Why the Tea Party Movement doesn’t bother me

I don’t comment on US politics much here. In my first couple years out of undergrad, I worked for nonpartisan advocacy organizations trying to influence public policy in a decidedly partisan world. The dissonance grated on me and influenced my decision to change careers. I left the old career behind and have tried to focus on the new one. But this whole Tea Party Movement is just too fascinating not to discuss.

The Tea Partiers don’t bother me much. Of course I disagree with them, and then some. But I don’t spend too much time worrying about them. A recent twitter conversation* got me wondering why that is. I’ve realized that what bothers my liberal/progressive/Democratic friends is not simply the TP’s policy positions (such as they are). What bothers my friends most is how popular those ill-defined views seem to be. I don’t dispute the popularity and influence of Beck, Palin, et al. What I dispute is the interpretation of what that means for America and the world.

It means we’re winning.

That’s how I interpret the popularity of the Tea Party. TPers often refer to how the country is changing, how they don’t recognize it, or won’t recognize it when the fascist-islamo-socialist-liberals get through with it. And on that point, I basically agree with them.

Reactionary movements always rear their ugly heads at times of change. I see the Tea Party, birthers, opponents to Park51 and all the rest as proof that things are headed in the right direction. Same goes for the movement against gay marriage. They get their broadest base of support among the older generation that sees the country moving away from their views. The younger activists are more impassioned as they see themselves as a minority in their generation.

What would you do?

If you realized that values you find alien and abhorrent were getting widespread acceptance? If you saw fellow citizens taking on a more internationalist perspective and acknowledging a role for government in economic affairs? If your kids were learning about multiculturalism and embracing the multi-ethnic nature of the country?

And it all just made you sick. Would you quietly accept the fate of your moral views, relegated to the dustbin of history? Would you change your opinions, realizing that you were wrong after all?

Or would you find the others who felt the same as you and make some noise?

Frankly, I don’t blame them. If I were losing, I’d be angry too.


“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.


* The aforementioned twitter conversation was with @talesfromthhood, who compared the Tea Party to a movement in humanitarian aid circles to replace professional insiders with well-intentioned amateurs. I don’t think the analogy quite holds, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

On related notes: See also a recent Economist piece on how victory of TP candidates in Republican primaries has hurt their chances in November. And also: Jon Stewart has recently announced a Rally to Restore Sanity on October 30 in DC, and Stephen Colbert announced his March to Keep Fear Alive on the same day. I’m really, really tempted to attend.