WHERE IS THE TEA PARTY?
News Summary by Harry Hunter
(Feb. 9, 2010) — Now that Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Nation conventioneers have departed from Nashville, Tennessee, what kind of Tea Party does our nation have before us? Is it a mighty force that will shape the future of America, or is it a factionalized bunch of idealists too intent on particularized visions of reform to succeed on the national level?
According to Kenneth P. Vogel’s report for POLITICO on Feb. 8, the Nashville convention has made Sarah Palin the “spokeswoman, if not leader” of the grassroots conservative Tea Party movement but has left the movement itself in a factionalized state.
Prior to the convention, many tea partiers and other conservatives cast a disapproving eye on the high-priced Nashville proceedings in general and on Sarah Palin’s appearance there in particular. They suspected someone was milking this patriotic movement for private gain, monetary and/or political, and they feared that Palin would attempt to co-opt the Tea Party into the Republican Party. Mr. Vogel’s account of Palin’s keynote address should be reassuring to the skeptics:
. . . the former Alaska governor discouraged the impression that she—or anyone—should be considered the leader of the populist conservative movement . . . . She said the movement’s strength lay in its decentralization . . . .
And she urged the activists to put their energies into electing conservative candidates—without regard to party—and cautioned against “allowing this movement to be defined by any one leader or politician. The Tea Party movement is not a top-down operation. It’s a ground-up call to action that is forcing both parties to change the way they are doing business, and that’s beautiful.”
Some constitution-minded citizens view Sarah Palin herself as a refreshing, beautiful presence on the political stage, and even the pre-convention skeptics among the tea partiers must find something to like about Palin’s Nashville speech. But plenty of questions remain.
A Feb. 8 guest column by Rick Moran at The Moderate Voice seems intended to temper the enthusiasm of some Nashville convention-goers. Attendee Glenn Reynolds experienced the convention as a Big Event—“I came away feeling that I had seen something important. The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening”—but columnist Moran wonders if the Tea Party path is the right way forward: “We need more conservatives in both parties. But is the tea party movement the right vehicle to realize that goal?” To which one might reply, what other conservative force comes close to the Tea Party’s potential impact on the 2010 and 2012 elections? Assuming, that is, that there is such a thing as a Tea Party at all.
One organization of T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) people, the Tea Party Nation (TPN), sponsored the Nashville event and is now forming a new PAC, or political action committee. Patrik Jonsson, staff writer at The Christian Science Monitor, says the new PAC intends “to elect ‘tea-party’- style candidates in as many as 20 national races this fall.” But there are many flavors of this T.E.A., as Jonsson notes:
For example, the Tea Party Express [TPX] PAC spent $285,000 on Scott Brown’s race in Massachusetts. His victory bolstered the fortunes of the tea party movement by breaking the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, putting much of the Democratic agenda, including healthcare reform, in jeopardy. Moreover, there are literally dozens of smaller tea party PACs from Tennessee to California working to raise money for local tea party candidates.
So what is the difference between TPN and TPX? They both believe in limited, constitutional government, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty, and national security, among other things, but the former sponsors a convention while the latter sponsors bus tours. It seems like a difference mostly of means rather than ends. And what about one of the first groups, maybe the first group (after the Boston affair in 1773), and apparently the largest group in the world to protest by means of tea: The Tea Party Patriots?
The Tea Party Patriots sponsored the nationwide Tax Day Protest of 2009 and the big march on Washington, D.C., last Sept. 12, and they plan more tax protests and rallies in 2010. These Patriots actively dissent from any notion that Sarah Palin is their leader, as evidenced by the lead article at their website Monday: “Tea Party Patriots Dispute Claims that Sarah Palin is the Tea Party Leader.” OK, fine, but I have a dime that says there is very slim philosophical difference between Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party Nation, the New American Tea Party, the 912 Project, the National Precinct Alliance, and so on.
A variety of fine voices can sing the same hymn; good, strong tea comes in diverse flavors sipped from diverse cups; and the patriotic conservatives in the new American revolution will tend to march to the beat of the drummer which they hear best. Hot or cold, I have always liked tea.