In my Honesty and Trust report (Aug. 2006), The Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis wrote, “The survey reflects a growing perception of a large gap between the values of corporations and government institutions and the values of the American middle class. Values gaps are always perceived as threatening, and a perceived threat to the middle class inevitably leads to social action as it did during the Great Depression.
“It will take only one precipitating event,” the Center tells us, “an Ethical 9/11, in conjunction with the rise of a recognized [perceived] champion of the middle class… to gain critical mass.”
On the surface, The Tea Party would seem to be that champion.
While many people have associated the middle-class with The Tea Party, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll (April 2010), “the 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married, older than 45 [and] wealthier and better-educated than the general public.”
Beginning with protests in Washington in 2009 against the economic stimulus bill, The Tea Party graduated from a few protests to a national movement of angry, loud protestors with a fanatical God, guts and guns fringe element.
Although the movement gained critical mass in their opposition to Wall Street bailouts and President Obama’s health care bill, they have resisted becoming a formalized third, political party. However, their grassroots operation quickly spread from state to state, alternately preaching their gospel of constitutionalism and support for those political candidates that stand for their key concerns: adherence to the Constitution, reduction of the size of government, elimination of wasteful spending, and a reduction in the national debt.
My first reaction to their manifesto: “Who’s not for that?” But, as the expression goes, “The devil is in the details,” and according to a heavily footnoted entry in Wikipedia, contradictory details abound.
“…52% of Tea Party supporters told pollsters for CBS/New York Times that they think their own ‘income taxes this year are fair.’ Additionally, a Bloomberg News poll found that Tea Partiers are not against increased government action in all cases. ‘The ideas that find nearly universal agreement amongTea Party supporters are rather vague,’ says J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who created the survey. ‘You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.’
“Seventy percent want the federal government to aid in job creation. Also, nearly half think the government should limit Wall Street executive bonuses, according to the nationwide poll which was conducted between March 19 and March 22, 2010.”
In the midst of a major recession, the mortgage crisis, two very unpopular wars, near double-digit unemployment, not to mention a slew of ethics scandals involving Wall Street and political figures, frustration and loud rallies are understandable.
Although Tea Partiers have tapped into very real anger, it has yet to demonstrate the necessary reason to lead America in a clearly defined new direction. Protesting and crackpot comments by candidates is not wisdom and I question the wisdom of some of those Tea Party-supported candidates.
Delaware’s Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell recently asked her opponent, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”
Nevada’s Sharron Angle, among other strange statements said, “…if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies…”
Tea Party-backed candidate for New York Governor, Carl Paladino said, “Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we’ll teach people how to earn their check. We’ll teach them personal hygiene… the personal things they don’t get when they come from dysfunctional homes.”
Alaska’s Joe Miller lied about his misconduct while serving as a government attorney in Fairbanks.
And Rand Paul, an early Tea Party supported senatorial candidate, believes in a “Constitutionally limited government,” which includes overturning Medicare and other so-called social programs enacted from Roosevelt’s New Deal.
While I support some of the party’s goals, and agree that we’ve seen a serious decline in American values in the last several years, the party is going to have to get serious or get out of the business of politics. They’re not going to get far if they keep making choices like Miller, Paladino, Angle, O’Donnell and Paul.
If they want to be taken seriously, they need to translate their anger into a specific political platform with the necessary national leadership to develop and support those candidates with the requisite background, experience and political smarts to achieve their goals. To do that, they must become a legitimate third party. If they don’t, they’ll simply run out of steam.