On a daily basis anymore, and with ever more frequency as the elections approach, political discussion in every form of media is drifting toward one subject: What is it that is driving the renewed interest in politics? What, specifically, has brought Americans to their heightened state of political awareness, and how is that motivation going to play out in the coming elections? Is this specifically the Tea Party Movement, or is The Tea party Movement just one aspect of it?
Several explanations for the phenomenon have emerged, and where you started from in political outlook plays a large role in how you view the goings-on.
Democrats tended at first to view the Tea party Movement as manufactured by the Republicans, and those they viewed as the Republicans’ minions – Talk radio and Fox News. As it became increasingly obvious that the movement was growing, and was popularly based rather than manufactured, they fell back to viewing the movement as populist, but faddish…. something unlikely to last through a couple of years to the November 2010 elections. Denial still carried the day. As it became more obvious that the movement was, in fact grass-roots and not Astro-turf, the attempts by the left to vilify the movement increased in an attempt to get those considering joining the movement to reconsider. Because they truly did not understand the nature of the beast, that was exactly the wrong tactic, and it has continued to back-fire to this day. For every “Tea Bagger” we see, there are dozens who have not yet come out of the shadows, but truly feel what it is that actually is driving the movement, and though you don’t hear from them, when the votes are counted I believe folks will be staggered by the election results.
As the movement has continued to grow, and is giving every indication that it will do so at least until the elections, Democrats began putting hopes in the idea of the movement actually trying to form a third party, and in many instances, seemed to be doing what they could to promote that. They wanted to split the Republican vote.
Again, it shows only that they missed the point entirely. The vast majority of movement practitioners are not at all interested in forming a third party. Many Tea Partiers wish to remain Democrats, and most wish to remain Independent. Finally, as the Primaries and the previous special elections are showing, Democrats have settled into believing that it is primarily an anti-incumbency movement. In effect, it may be, but not in cause. More on that later.
Republicans, on the other hand, assumed from the beginning, that the TPM was first and foremost an anti-Democratic/ anti-leftist movement. It was natural to think so because the protests worked hand-in-hand with the Town Hall Meeting outbursts and were clearly and vocally dedicated to stopping the radical spending and political and social changes being crammed through by the now clearly leftist government. Because of this viewpoint, they generally assumed that the TPM was a natural ally, and that in the course of things it would morph into a large block of votes for Republicans everywhere.
It therefore came as something of a shock to them when the TPM came out in support of some non-Republican candidates, or chose to support Republican candidates who were not the incumbent, choosing rather to value what the candidates were touting, than just going for that ‘R’ after the name. In fact, by some polls, only about 23% of Tea Partiers claim to support the Republican Party. The term RINO (Republican In Name Only) has come into ever more and more popular use. A number of Republicans viewed this is indicating they needed to change their rhetoric to one far more to the right, while an equal number squealed that the Party needed to remain centrist to have a big enough tent to win in November, and this was touted by leftists as a rift in Republican politics that would divide the party to the Democrats’ benefit. The TPM, in fact, didn’t care. What the Republicans did within their party was, and remains, irrelevant to them. They felt if Republicans wanted their vote, then the Republican had to come to them. They were not going to the Republicans.
The TPM didn’t yield, and more and more Republicans began shifting to the right, or at least began saying they were. Only the TPM wasn’t fooled by those just shifting their rhetoric. When Mitch McConnell said he “Got the TPM message”, and then voted the next day for two million in earmarked pork for his home state to be added to a military appropriations bill, the TPM noticed, and has not forgotten and will not forget.
The next popular misconception about the TPM is that it is a movement primarily based in economics. A lot of analyzers feel it is mostly just about a desire to cut spending and to lower taxes. It is this view that caused Bill Maher and President Obama to make jokes about the TPM protesting taxes when they were among the lowest they have historically been for the majority of people. And while cutting spending, and not raising taxes are clearly TPM issues, they are still NOT the primary motivation of TPM adherents nor its sympathizers.
This misunderstanding of the TPM is also what is driving many in the Republican Party to the right, because they understand the “conservative view” to be based in smaller government, less spending, and lower taxes, and many are starting to see conservatism as the key motivating factor with the Tea Party element. They now feel that in moving to the right, they will draw TPM favor. In this they are probably right, but not because conservatism is actually the TPM’s central motivation. As stated in the title, conservatism is actually the Tea Party Movement’s fall-back position; the one most Tea Partiers will accept, because they ultimately won’t feel they can get what they really want.
Lastly, there is a large belief about that folks just want change. They just want something different from what they are getting (and many thought that was what Obama was promising, and were then chagrined to find out that the change he meant without stating it was a hard shift to the far left). Like anti-incumbency and conservatism, there are elements of a desire for change that apply, but also like those other two motivators, change is more an aspect or a face of the true motivation than the motivation itself.
So if the TPM, and its silent supporters is not primarily about conservatism, and not primarily about anti-incumbency, and not primarily about change per se, what then is the driving force behind it? Once you understand it, it becomes instantly clear why there is no chance of the movement evaporating or doing anything but growing, and it is simplicity itself.
The Tea party Movement is about freedom, first and foremost, and it is expressed in the frustration felt when citizens begin to feel that they are losing say in how their lives are to be lived. They feel they are losing say because their politicians don’t respond to them, don’t listen to them, cram unwanted debt and legislation down their throats, respond to genuine concerns with form letters, vote contrary to what their constituencies want, and support policies that undermine traditional American values and educate their children to despise what has made American Exceptionalism a viable contribution to human development.
They see their representatives as being out only for their own aggrandizement, wealth, and popularity and not responsive to the public at all. They see leftist policies being forced on them despite resistance. They see their children being taught things that are contrary to traditional American values. They see massive scams like Cap and Trade being perpetrated, know inherently that it is a scam, and feel helpless to do anything about it. They see ever-increasing loss of personal freedom looming with each passage of each new government enlarging bill, and are coming to grips with the encroachment of soft tyranny. They are tired of the continual abuses of power, rip-offs, corruption, vote-buying, vote-selling, and concern with everything other than what the politicians are supposed to be in office to do.
The vote that is coming this November, and now in the primaries, and in the special elections, is not just about anti-incumbency, nor is it just about a re-awakening of conservatism, nor is it just about change per se. The heart and soul of the Tea Party Movement is about personal freedom and how it is perceived by TPM adherents to be threatened.
That aspect of TPM supporters would be amply demonstrated if at the top of this November’s ballot was a third option to either the Democrats or the Republicans. That option would not be a third viable party. That option would be to automatically vote out every single running incumbent without exception with one stroke of the pen. If that were a viable option, instead of being forced to acknowledge that you had better vote for the lesser of two evils in each case and in each election because your opponent will do that, we would have this government removed in one fell swoop, and those coming in would indeed be responsive to the voters. A message would have been clearly delivered, with no ambiguity.
The reason that vote would carry is not because of anti-incumbency, but because of the heartfelt need to deliver a message; that we’re not going to put up with your bullsh*t anymore, whatever your party. We want the system restored. We want our country back.
Unfortunately, it’s not an option. Some of the people in Congress (though damned few) actually are responsive to their constituents’ cries. So people will, of course, support those folks (as they should) and the old practice of trying to choose the lesser of two evils will once again prevail. Because of that, conservatism is the fall-back option for anyone wanting to be elected, and Tea Party Movement members that think you are telling the truth about wanting to support conservative ideals will, for the most part, condescend to giving you their votes.