The Tea Party is essentially more of a libertarian movement than a conservative movement, but their message – schizophrenic to begin with – has become even more muddled as they gain influence and popularity. The one overriding theme has been the economy. They are concerned about unemployment and big government. The American public is bored with Iraq and Afghanistan, so traditional libertarian anti-interventionism hasn’t made it on to the Tea Party agenda.
It has always been more about perception than reality
One could also argue that the message is muddled because the Tea Party has been co-opted by the Republican establishment. That is probably true, but does it matter? The Tea Party has always been more about perception than reality. Voters believe, whether its true or not, that the Tea Party is funded and run by grass roots conservatives and not the despised political elite. The fact is, however, that Joe the Plumber and his buddies do not have the money or the standing to push their way into the clubhouse where the real Republican heavyweights play. For the moment, the GOP is happy to let the Tea Partiers do all the hard work on the campaign trail. But I wouldn’t expect to see Tea Party representatives munching caviar in Martha’s Vineyard anytime soon. The GOP treats the Tea Party a lot like plantation owners treated their slaves – good enough to work the fields, but for God’s sake don’t let them sit at the table. Where Sarah Palin factors in to all this is also a good question. The GOP can’t stand her, and she is too much of a neocon to accurately represent the ragtag group of libertarians that the Tea Party started out as. But, the media has decided that Sarah Palin is the Tea Party, so I guess that means the Tea Party is now neocon and not libertarian.
The hate rhetoric is not exclusively conservative
No matter what their political leanings, the MSM would have us believe that the Tea Party is a hotbed of extremism, breeding crazy right-wing loonies ready to take Washington back by force. Granted, most extremists are conservative of one brand or another. In America, this is largely due to the fact that the Democrats don’t know how to fire a weapon or build a bomb, and it is easier to be a violent extremist if you have access to guns and explosives. The MSM is currently desperately trying to blame the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson on the Tea Party and extreme conservative political rhetoric. That’s not going to work, for two reasons: first of all, Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, was not even remotely interested in the Tea Party, Sarah Palin or the GOP. Secondly, if I may kindly remind you dear reader, the Democrats were out there waving posters of Bush in an SS uniform while Sarah Palin was still in High School. Who knows who started the hate rhetoric, but it definitely is not exclusively conservative.
As for their influence, the Tea Party is more of an extension of the GOP than a true third force. Though supporters include Democrats and Independent, they’re mostly disillusioned Republicans looking for something to distract from the perceived horrors of the Bush era. Not that the Tea Party offers any sort of viable alternative. But their candidates are not your usual breed of politician, and as far as the voters are concerned, that is a good thing.
We saw what a decisive role the Tea Party played in the midterm elections. And if enough Tea Party candidates continue to make the move to Capitol Hill, some of their dreams might actually come true. Either way, I believe the movement is more than just a flash in the pan. We’re all going to be drinking a hell of a lot more tea in the years to come.
Read more in this debate: Mark Edward Noonan.