You can barely turn on the television or read a newspaper in the year 2010 without hearing something about the Tea Party. Word on the street is that it’s a group that’s against big government, higher taxes and swelling national debt. A little more listening will get you that the group is predominantly white and middle aged. But other than that, most average citizens don’t know what the Tea Party is except that they look like some form of hardcore Republican conservative branch. To the untrained eye at least. If you back up and take a look at the big picture you’ll see that the Tea Party is actually something quite different.
According the The Telegraph, the Tea Party movement (which stands for Taxed Enough Already) began officially in February 2009 as a series of protests aimed at opposing President Obama’s attempts to stimulate the economy and bail out Wall Street. These protests, called Tea Party protests because of the evocative imagery about the founding fathers’ hatred of taxation without representation, succeeded so well that a political movement grew out of them. Not a political party mind you, but a political movement which is something else entirely.
The Tea Party is sort of like the Viet Cong… just looking at them among the throngs of similarly minded conservatives, the regular village people, won’t reveal them. As a movement the Tea Party is not a political party that’s seeking office, but it’s more like a philosophy and particular set of ideals and desires that draws people who are of a conservative and Republican bent. But in order to identify a “member” of the Tea Party you really have to ask them whether or not they identify themselves as part of the group.
Tea Party ideals are actually pretty simple. Tea Party followers believe in small government, fiscal responsibility and in lower taxes. The group tends to support the second amendment, often by bearing arms at meetings and protests. The group tends to be roughly 75% white, according to USA Today, though there are some blacks and Hispanics that also identify themselves as Tea Party members. The group is vehemently against most of the plans put forth by President Obama, including national Healthcare reform and social security cuts. The group is also easily identified by how firmly half empty the glass is, and they have a great deal more anxiety which marks the group’s tone as similar to many politicians during the Red Scares the country has had in the past. However while this sounds like something that almost any conservative could get behind, particularly hard liners, there’s also been some controversy in the short history of the Tea Party movement.
Due to the racial makeup of the group, and to occasions where the group has been seen with racist or prejudiced slogans, there’s an overtone of racism to the group’s protests against President Obama says USA Today. Further, the Tea Party has been heavily vocal in conspiracies such as the widely circulated rumors that President Obama was not born in the United States and therefore shouldn’t be president. There have also been some minor scandals involving militia groups, or those who have spoken of armed rebellion against the government as was done during the American Revolution, but by and large the Tea Party has tried to distance itself from anything involving racism, violence or other extremely negative grounds.
So in a nutshell, the Tea Party isn’t anything that America hasn’t seen before… but it is a new form for many ideas that have been present since the founding of the country. Additionally the movement’s power, which is able to transcend boundaries and blanket many conservative groups simultaneously, has already been felt during the 2010 midterm elections. Where the movement goes from this point however is for history to record.
“What is the Tea Party? A Growing State of Mind,” by Susan Page and Naomi Jagoda at USA Today
“What is the Tea Party?” by Alex Spillius at The Telegraph
“What is the ‘Tea Party’ and How is it Shaking Up American Politics?” by Brad Knickerbocker at Christian Science Monitor