What’s more, they go out of their way to paint them in the worst light possible. It also misses the point, that like it or not, they are becoming a powerful force in American politics. They can’t be marginalized and they can’t be ignored.
One of the first questions many people ask about the tea party movement is “are they a political party, or a movement?” The answer to that one seems to be the latter. They are, as they like to say, a grassroots movement and a lot of what defines the tea party movement isn’t so much organization as it is ideology. Ironically, borrowing a page from the Obama campaign, they do a lot of their communicating and organizing over the Internet. Notices about meetings, town halls, GOP caucuses, rallies, and meet ups come through an ever growing e-mail list.
For the most part, the Tea Party Movement seems to revolve around the theme of reducing the size of government with much of their ire focused on the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress. They are passionately opposed to the new healthcare law, which like many in the GOP, they label as “Obamacare.” They didn’t like the Bank Bailout. The notion of Main Street bailing out Wall Street bothers them and they are also opposed to the President’s $700 Billion stimulus bill. However, what really gets to them is the size of the budget deficit. Like a lot of people, most of us, alas, are just accustomed to having a mortgage and a car payment, so the idea of running an annual deficit of $1.6 trillion is a little staggering. Pray tell? What, I wonder, does a trillion dollars look like? As one Tea Party activist told me, “it just feels like everything is out of control.”
Are they angry? Yes, there is no doubt about that, but I don’t think that anger is necessarily what their movement is about. They’re frustrated more than they are angry and they would like to see someone, primarily the Republicans, start addressing the issues they care about. Almost every Republican, at any level of government, has heard from a Tea Partier. Some have heard the message louder than others. Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, about as conservative as they come, lost his party’s nomination, primarily because of the tea party movement. Tea Partiers thought he was a little too friendly with the Democrats, but what sealed his fate was his vote for the Bank Bailout. In Nevada, the tea party backed candidate for the GOP Senate nomination to take on Harry Reid scored an upset victory. Even our own Congressman has felt the heat from some in the area’s Tea Party members. But not all, and his win in the primary last week shows, he seemed to pass the Tea Party Test.
While they are now a force, both within the GOP and in the ranks of conservative activists, one big question remains. What about November? So far, while annoying some Democratic incumbents at their Healthcare Town Halls last year, their activism has been limited to some rallies and the GOP primaries. What effect they will have in the general election is still hard to tell. Certainly, they will help in getting the party’s most conservative voters out to the polls and given that off year elections tend to be low turnout affairs, this will help the Republicans. But also, they’re going to keep the issues that concern them most, the deficit and healthcare, in the forefront. This may help in swaying independent voters, who share some of their views, to support Republicans. Either way, they deserve to be treated as citizens with a point of view, and they have earned the right to be taken seriously.