GIVE US LIBERTY: A TEA PARTY MANIFESTO
By Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe
William Morrow, $19.99, 265 pages
The Tea Party movement was christened officially on Feb. 19, 2009, when Rick Santelli, reporting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for CNBC, after listening to a commentary on housing bailouts, broke into what Dick Armey, former House Republican majority leader and chairman of FreedomWorks, and Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks' president and chief executive, call "the rant heard 'round the world."
" 'The government is promoting bad behavior!' " Mr. Santelli shouted. " 'This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbors' mortgages that have an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise your hands! President Obama, are you listening? ... It's time for another Tea Party.' "
As Mr. Santelli spoke, traders gathered around him, breaking into cheers. The producers' prompts were drowned out, creating what the authors call "an indelible TV moment." As Mr. Santelli's rant went viral, they write, "The frustration that had been building, and which had begun to turn into street action, now had a name. The Tea Party was ready for the national stage."
The political establishment reacted with predictable fury. Homeland Security reportedly put some of those associated with the movement on a watch list of potential "domestic terrorists"; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed it as "Astroturf" (for those of us lacking her nuanced California wit, the speaker was satirizing the "grass-roots" designation); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, predictably, charged Tea Party members with racism.
This latter charge, always amplified by the major media, may finally be losing some of its potency. The authors quote Deneen Borelli, a popular black speaker on the Tea Party circuit: "It's easier for the left to play the race card than address the public's legitimate concerns, but what the left and the media are doing is damaging and dangerous. It's damaging because when everything is racist, nothing is."
In part to dispel misconceptions, Mr. Armey and Mr. Kibbe examine the roots of the movement and the rise of what they call a new breed of citizen-activists. We've seen similar protests in recent decades - Richard Nixon's silent majority, Ross Perot's rebels, Pat Buchanan's pitchfork brigades.
However, "Unlike past political uprisings against a political establishment gone amuck, this is a revolt from the bottom up. It is built on a coherent, unifying set of values - values that go back to the revolutionary traditions of our founding as a nation ... it is built around traditions of respect and humility and hard work."
The authors introduce key players - working men and women who took the first steps, carrying protest signs and setting up meetings; candidates who won unlikely victories (and continue to do so); and the Tea Party members who made the 2009 taxpayer march on Washington one of the largest political protests ever staged there.
Mr. Armey and Mr. Kibbe explain in some detail how citizens can join the movement and lay out a plan for its future. Tea Party members, "beholden to no corporation, no union, no patronizing politician ... are the future of American grassroots activism." To turn the Tea Party "ethos into public policy ... we need to take over the Republican Party. By seizing control of the party, we can spend our time focused on ideas and use the party infrastructure that has been built over the past 156 years."
Ambitious plans indeed, but drawn up by two competent architects. Matt Kibbe, a highly respected economist with significant administrative experience, has written extensively on economics, public policy and politics. Dick Armey was the chief author of the Contract With America, which in 1994, as historian Lee Edwards put it, "was the tip of a great conservative iceberg that tore into the seemingly permanent Democratic majority in Congress and sank it faster than the Titanic."
Despite global warming, that iceberg apparently hasn't melted. According to Mr. Armey and Mr. Kibbe, it may well be breaking the surface again, this time flying the colors of the Tea Party.
John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of "Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement" (Wiley, 2007).
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