Dear Tea Party: What’s Your Deal?

Scene from the Boston Tea Party rally. Photo by Evan Caughey.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the (mis?)fortune of attending one of the premiere events of the 21st century – none other than a Tea Party rally featuring America’s favorite gun-totin’, letter-droppin’ ex-governor, Sarah Palin. As a good liberal would, I made sure to distinguish myself from the millions of other people being furious at something or another by composing full, intelligible sentences and being grammatically accurate (kidding). The signs that I encountered, which read anything from “I’m not raceist [sic], I just hate health care” to “Impeach Obama!” showed that, if anything, the Tea Party was more ideologically defined by opposition than a cohesive platform. But unlike the protestors that I encountered, I wanted to conduct more research before formulating my opinion on the party, and sat down to contemplate the following question: what exactly does the Tea Party stand for?

A quick Google search took me to, where the mission statement and core values page states that the “Tea Party Patriots” support fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. A further sweep of the website provided nothing more than a clear affinity for Fox News and articles with such clever titles as “A Tale of Two Obamas.” I left amused by the sound bites, but with many unanswered questions about the Tea Party itself.

Let’s start out with the basics: In theory, the party grew out of an opposition to the stimulus package in early 2009, but has been growing increasingly popular and visible with the rallies in opposition to the health care bill.

But who composes its demographic? A recent poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News shows that 18 percent of the surveyed population consider themselves Tea Party members. They tend to be Republican, white, male, married, older than 45 and often identified as “very conservative” and “angry” (as opposed to “dissatisfied”) with the current administration. Among their chief complaints were government spending, the health care overhaul and the perception that the government is not being responsive to the people. The poll, and the follow-up questions confirm that the public perception of the Tea Party is more easily defined by the issues that it opposes rather than the issues that it promotes. Of the answers given by respondents, they tended to focus on what the administration is doing wrong, rather than what should be done (right). In other words, the Tea Party has come to serve as a voice for conservative dissent: the radical right arm of the Republican party, if you will.

The Tea Party has expanded rapidly from February 2009 to the present, but will the momentum last? It has become a strong regional force, defined by issues that are pertinent to each section of the country (immigration, for example, is one of the big issues decried at Tea Party rallies in the South), but can collective anger about varied policies unite a movement ? Anger can be a means for the initial union of individuals, but only time will tell whether it is sustainable.

But more importantly, the messages being sent from the Tea Party are ones that only sow division and misconceptions; a party that bases its platform on negativity is unlikely to outlast the administration that it opposes. While at the Boston Tea Party rally, one of the female speakers asked the crowd: “Do you love God? [cheers from the crowd] Do you love your country? [again, cheers] Then you’re a strong, beautiful Conservative woman!” The implicit message that this sent to the crowd — that only Conservatives were religious and “patriotic” — is not only inaccurate, but harms any future discourse between the Tea Party and other political groups. And that’s ultimately what I took away from the rally in my perception of the Tea Party: that it is a current novelty, but that if it wants to be taken seriously and engage in any form of dialogue in the political process, it needs to reassess its outreach strategies.

Despite its impending longevity problems, the Tea Party is still gaining traction from the media. So what will this mean for the November midterm elections? One hot race is for the open Senate seat in Florida, where Tea-Party-backed Republican and former State House Speaker Marco Rubio is challenging the current Republican governor Charlie Crist. Another state to keep an eye on is Arizona, where Tea Party-backed former Representative J.D. Hayworth will fight Senator John McCain for his Senate seat. Undoubtedly, more Tea Party-backed candidates will emerge from the woodwork in the coming months. Keep an open, discerning eye this summer while previewing the races and think about the candidates thoroughly before heading to the polls this November.

About Anna Ward

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9 Comments on “Dear Tea Party: What’s Your Deal?”

  1. Bill Maher had a great point on his New Rules segment of his show this week – that Tea Partiers are only mad about government spending when its on things they dont want. Its okay to spend tons on defense, but not health care! They want to have their cake and eat it too.

    I suggest you all watch this video, Bill Maher puts it very well. and its also funny 🙂

  2. Well-written, interesting take.

    What your article does not mention is that a majority of Tea Party activists are more religious and better educated than the general public — hardly gun totin’, letter droppin’ folk. And almost a third do not consider themselves conservatives.

    I would think twice before discounting the future of this party that has garnered the support of almost 1 in 5 Americans. Tea Party activists only seem abrasive to Democrats because Democrats choose not to recognize and address their deepest concerns with our country’s direction. THEY should reassess their outreach efforts? Maybe Democratic leadership should be a little bit more open minded and progressive, as they claim to be. Instead, though, Democrats would rather make fun of these “hillbillies” that are doing a pretty good job at organizing across country for the past 14 months.

    The Tea Party clearly defines their goals of fiscal responsibility and smaller government. Yes there are different regional concerns but that is true regardless of Party. In the South, Republican and Democratic politicians speak of immigration and border security to their constituents because that is a local concern. Not to say that all of the Tea Party beliefs are correct but at least the Republican Party recognizes them as a legitimate force in the politics of today. If somebody ignored you, would you like it? Of course not.

    Lastly, the radical Left also sends messages that “sow division and misconceptions.” You have got to be kidding me if you feel that the increasing polarization of our society is the fault of Tea Party Conservatives. Look at the 2010 congressional races and listen to the Democrats still blaming everything on Bush.

    Conservatively yours,

  3. The tea-baggers are just a sad group of old, white, rich, malcontent republicans who hate blacks, asians, hispanics, the middle class and the poor and can’t STAND that we have a black president. When they howl “take back America!!!” they mean to take it back from minorities. Luckily the middle class and the poor far outnumber the tea-baggers so they will have little effect in November. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY 10036

  4. Many of these Tea Baggers can barely string together a coherent sentence and worse, don’t really know what they are mad at. The current movement is named after the Boston Tea Party, a rebellion against higher taxes, while these zealots, rather, idiots, are living under an improved tax code, thanks to Barack Obama, who they otherwise equate with Adolf Hitler. That alone is enough to make me want to stuff tea bags in every one of their mouths to shut them up.

    Read more at IMeanWhat?!?

  5. Liberals? Why don’t liberals spend time trying to find out how Obama sat in a church for 20 years and didn’t hear anything Mr Wright said?

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