Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tea Party Reflections: February Column

A friend expressed great surprise that I had interacted with the “extremist” right-wing Tea Parties during my campaign for Congress in Southern Massachusetts. He is intelligent and politically moderate, and so his response brought into focus the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of the media’s misrepresentations of the Tea Party movement.
This is a firsthand account: I have been there myself. I have spoken to Tea Party groups of less than twenty and to over 200 members. These organizations reside throughout our region, including the Knox Trail Tea Party, the Worcester, Paxton-Rutland-Leicester, Webster-Dudley-Oxford, Blackstone, Sutton, and the Calvin Coolidge Tea Parties. There are also the 9/12 groups of Chicopee and East Longmeadow, as well as the libertarian Massachusetts LPA. I have been to their rallies, and I have talked to these folks individually. They were an integral part of my campaign, and I prized their support.
The people who joined to Tea Parties are your neighbors. They work hard for a living, or are retired folks, though some of them lost their jobs during this terrible recession. They may be blue collar or they are college educated professionals. It is my experience that there were more women than men. Some Tea Party members are Republicans, fewer were Democrats, and most are political independents. Many of them were never involved in politics before.
The Tea Partiers love their families as well as their country, and these twin drives motivate them to leave their homes behind for meetings and rallies on nights and weekends, after long days at work. They are passionate about their patriotism, but theirs is not a blind allegiance to the flag. The Tea Parties have a deep, intuitive understanding of the spirit and values embodied by U.S. Constitution, those of defending a society that treasures and protects individual freedom. The government exists through the permission of the populace, and the impetus for decision making is decentralized. They are fiscal conservatives, recognizing the necessity to give up some of the fruits of their labor to the government through taxes, but demanding that their hard earned dollars are used responsibly. They seek to preserve these values for the society that will be inherited by their children.
Tea Party members are angry about the erosion of these values, but they do not hate. I have been at many different Tea Party events during my campaign, and never saw evidence of racism. Never. Not once. Attacks on the Tea Party movement as racist is at best misguided and misinformed, but more likely are attempts by political opponents to marginalize these good people and neutralize their popular political clout. I find these attacks to be malicious.
Tea Party members are a cross section of common folks, who are willing to part from their families to resist the encroachment of an enlarging centralized government that is seen as insinuating itself in the economic lives and personal decision making of its people. The Tea Party members attend local meetings, and have travelled to the nation’s capitol in rallies of hundreds of thousands. It is a broad and spontaneous popular movement, and when I have been at these meetings, I get a sense of the fire that lit the American Revolution. I am thankful that this passion for liberty still lives and that the descendents of revolution are yet with us.
To dismiss the Tea Party is to miss the chance to witness a remarkable movement in American history. I have been lucky to have been present through two great social upwellings during my life, that of the “1960’s” and now the Tea Party movement. Certainly, the nature of the politics of these two movements are different and both are rooted in their respective eras, but the similarity of emotion and romance of a people seeking to turn the values of our society is unmistakable. Both have altered the trajectory of American history.
The future of the Tea Party is of course uncharted. It could peter out after its recent electoral success. It could develop into its own political party, or fuel the evolution and revitalization of the Republican Party. It wrestles with remaining a movement dedicated to issues of liberty and fiscal conservatism or taking positions on some of the “social issues” such as abortion rights, on which most of the Tea Party membership does not share universal agreement.
However the Tea Party’s future unfolds, I am glad they are here, and this nation needs their continued vigilance in the future.