November 12, 2009
Tea Parties: Misunderstood and Vastly UnderratedBy Kyle-Anne Shiver
Elected officials of every political stripe ought to be shaking down to their Gucci loafers and pumps. History is forming and firming up harder than the proverbial brick wall right outside their congressional glass house. Yet they seem utterly oblivious.
Since last April, I've written a few columns on the Tea Parties, but I had never actually attended one in person. I harbored a few misconceptions, formed at a distance through the media's drive-by lens. Being a woman who tends to cower in crowds and who loves the security and solitude of my little office-cloister, I had been content to write based on the observations of others. But an Alabama homemaker-turned-activist, Suzanne Green of Birmingham, pulled me into the bosom of the Tea Party movement along with the Rainy Day Patriots.
And, honey, I'm here to tell you, it's a fiery hot bosom indeed.
Monday, I went to Birmingham and Atlanta and saw for myself. I asked and asked and asked questions of people of all ages, both black and white, male and female, former Republicans and former Democrats, seemingly of very diverse socioeconomic situations, and I even rode the Tea Party Express Bus to interview the insiders.
So what's a Tea Party?
In a nutshell, the Tea Parties are a visible expression of the widespread rekindling of the love of liberty. This rekindling of freedom's fires seems to be occurring among diverse individuals independently, and then they seek out fired-up others with whom to connect. Among Tea Party participants, there is a demonstrated willingness to actually do something tangible in order to claim those unalienable rights of which our Founders wrote, and for which so many have given their lives in battle.
This may be the movement Americans truly have been waiting for. It's the real deal, the genuine article. It comes from the groundswell of the people, not from the power-broker elites in political, corporate, or religious America. It's middle-class, thoroughly unpretentious, with a good sense of humor and a keen disdain for things like faux Greek columns, tacky props, and professionally written hyperbole. At a Tea Party, you won't find puffed-up hubris or even a tad of the liberally popular it's-all-about-me syndrome.
The Tea Party messages are clear and strident.
Party operatives? Not welcome. Political candidates? Keep your mouths shut and your ears open. Prefer a D or an R after your name? Not here, not on our time, or on our dime.
The clear message: This is the people's movement. Outsiders, opportunists, and party pols are vehemently not invited. Want a voice in this groundswell, bottom-up oriented movement? Fine. All comers welcome to pitch in, get involved, stand up to tyranny, and do your own thing. Just don't try to hijack the people's movement for personal gain. Like our grandparents' generation, these folks can spot disingenuousness a mile away. They don't suffer fools or counterfeit passions.
I talked to over fifty Tea Partiers in Birmingham and Atlanta on Monday, and I can honestly say I've never seen such a variety of people from different walks of life, different types of livelihood, and different ways of speaking all in the same place, united in one cause: Throw the bums out.
Out of all the people I spoke with -- every single one -- I did not find a solitary person willing to identify with a political party. "Independent" was the only identifier with which people would agree to be labeled. Some said, "I used to be a Democrat," or "I used to be a Republican," but they invariably put a sharp edge on the words "used to be." The sense of betrayal by politicians is palpable among Tea Partiers.
If there is a shared ideology among them, it is the one espoused by our Founders, simply put: God and Liberty. "Unalienable rights" was a phrase I heard over and over again.
The only political figures for whom there was a visible shred of professed admiration were Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Joe Lieberman. Sarah Palin was roundly regarded as a Ronald-Reagan-style "rogue." Michele Bachmann was getting lots of kudos for two reasons: her stand against government overreach and her willingness to be public and visceral in her denouncements. Joe Lieberman is becoming the new hero to the Tea Partiers for his willingness to stand alone with the voice of freedom on the health care power-grab.
When I reminded one woman that President Reagan was a Republican, she declared, "No, he wasn't. He was an American, and the only reason he had to put that R beside his name on the ballot was that they were the least off-the-rails party. But G. W. Bush ruined that for Republicans."
When I asked her how he had done that, she didn't hesitate. "He spent like he was using Daddy's credit card and made the already-too-big federal government bigger."
The uncompromising message in the Tea Party movement to politicians of all stripes is clear: You work for us, and you have betrayed our trust. The anger wasn't only about the amount of money spent for unpopular causes, but also against the waste and fraud being perpetrated with hard-earned taxpayer money. Several angered taxpayers stressed the need for term limits to keep opportunistic pols from using public office to enrich themselves.
When I asked Tea Partiers about expenses for the events, I was hit with one resounding answer: "We pay for everything ourselves." A point made over and over again by various responders was, "There's no ACORN here. We don't soak the taxpayers for our protests." There seemed to be quite a lot of resentment over any groups of protesters using tax dollars to support their personal causes.
I decided to broach the social issues that have dominated so much of the national discourse over the past twenty years: abortion and gay marriage. I found only one opinion among all those I polled: they're state and local issues. The federal government has no business telling all Americans what social standards they can have in their state laws and their schools and their hospitals. "Butt out!" was the ubiquitous answer on social issues from Tea Partiers.
That, of course, brought me to ask about the Supreme Court and its role in deciding such matters for all Americans. One man, a doctor from Huntsville, answered matter-of-factly, "The Supreme Court has become a tyrant, using ideas not in the Constitution and turning them into a weapon of tyranny against the people."
One table under a canopy was reserved for petition-signing. There were only two. One was a state sovereignty petition and the other was a gun rights petition. A return to the Constitution, as written, seemed to be the overriding demand of the Tea Partiers.
When I asked whether this was a person's only involvement, nearly all responders said "no" and "not by a long shot." Women readily proclaimed their citizens' committees, their petitions, their phone calls, e-mails, and hand-written letters. Many said they were either precinct captains or otherwise involved in locally forming conservative parties. Others said they had signed up to work for Republicans, but only if they remained true to constitutional, limited government.
If anyone asked me to adequately describe the Tea Party movement, I would have to reach back into my American civics book to find its root.
Simply put, the Tea Party movement is 1776 brought back to life.
Liberty Boys abound, now both black and white, and led in many instances by Liberty Gals. Paul Reveres use hand-held microphones instead of lanterns. Hand-lettered signs replace tar and feathers. Minutemen use the vote in lieu of muskets. The Declaration of Independence is revitalized as a document of proclaimed anti-dependence on government to solve personal problems. The Constitution is celebrated, revered, and yes, thought to be the primary weapon against tyranny. God rests firmly in place as America's only King.
Honey, if you love America and truly desire liberty, then these are the ones you've been waiting for!
It's a movement, all right. A true red-white-and-blue citizens' movement.
And it is not likely to fizzle the day after elections are held because these folks are entirely self-motivated. None were persuaded by political operatives or stipends. Nor were they given professionally manufactured signs and led by hand to show up at the rally.
Among the all-American individual ingenuity in the signage department, these were my personal favorites:
And, my own contribution:
The spirit of 1776 reigns at Tea Parties. It's awfully hard to argue that there's anything whatsoever un-American about this movement. And while President Obama mocks these crowds of independent American voters as "extremists" and the "tea bag, anti-government" people, he more and more resembles a petulant European monarch who is clueless about the strength of the people's resolve.
When these staunchly independent men and women say, "Don't tread on me!" they seem to mean they're simply not going to stand for much more government tomfoolery and usurpations of power.
Office-holders beware! They're onto you, and they don't like what they see!
Americans are on the march. Like it or not, they're a force to be reckoned with. And they're here to stay.
If they succeed, then perhaps the slogan, "Free at last! Free at last!" will actually mean what it says. Free to succeed, free to fail, free to fall flat on our faces upon our own efforts, without the nanny government capriciously dictating outcomes. Freedom, say the Tea Partiers, means freedom -- period. And to a man and woman, they seem ready to reclaim it, no matter the personal cost.
Now, does America have any leaders capable and humble enough to be led by the people? Answer I got from the Tea Partiers: God will provide.
Kyle-Anne Shiver is an independent journalist and a frequent contributor to American Thinker. She blogs at kyleanneshiver.com.