Three Gifts from the Tea Parties

America's middle class did the hard work and (finally) flexed its political muscle in last year's elections.  But the grueling truth for the Tea Parties is that the real drudgery lies ahead.

The Tea Parties have given America three precious gifts.  They haven't done a perfect job with any of their three political benefactions. But a blueprint for continuing political success has been drawn up and, at least during the first round of elections, has been semi-successfully implemented.  I focus here on the positive nature of these gifts and offer some advice for how the Tea Parties can, and must, build upon their achievements to be even more effective in the future.

1) Continuing constitutional education

The most important thing that the Tea Parties have done is to revive an appreciation for and an understanding of our precious Constitution.  This task is barely in its infancy.  Ignorance of the meaning of the most important political document ever written is still rampant in this country -- especially among our youth, who are rarely taught the actual meaning of the document.  Instead, they are lectured about a nonexistent, and essentially meaningless, "living" Constitution -- a document that changes with each new passing political or cultural fad.

As important as it is, recapturing (or at least bringing some sort of intellectual balance and integrity into) our public educational system is a long way in the future.  Sitting down and reading the Constitution with our children can, and should, happen today

You don't need to (and shouldn't) argue with them about the meaning of the Constitution.  Have your child read each section aloud, (text here) and after each section has been read, ask your child what the words mean.  I've done it with my kids.  The document is so clear and so well-written that a bright 7th-grader can understand it.

Just as important as sharing the Constitution with our children is holding fast to our own trust in the document.  The possibilities for the creation of schisms within the Tea Parties are very real.  The most likely causes of such infighting will be Tea Party members who are intensely focused on moral issues like abortion, drug legalization, euthanasia, etc.

Putting all my cards on the table, I too am greatly concerned about these issues.  But according to the Constitution, most of these problems are state and local, not federal, concerns.  The Tea Parties need to understand that if they are to stay viable, they must remain united on a return to federalism and to the strict enforcement of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the same.  Once real federalism is achieved, important moral legislation can be debated and determined in the proper venues: in our state houses and before our city councils [i].

2) Creating the next generation of public servants

I happened to be a guest on Rick Moran's show on the night of the 2010 elections.  I was spewing my standard skeptical/cynical take on the election returns until I saw the results on the races for the state legislatures stream across my computer screen.  Far more important, in my mind, than the takeover of the House and a few pickups by the GOP in the Senate was the flood of newly elected state representatives and state senators.

Reapportionment and redistricting will be affected by these state election results -- but that is not the most vital part of what happened last November 2.  The Tea Parties have managed to install hundreds of potential candidates for future federal elections.  These newly elected state officials soon will have experience in office.  They will learn how to handle the media.  The best of these political newcomers will provide a much more sophisticated pool of candidates for the voters in years to come -- and, hopefully, avoid the embarrassment of some of the inexperienced Tea Party-type candidates who ran for national office in 2010.

In the future, the Tea Parties must double down on electing constitutionally sound politicians to local and state offices -- including our local school boards.  This will be the proving and training ground for a new generation of politicians with principles.  (Those elected officials who "sell out" or abandon their principles will be relatively easy to remove at the local level.)

3) Real campaign finance reform

To be young, ambitious, and healthy in 2012!  In the 1980s, I served three terms as a state senator and was seriously thinking about running for Congress.  I suffered a career-ending injury and had to retire from politics.  Even before I was injured, I was dubious about throwing my hat into a congressional race for one reason: money.  Since I was elected when I was in my twenties, I had little personal wealth -- at least not enough to fund a million-dollar congressional campaign.  It was painfully clear that I would have to offer my political services (to put it bluntly, "prostitute myself") to any number of special interest groups in return for campaign cash.  That's the way the system worked in the 1980s.

That was then...this is now.  The Tea Parties, and various conservative offshoots, raised millions and millions of dollars in small donations for their chosen candidates.  Even ABC news had to report the phenomenal number of small political contributions garnered by the Tea Parties.  This third gift of the Tea Parties needs to continue to develop.  Getting enough money into the hands of the best and most reliable candidates will be crucial in our ongoing effort to win back our country.

So in this new year of 2011, let us raise our glasses and offer three cheers to all the members of the Tea Parties.  You have given America real hope for real change.  You have sacrificed your time and your money -- and you have received far too little credit for your efforts.  Oh, and America needs you now...more than ever.

Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and the senior editor for American Thinker.  He is the author of the award-winning novel The Order of the Beloved and the memoir Underground.  He is working on a new book, The Death of Culture.

[i] More than moral issues are at stake in a return to federalism.  This is another reason why the Tea Parties must remain united on enforcing the Constitution as written.  Education funding and curricula, energy use, food inspection, etc. are all local or state rights and should be treated as such.  Different states will have differing legal solutions to these issues, and that is okay.  In a federalist system, a pro-life person who disagrees with, say, New York's liberal abortion laws can either work to change the state's law -- or move to a pro-life state.  Such was our founder's intent, and such is the clear message of the Constitution.