Sept. 12, 2009. The Quincy Tea Party - Quincy, Ill. A singer-songwriter from Los Angeles donned a baseball cap and sunglasses. What little one could see of his face was obscured by four or five days of beard growth. He was completely out of his element, an outsider. He felt something he hadn't felt in a long time: He felt safe.
Thousands of hardworking patriots listened to Andrew Breitbart explain the dangers of being a conservative in the entertainment industry - the bias, the vitriol, the potential loss of work should the liberal power brokers of Hollywood discover one's conservatism.
It was Mr. Breitbart who introduced this singer-songwriter to the Tea Party - and the Tea Party to living proof that conservatives do exist in Hollywood.
This was the first time I performed at a Tea Party event.
I didn't use my real name, but I was hooked. I was hooked on a strain of patriotism I had not been privy to in Los Angeles but had always felt inside. Hooked on the beauty and power of the individual with a voice - and a collection of voices that actually could affect change, unified by the message of freedom. The Tea Party was bigger than any one individual, and its goals were bigger than anything I ever had dreamed I'd be part of.
But to believe in something under the cloak of anonymity seemed hypocritical and convenient, so eventually I used my real name, and I have performed at more than 30 Tea Party events, Sept. 12 rallies and conservative functions. I was, am and will continue to be a Tea Partyer, and that's a liberating declaration.
Here's another one: I support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the 2012 Republican nominee for president of the United States.
So why is this important? On the surface, it's not. It's a personal choice. I have one vote, and I'm giving it to the governor. For the purposes of this piece, the reasons are irrelevant.
What is more relevant is that as a Tea Partyer, I have been silent in my support of the governor until this point. Why? Why do I find myself again believing in something under that very same cloak of anonymity? The answer saddens me, and I believe it to be dangerous: It seems there is a pattern of intolerance emerging within the grass-roots movement that feels eerily similar to my experiences as a conservative in Hollywood.
It's very simple. If you're an artist in Hollywood, the assumption is that you're a liberal. And with that assumption, people speak freely and often viciously about the right. You're outnumbered. The volume is loud, and frankly, it's intimidating, which is why thousands of conservatives in Hollywood stay under the radar.
Now, within the grass-roots movement on the right, there is the concept of "anybody but Mitt Romney." And there is an assumption that if you're part of the movement, you subscribe to that concept. I know this because I have been in many circles recently in which I've felt outnumbered. The volume has been loud, and frankly, it's intimidating. I wonder how many folks in the grass roots actually believe Mr. Romney is our best chance for victory but remain silent because that's an unpopular stance.
More important, can we afford to silence one another at a moment in time when the very concept of America is in jeopardy?
I'm not objecting to anybody's personal choice but rather to how tightly the grass roots is holding on to a conservative ideology in its purest form.
I have great respect for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but is he pure? Herman Cain seemed to be. Was he? What about Rep. Ron Paul or Rep. Michele Bachmann? Texas Gov. Rick Perry? Former Sen. Rick Santorum? Are they pure? Who is defining the acceptable amount of conservative purity? At what price should we demand it?
Our potential nominee is being held to a standard that's unrealistic, not practical and could potentially lose us this election by not appealing to the moderate Democrats looking for a reason to abandon President Obama. Assumptions are dangerous, but the most dangerous assumption is that we can survive another four years of this administration by waiting for a candidate who passes the purity test or not supporting one because he may not meet every standard.
We can right this ship if we don't create an environment where we wrong one another. We need to win this election. We don't win by losing, even if we believe the loss is pure. Too much is at stake.
Again, I was, am and will continue to be a Tea Partyer, and if there's one thing I've learned from the Tea Party, it's that my voice matters, which is why I'm writing this piece. I hope my fellow members of the grass roots to whom I'm greatly indebted for changing my life will not judge me for this but rather work to create an environment that's inclusive and not divisive. I'm not asking everyone to vote for Mr. Romney. I'm just asking to turn the volume down so that others can speak. Isn't that freedom?
Jon David Kahn is a screenwriter, director and musician. His patriotic anthem "American Heart" has been described by Sarah Palin as "an amazing love song for America" (americanheartmusic.com).
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