Misunderstanding the Tea Party

The Tea Party movement is a political Andromeda Strain to the media, a baffling outbreak of viral unhappiness which has thus far defied every attempt at diagnosis. This is unsurprising, since the media has little interest in listening to what the Tea Party is actually saying. Instead, they attempt to stuff this remarkable grassroots movement into a variety of scary costumes, so they can be conveniently dismissed.

The most common of these costumes is a straitjacket. The media likes to view the Tea Party as a psychotic break with establishment reality. Writing in the L.A. Times, Gregory Rodriguez calls American distrust of government “neurotic – irrational, defensive, and born of emotional trauma.” He prescribes a dose of past-life regression therapy, until we get back to “our national birth trauma, our violent revolt against our ‘father’, King George III, which gave us our independence in the first place.” Wow, people named George cast really long shadows over history, don’t they?

If the buckles on the straitjacket break, certain elements of the Left are quick to dress the Tea Party in white sheets. The tedious Joe Queenan, working for a Guardian U.K. that evidently couldn’t afford to hire an American writer who has actually seen a Tea Party rally, describes the attendees as “smallish, grassroots, inbred” anti-intellectual pasty-white Nixon voters. He also can’t stress enough how white these abhorrent, pasty-white, “ethnically monochromatic” white crackers are. Oh, and they’re also a small fringe movement that likes to send tiny squads of loudmouths to intimidate rural Idaho congressmen… but they’re also a vast, sinister, potentially violent mob, lurking in the deep red shadows of flyover country, where people have forgotten how to properly appreciate their massive central government.

If you can’t quite buy the image of the Tea Party as a massive Birth of a Nation re-enactment, some liberals would like to conjure marionette strings leading from their awkwardly jerking limbs, up to puppet handles gripped in swollen feline paws. Lee Fang at Think Progress sees the helpless, mindless swarms of protesters as nothing but a Pampered Chef party for Republican “profiteers.” The mainstream press retails the usual smear about anyone who protests high taxes or government spending as either unwitting tools, or paid operatives, of the fat cats who stand to rake in millions from their agenda. (Remember the feeble attempts to paint anyone who disagreed with ObamaCare as henchmen of the insurance industry? Joe Queenan would remind you they were white henchmen of the white-owned insurance industry.)

Of course, no leftist caricature of the Tea Party would be complete without a dunce cap. To paraphrase the exasperated alien villain of Plan 9 From Outer Space, these protesters are stupid, stupid, stupid! They’re slaves of a woman Stephen Colbert assures us is “a f—ing retard.” Kurt Andersen of New York Magazine sees them as irrational hysterics, whipped into a frenzy by talk-radio hosts, threatening to unleash mere anarchy upon the nation by planting themselves ankle-deep in the blood-dimmed tide of mindless intransigence. They’re too dense to realize the establishment they oppose is an eternal institution, their lives mere grains of sand against its trillion-dollar fortifications.

The Tea Party movement is not crazy, hateful, or stupid. Their rallies are disarmingly cheerful affairs, which most certainly do include women and minorities. The movement is still in the process of coalescing, and seeks inspiration and representation, rather than leadership. They know their country is rocketing down the wrong path, and while the current President has a heavy hand on the throttle, the course was set long before he entered politics.

If you seek madness, look for it in the President’s delusional State of the Union speech, or the people who indulge his belief that another three or four trillion piled onto a $14 trillion national debt will get us at least halfway to utopia. If you want to taste hatred, sample the venom directed at Sarah Palin, the only person currently capable of building a bridge between the energy of the Tea Party, and the established resources of the GOP. If you would like stupidity illustrated, witness the spectacle of the Democrats passing off their oily mass of backroom deals and political payoffs as a rational plan for improving health care.

The lack of a comprehensive solution doesn’t make criticism invalid. The point is that comprehensive solutions are inherently inadequate, compared to the creative power of free markets and private industry. Tea Party stalwarts are entirely rational in refusing to submit themselves as raw materials for the next big adventure in central planning. After several lifetimes of watching an increasingly huge federal government fail at almost everything it tries, while displaying increasingly less enthusiasm for the Constitutional duty of national defense that it actually excels at, the middle class demands the freedom and respect to get busy solving its own problems. They’re understandably tired of watching every story in the evening news twisted into another reason the government needs more money, every market fluctuation offered as proof the private sector has too much freedom, and every change in the weather presented as a omen their standard of living is a mortal wound to the Earth.

Donald Luskin of the Wall Street Journal worries that the Tea Party could veer into destructive populism. Others fear they’ll mutate into a third-party dead end that drains enough strength from the Republicans to ensure a continued plunge into the collectivist abyss. Both are real dangers – there are always predators hiding in the grass roots. I believe the Tea Party is not a populist revolt against Wall Street, but rather a firm indictment of centralized power in general. Big Business brings reduced costs and advanced products to consumers, and American prosperity would be impossible without the financial resources of major banks, from business loans to credit cards. However, when Big Business merges with Big Government, the result always ends up looking more like the latter. The temptation to purchase government power is great, and it has many aggressive salesmen. Risk-taking is an essential component of growth… but there is no such thing as subsidized risk, and no healthy gamble can be made by companies which have gained federal certification as Too Big To Fail.

The Tea Party movement is not simplistic. It’s a revolt against the simplistic, and painfully inaccurate, notion that spending bills solve problems, and legislation is the only real form of action. It’s a rising tide of indignation from people tired of being told they’re ineligible to participate in the national discussion because of their race, class, religious belief, radio listening habits, or choice of cable news network. The idea that tagging a huge movement as “all-white” would serve as a devastating insult is deeply insulting to Americans of every skin color.

The Tea Party movement is young, and it could make a lot of mistakes… but it’s amazing how much it’s accomplished so far, just by clearing its throat. It’s not surprising the Left is trying to dismiss them, instead of answering their questions… but they’ve come too far to be discarded as lunatics, hatemongers, or idiots. They’re not a blank screen where the Left can project its neuroses and obsessions. They reject the narrative of a fading nation that should do the best it can to make amends for centuries of sins before it dies. They have not yet begin to fight, and theirs is the energy of a revolutionary spirit that can’t wait to get back to building a future beyond the limited imagination of their detractors.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.