Over the past few weeks I admit I have reached a certain level of “Tea Party” fatigue. Newspapers, television, magazines, and the Internet seem to be fascinated with the actions of the Tea Party faithful.
The actual power and relevance of the Tea Party is open for debate, but for the moment I’m going to give the Tea Party the benefit of the doubt. I will take the members at their word that they are part of a massive grassroots movement. I will accept their claim that the vast majority of Tea Partiers are not racists, and are not advocating violent overthrow of the government.
If these are indeed the facts, then the Tea Party has another issue to deal with:
How do they continue to grow in numbers and in political influence without allowing themselves to be defined by the images of hatred, racism, and intolerance that have been evident at many rallies?
In effort to help, I am offering this list if unsolicited advice: The Top 10 Tea Party Steps to Credibility. Each and every one of these steps should be considered vital to the foundation of ANY American political movement.
Please read and discuss:
1. Reject ANY and ALL racist, homophobic, or misogynistic signs, slogans, chants, etc.
No legitimate public movement in America can tolerate the proliferation of hate. I hope the Tea Partiers who claim that race has nothing to do with the movement will stop and look around them. If you are at a rally, and someone shows up with a racist sign or shouts out homophobic slurs, you have an obligation to condemn that act. If you don’t, that act will define your movement.
Right now the Tea Party is starting to look like a place where bigots can come out of the closet (where they should stay) and can feel accepted. If that continues, the Tea Party is doomed.
2. To steal a line from Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: When you hold your rallies… have a point. It makes it so much more enjoyable for the listeners!
You can’t build a political movement of any substance around bumper stickers, but too often when I listen to Tea Party speeches I hear nothing but slogans:
- Freedom from tyranny – Seriously, do you know anyone who is “pro-tyranny?"
- Constitutionally Limited Government – That’s what America is. And it’s what some of your members seem to want to overthrow.
- Fiscal responsibility – How do you want to achieve this? Aren’t taxes an important part of this? And where were you for the previous eight years?
The time has come for the Tea Party to start standing for something, instead of simply lashing out against things.
3. Stop shouting.
There is no correlation between volume and credibility. In fact, sometimes shouting makes you seem less credible. This doesn’t mean you have to be subdued. You can be outraged about the actions of the government without screaming at people. Trust me. I did it for eight years.
4. To steal a line from “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”… find a leader who has the capacity for abstract thought.You need to seriously think about who you are letting represent you:
- Sarah Palin – When someone can write their talking points on their hand with room to spare, that’s probably not the person you want as your leader.
- Glen Beck – Writing nonsense on a chalkboard doesn’t make you an educator.
- Hannity? O’Reilly? Rush? A movement isn’t based on self-promoters. It should be based on promoting core values and beliefs.
- And you NEED to stop allowing Victoria Jackson and Stephen Baldwin anywhere near your rallies.
5. If you aren’t trying to incite violence stop using violent rhetoric.
Stop talking about overthrowing the government. Stop carrying signs that threaten Obama, Reed and Pelosi. We live in a democracy. Start talking about voting, educating, or, God forbid, community organizing!
When you say a “revolution is brewing”… when you equate Obama to Hitler… or when one of your leaders uses crosshairs on a map to call out lawmakers who voted for the health care bill… you are walking a dangerous path. The last thing a real political movement needs is to incite acts of violence. That’s when you become terrorists.
6. Leave the guns at home.
See step number five.
I understand that many people view the Second Amendment as providing an inalienable right to carry a handgun or a semi-automatic weapon around with them in public. But just because something is legal, do you have to do it?
If the Tea Party wants to unify around the right to bear arms, then that’s one thing. But if the aspiration is to become a political force for change, flaunting your guns will only undermine your efforts.
7. Study history.
The Boston Tea Party was a protest against taxation without representation. The protesters fought for the very system of representative government that the current Tea Party is protesting against.
This is just one example of how a movement needs to know history. Other topics that seem to warrant at least a Cliffs Notes understanding:
- The Budget Deficit (see: the G.W. Bush years)
8. Fact Check
Any time you carry a sign that says, “Keep government away from my Medicare!” you lose credibility.
Similarly, before you start talking about how much your taxes have gone up under President Obama, you should check your return. Either your taxes have gone down (for 95 percent of households) OR you came out of the Great Recession in pretty good shape income-wise. This doesn’t mean you can’t complain about taxes or spending… just try to do it over a foundation of truth.
9. Do NOT embrace the Confederate Flag as a symbol of your movement.
See steps 1 and 5. I know many people view the Confederate Flag as an important cultural symbol. The problem is, many of those people are racists.
10. Stop and think about what “Patriotism” means.
When you say you love America, is it the land mass that is defined by our borders that you love? Or is it the system of government, the checks and balances, the freedoms, and the ability to peacefully transfer power through elections that you love?
Advocating violent overthrow of our government isn’t patriotism. It’s terrorism at best, and could rise to treason. If you want to support the Constitution and the vision of our Founding Fathers, you can’t condemn the very system they set up.
I am not one to criticize the Tea Party for existing. I applaud political action whether or not I agree with a group’s point of view. I do, however, think the Tea Party is getting a free ride right now for some actions that should not be tolerated in American political discourse. And I believe eventually the Tea Party’s long-term prospects are grim if they don’t take steps now to curb some of the more troubling aspects of the “movement.”
Please weigh in on this discussion… I look forward to your thoughts. But please, no shouting.