Monday, September 6, 2010

Tea Party Thoughts

The "Tea Party" movement has worried and even alarmed regulars in both political parties as well as the national media establishment!

Many "talking heads" say they cannot understand it. Perhaps they are purposely misinterpreting it?

One thing for sure - The Tea Party is a force beyond their control!

Some "talking heads" claim it is an insignificant dust up that will soon pass. Others that it is the well-financed effort of some secret forces to seize control of the American political process.

Reactions range from making fun of the name (using the sexually-loaded teabagger epithet); accusing members of being racist, gun-totting, homophobic ignoramuses; to alarmist calls to block a right-wing revolution funded by the Republican Party or, more ominously, by Rupert Murdock or some secret Texas billionaires!

The base illustration above is an engraving by W. D. Cooper that appeared in a 1789 book. I have added the annotations listing the stated purpose of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, No Taxation Without Representation, as well as the general principles subscribed to by the many Tea Party groups in 2010, Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.


I have not attended any Tea Party events nor have I contributed any money or joined any of their national or local groups. However, like some 28% of the American public, I generally support the basic goals of the movement. According to an April 2010 Gallup/USA Today poll report, about an equal number (26%) oppose, and the remainder neither support nor oppose or have no opinion. Gallup concludes that "Tea Partiers Are Fairly Mainstream in Their Demographics, Skew right politically, but have typical profile by age, education, and employment."

Indeed, while 40% of the public call themselves "Independent", a slightly higher percentage of Independents (43%) support the Tea Party. Democrats, 32% of the public, comprise only 8% of Tea Party supporters, while Republicans, 28% of the public, comprise 49% of Tea Party supporters. Male supporters outnumber females by 10% (55% to 45%). Supporters tend to have somewhat higher incomes than the general public. 79% are non-Hispanic white, compared to 75% of the general population in that category, which means that some 21% of Tea Party supporters are Hispanic, Black, or "Other" which is only 4% less than the general public in those categories.

Tea Party supporters differ from the public on the "Healthcare Reform Bill". While the public thinks the Healthcare Reform Bill is a "bad thing" by a 50:47 margin, Tea Party supporters reject it by a much larger 87:12 margin.


There are literally thousands of local Tea Party groups with no clear national leadership. They all agree on three key tenets: Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. They may differ on other issues and even support different candidates in primaries. The National Tea Party Federation (NTPF) has attempted to bring some order, even expelling one group, the Tea Party Express, when a member of its leadership team posted a racially-insensitive satire on his personal website and the Express failed to disown him.

IMHO, it is critically important that the local Tea Party groups blunt criticism by the national media that they are racist by firmly rejecting any member or group that strays into that non-productive arena. The NTPF will not accept local groups that cater to "birthers" or "truthers".

The problem is that any person can show up at a Tea Party event with a racist sign or shout awful words and, if the event is at a public place, there is little they can do about it. There are anti-Tea Party people who collect disgusting photos (that may or may not have been taken at actual Tea Party events, and, even if taken at these events may not be actual members of the Tea Party) .

For example, the third photo (President Obama with a Hitler mustache) in the linked collection has a clear "" label at the bottom (see image above). As you may know, Lyndon LaRouch is a political troublemaker and crackpot who was jailed from 1988-1994. Not only that, but he has run for political office seven times for the Democratic Party nomination (not that he is a mainstream guy in any established party)!

Some of the signs in the collection have typographical errors which, to me, shows that they were hand-written by ordinary Americans and not mass-produced by some political consultant. Others are merely distasteful.

Nevertheless, given the bias of much of the national media against the Tea Party, I think members and participants should take special care to avoid any signs or words or comments to the media that could be used to cast a bad light on the movement. I know the opponents of the Tea Party have used words and signs that are far worse, with barely any notice by the press, but that is just the way it is and we have to live with and make the best of it.


Some are worried that the Tea Party might try to become a separate political party. Indeed, just this week, the Michigan Supreme Court barred a "Tea Party" organization that tried to field a slate of 23 candidates for the November ballot. "Activists in the tea party movement who believed the Tea Party political party was a fraud by some Democrats to dilute the influence of conservative voters in this fall's election were relieved by the ruling."

I think it will be better if the Tea Party remains a grassroots organization with somewhat dispersed leadership. I hope they confine themselves to rousing the conservative base to go to the polls in primaries to support candidates of both political parties who support their basic tenets Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.

In some jurisdictions, the only candidates who have a chance to be elected are moderate Republicans. The Tea Partiers should support electable candidates over more right-wing people who cannot win. For example, former HP Exec Carly Fiorina won her bid for the Republican Senate nomination from California with support from Tea Party advocate and former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. She defeated a more rightwing candidate who was supported by one of the Tea Party groups. In Democrat-dominated jurisdictions, I would like to see the Tea Party support the most moderate Democrat. Of course, since I am not a member of any Tea Party organization, these are merely helpful suggestions!

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

Hi Ira. I agree with your assessment for the most part. A fascinating thing about the Tea Party groups is the lack of national organization. I've been to several rallies of the Tea Party Express and found them to be rational people who carry witty placards. The local tea Party group in Lady Lake is so intent on being perceived as rational that its policy is not to support any candidate. It simply offers a platform to those who wish to speak. I find them rather boring. I think I'm not the only one. Their membership seems stable at about 70 people. They're not the same every week, although there is of course a faithful core. Others stop in, but don't find what they're seeking.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks for your observations, Joel. I look forward to your return to The Villages where it seems you have agreed to give a talk on this subject near the end of October.

It would be great if you would share your preparations for this talk in the form of comments in this Topic thread or in a new Topic thread, or both.

If any other visitors to this Blog have personal experiences with the various Tea Party groups, or impressions (positive or negative) based on what you may have read or seen on TV, I would appreciate it if you would share them with us!

The Tea Party has had an effect on the recent, and ongoing, Republican primaries. Sometimes Tea Party support has supplied the margin of victory for their chosen candidates, and sometimes not.

Any speculations on the possile strategy and contribution the Tea Party may have on the general election? For example, should they consider supporting the Democratic Party candidate if he or she is closer to Tea Party tenets than the Republican?

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

Every Wed. I meet with a group of academics at the college (SUNY, Plattsburgh) where we discuss ethical issues based on current events. When we broke for summer the moderator suggested that we invite the local Tea Party Leader to our group for the purpose of engaging in a rational, respectful discourse between (mostly) liberal academics and the (entirely) conservative TP. This seemed like an excellent idea and in fact it is also the motto of this blog.

But I got an interesting response from a conservative colleague when I asked him his opinion of the proposed meeting. He said he did not think it was a good idea. But why not? says I. Well, says he, we are academics and are only interested in the truths that can be reached via rational discussion right? Right, I agreed. On the other hand, the TP guy is a Politician and the only thing politicians wish to achieve is Power. So, even tho' the discussion might be polite and respectful, no amount of reasonable discourse is going to change the Politician's mind or his actions.

My own take on this is that even academics are not immune from the power game, but my colleague's insight has the feel of rightness about it. What do you think?

Ira Glickstein said...

I do NOT think your "...colleague's insight has the feel of rightness about it."

He assumes the Tea Party Leader is a politician whose only wish is to achieve Power. Well, that may be true, but it is more likely the Tea Party Leader is an extraordinary American, with a responsible job or business and a loving family and that his goal is to make America in general, and his family in particular, more happy and healthy and successful. He may be no more interested in personal political power or office than you or me or anyone else.

As for academics being "... only interested in the truths that can be reached via rational discussion ..." that is certainly idealistic! In my experience, adademics were more interested in gaining tenure (by kissing ass and kicking butt in the most clever and beneficial way) and getting grants (by sensing which way the wind was blowing and pointing their research in that direction).

So, did your (mostly) liberal colleagues over-ride your conservative colleague's objections and have that Tea Party meeting? Please let us know what happened!

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

No this comment was in private after the meeting so we're still on for a meeting with the TP guy and my assessment was that every Liberal at this meeting thought it was an excellent idea. In fact these Liberals still have faith in power of rational discourse --- it was the conservative who was being cynical in this case.

Also pls understand that my conservative friend's criticism was not leveled against these fine upstanding patriotic and unselfish TPs but against politicians in general that he has such a low opinion of.

Of course, I agree that academics and politicians are mere humans subject to all of the noble and mean aspirations that humans are capable of but to the extent that the professions of policeman and politician tend to attract those drawn to power and that academics and other intellectuals are drawn to the search for truth and justice, I believe there is some truth here.

joel said...

There are three"tea parties" we might talk about. One is the original and refers to a single event. The second is a movement that started in 2009 with the mailing of tea bags to US congressmen. The third is a legal political party of Libertarian members and disaffected Republicans united behind Ron Paul. They all have some ideals in common and others not.

The political Party has the most specific philosophy, since it is founded on Ron Paul's platform for the Maine Republican Party. Here is their resolution. We can discuss the others later. What they all have in common is an "I'm fed up and I'm not going to take it anymore" attitude. For more see

Our Mission

Maine Republicans are united in our guiding principles. Our strength lies in knowing that Republican ideals will maintain our country as the strongest nation on Earth. Our tenets include respect for the U.S. constitution, personal responsibility and accountability, peace and prosperity through strength, and limiting federal and state government power to only those functions they can administer better than the private sector can.

Republicans believe in less government, lower taxes and a responsible fiscal policy that is able to protect our neediest citizens, maintain the Maine quality of life and balances jobs and the economic growth with responsible environmental practices.

The mission of the Maine Republican Party is to help Republican candidates win elected office from the school board to the White House to ensure that our children and their children continue to live in a state and a nation of opportunity.
Platform of the Maine Republican Party

Adopted by the Maine Republican State Convention on May 8, 2010

1. The Constitutions, both State and Federal, are the framework to which any and all legislation must adhere.
2. State sovereignty must be regained and retained on all issues specifically relegated to the States by the constitution.
3. National sovereignty shall be preserved and retained as dominant over any attempted unconstitutional usurpations of such by international treaty.
4. It is the responsibility and duty, of “We the People”, to educate both ourselves and others; to demand honest elections free of corruption, and to hold our elected officials to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and loyalty to the constitution.

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, you have confused me!

You say "There are three 'tea parties' we might talk about."

You identify the first as the original one in 1773 Boston. OK.

You identify the second as the one that started with tea bags being sent to congressmen in 2009. OK. That was the origin of the modern "Tea Party" movement, consisting of many grass-roots groups and associated with people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, the Nationl Tea Party Federation, etc.

Your third group is "a legal political party of Libertarian members and disaffected Republicans united behind Ron Paul." OK, Ron Paul is a Republican Congressman from Texas with (IMHO) radical isolationist and ultra-limited government ideas. I followed your link to the website of a group that calls itself "The Boston Tea Party" that does favor isolationist policies (withdraw troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and all foreign bases), and abolishing drug laws (not just on marijuana but all drugs), as well as ending the CIA, NSA, immigration and customs, and so on. None of these crazy policies have the support of any of the Tea Party groups I have eard of.

You then, quite unexplicably to me, jump to the mission statement for the Maine Republican Party, which I found at It is a pretty mainstream statement about constitutional government and fiscal responsibility that has almost nothing in common with the Ron Paul group, and almost everything in common with the Tea Party groups I am familiar with.

Why do you mix the Maine Republican Party statement with the Ron Paul group?

Please help me understand.


Ira Glickstein

Mark Brinton said...

Hi Ira. I agree with your post. From my admittedly conservative perspective, I find nothing noteworthy or (mostly) objectionable about the political or economic ideas that animate the tea party movement. I think what is noteworthy - and you have touched on this - is that so many erstwhile conventionally-minded people have chosen to express their politics in more vocal ways, taking a page from their brothers and sisters on the left; so, if their reaction is ill-tempered and untoward - and I don't think it is - then they are finally meeting (rising or lowering, take your pick) the standards that have been operative on the left for, oh, decades.

joel said...

I think that some of the confusion arises because the grassroots nature of the tea party movement and its diversity. There is no trade mark on the name so anyone who cares to can start a club or other organization with "tea party" in the name. There are also those who don't want the movement to be grassroots and so attribute it to an "astroturf" movement started by political professionals or insiders. They purposely try to confound the public. An example can be found if you compare conservative Michele Malkin's timeline for the establishment of the movement

with that of progressive or liberal writer Jane Hamsher.

Hamsher dials back the use of the expression "tea party" to Ron Paul to make it appear that Malkin's time line is incorrect and that the movement is not grassroots.

It doesn't help to clarify the situation that Ron Paul has used the name tea party in connection with fund raising and that he has been both a libertarian party candidate and a republican congressman with libertarian roots.

It's probably important to note that the O'Donnell primary victory in the Delaware flies in the face of Dick Armey and other conservative establishment attempts to take over the tea party movement.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Joel for the links and clarification. Here is my summary:

1) It is clear that Ron Paul supporters were first to use the term when, in December 2007, they re-enacted the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. As you say, "There is no trade mark on the name so anyone who cares to can start a club or other organization with 'tea party' in the name."

2) However, what is generally called the "Tea Party Movement" today started in Feb 2009 as a tax protest and did not get associated specifically with TEA until the CNBC Rick Santelli rant of Feb 19, 2009. A few days later, various organizers started using the "Tea Party" name for protests against the stimulus package.

The Tea Party movement has since bossomed into many separate and only loosely-associated local and national groups that are using the "Tea Party" name and have generally united on the tenets of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. Most of these groups do NOT support Ron Paul's
radical isolationist and ultra-limited government stance.

While there is no specific national leader, most Tea Party groups seem to respect Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and others who have spoken to large gatherings of similar-minded people.

Yes, Christine O'Donnell's victory in the Republican Senatorial primary in Delaware has divided Tea Party people. Palin supported her while other Tea Party figures like Dick Armey (FreedomWorks) favored her more moderate opponent. Competition between various Tea Party groups is confusing, but is healthy in the long run. It proves the Tea Party is not being run by some secret group of billionaires but is a real "grass-roots" operation.

Of course, I am worried when someone like O'Donnell, who comes with some heavy baggage, upsets a candidate who, objectively, has a far better resume. It is now a long shot that Delaware will elect a Republican senator. On the other hand, if she wins, it will be a real kick in the pants for those in the GOP establishment who may need it.

Ira Glickstein

JohnS said...

This may be a little off the subject but I find it interesting to watch the Washington insiders squirm when a non insider, a tea party candidate, such as Christine O’Donnell of Delaware defeats the establishment’s candidate. Just observe Karl Rove’s frantic denunciation of her. The tea party movement has the both parties running scared. It is a threat to their dynasty. JohnS

Ira Glickstein said...

JohnS, great to see you back here and commenting.

Granted, the Tea Party movement is a threat to the GOP establishment, particularly those in liberal and moderate states who get elected by stradling and obscuring the line between liberal and conservative.

Even with the general shift to the right by voters, my fellow Republicans should accept as a fact of life that we will never have a majority unless we keep a "big tent" that admits moderates running for office in jurisdictions where a far-right candidate cannot win.

As for what you call "Karl Rove’s frantic denunciation [of Christine O'Donnell]" I think that is a bit of an overstatement. We should not cavalierly dismiss Rove and other GOP political experts. Joe Miller, who beat the establishment candidate in Alaska with Sarah Palin's help has a solid resume: BS, West Point; JD, Yale; MS, U. Alaska; and served as Magistrate Judge. O'Donnell,who also won with Palin support, has a BA and never held a solid job, elected or otherwise, and has flakey finances and opinions. She is likely to lose in the general election to a Democrat who is also a bit flakey. Rove's point is that, had Mike Castle, a more moderate Republican but with a solid resume, won, the GOP would have won that seat and with it possibly control of the Senate.

Let us not "cut off our nose to spite our face"!

Ira Glickstein

JohnS said...

My aim and glee was broader than that. It was aimed at the Washington establishment as a whole and in particular our elected representatives. I believe the tea party movement is inclusive, Democrats, Republicans, Moderates and others. Simply put, its concern is with a Presidency, Senate and House that refuses to listen to the people. Not only the current Presidency but also with the previous Presidency and his legislature.
I resent the Washington establishment’s attitude as expressed by Karl Rove, that they know better that we the people. He can’t accept that the people of Delaware could choose a Republican who was not endorsed by the Republican establishment. I fully understand why our founders established a representative form of government. However, when our representatives no longer represent us, we may be forced to choose non establishment representatives, even though they may be lesser qualified, who will represent us not the party. We may wound ourselves in the process but wounds heal. On the other hand the current direction of the Washington establishment may lead to the death of the form of government established by our founders.
Does the following quip make my point?
Let me get this straight. We're going to be "gifted" with a health care plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don't, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn't understand it, passed by a Congress that hasn't read it but exempts themselves from it, to be signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese, and financed by a country that's broke.

joel said...

I like your quip, John. Nice to hear from you again. -Joel

joel said...

Researching the tea party movement I came across a reference between its lack of organization or multiplicity of organization and the starfish. Following that up, I found what might be a very interesting book, The Starfish and the Spider. Here's a reference to Amazon that tells something about it.

I might get the book and see if I can work its philosophy of non-hierarchical grouping into my talk.