“They are extremists.”
“They are pawns of the Republican party.”
“They are revolutionaries.” And so it goes with strident leftist attacks on tea party adherents.
Alarmed at the expansion of the federal government since 2009 and frustrated by the Obama administration’s redistribution schemes, many Americans have taken to the streets.
Most of these people were apolitical before the intrusiveness of Obama political tactics. And, despite what many in the media assume, the majority of these tea partyers are independents and Democrats. (Republicans constitute just 48 percent of the total.)
Since the protests began, liberal groups have tried to deny that this is a genuine grass-roots movement. They contend that it is a creation of corporate interests and is motivated by racial hatred. But up till now, this effort to discredit the tea party has not worked.
In fact, from Delaware to New York, tea partyers have defeated establishment Republican figures in primaries. Two days before the New York Republican primary, Rick Lazio, the designated party candidate for governor, held a two-point lead over Carl Paladino, the darling of the state tea partyers. To the surprise of the pundits, Paladino won by more than 30 percent.
Paladino’s electoral surprise was due in part to his bold assertions and Lazio’s lackluster campaign. But there were other explanations. Paladino captured the argument of irresponsible state spending. He brought New York politics to “the boiling point,” a condition that led some to call him “Crazy Carl.”
Yet the more he is denounced, the more his popularity grows. As the tea partyers see it, Paladino is the embodiment of the grass-roots movement — outspoken, frustrated with big government, and ready to wield a “big stick.”
Those who speak in his behalf are usually volunteers in local areas who represent a small organizing nucleus. This is by no means a carefully organized association; it is held together by a devotion to fiscal responsibility, limited government, and personal liberty.
If there is one issue that unites tea partyers it is opposition to Obamacare, the administration’s healthcare bill that relies on enormous expenditures, expansive government, and a bureaucratic approach that limits personal liberty.
Despite the more general critique of present political conditions, the tea partyers also agree on several specific matters: Enactment of a flat tax; sunset provisions on laws passed by the Congress; constitutionality tests for all proposed bills; statutory caps on federal spending; imposition of a moratorium on earmarks; and repeal of the proposed 2011 tax increases.
Yet these positions do not constitute a separate party platform; they are merely the issues tea partyers employ for solidarity and as instruments for influencing the major parties. As one tea party acolyte noted, “The tea party movement is not about a party . . . it’s about finding candidates who are constitutionally minded and fiscally responsible . . . and helping them win.”
Whatever the actual intention, people like former President Bill Clinton seemed to equate the tea party rhetoric with the hatred that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing when he warned against “crossing the line” that separates anti-government protest from advocacy of violence.
However, as someone who has attended tea party events across the country, I have found most adherents to be modest in their advocacy and responsible in their behavior, notwithstanding the occasional inflammatory statement.
At no point have I ever heard racist commentary of a general nature or a specific racist allegation directed at President Obama. Even Vice President Biden cautioned against resorting to racist claims about the tea party.
By reflexively rejecting the tea party movement, Democratic Party candidates and officeholders are alienating independents whose votes they often need to get elected.
An ABC News/Washington Post voter opinion poll found that six in 10 registered voters do not have faith in the president’s handling of the economy and many in this category are sympathetic to the tea party movement.
A Rasmussen poll found that 41 percent had a favorable impression of the movement and 46 percent believed it was beneficial for the nation (only 31 percent described it as “harmful”). It would seem that insulting the tea party hasn’t discredited it in the public imagination. On the contrary, the tea party has become the inspiration for grass-roots political action across the country.
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