One cannot mention CPAC 2011 (Conservative Political Action Conference) without invoking the Tea Party. The Tea Party's energy, enthusiasm and political stamina permeated CPAC 2011. Speakers at CPAC were not in Washington to rouse a crowd but to harness the Tea Party's power. In fact, speakers like Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul and Michele Bachmann were at most conductors motioning to a seasoned orchestra ready to play. And the driving force of that orchestra, indeed the source of its power is unquestioningly the Tea Party.
In less than two years, the Tea Party has become the most significant political movement in modern American history. Why? And who are the people shaking up the political world? And where is the movement really headed?
To paraphrase famed Clinton adviser James Carville, "It's a nationalist movement, stupid!"
The Tea Party is not a creature of the Koch brothers, nor is it the property of the status quo Republican Party. It's not a product of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck or Dick Armey.
If it's anything, it's an explosive eruption of American national consciousness; an eruption that points to the enormous cultural gap between the American people and their governing institutions in Washington. More importantly, the gap reflects the divide within American society regarding the role and functionality of government. It is a political divide between conservatism and liberalism. And it's the conflict between Washington's notion of a "multicultural, progressive America" and America's fundamental national identity.
Until now, the Tea Party movement focused on fiscal issues, but that is changing as the Tea Party's members discover just how hard it is to scale back government spending. What started as a rejection of Washington's bank bailouts and socialized health care is now an open debate in every CPAC forum about the structure of American government.
What the Tea Party is also discovering is that one election cycle won't change the Washington power structure. In fact, until the Tea Party transforms itself into a coherent national force, it has little hope of replacing the current Republican leadership in the form of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, leaders who are a big part of the problem in Washington, not the solution.
In the meantime, CPAC is useful as a ventilation shaft for Tea Party steam - political steam that is a lot more mainstream than people think. What was obvious to anyone walking from room to room at CPAC is that the Tea Party is just the tip of the spear, the proverbial leading edge that will inevitably overwhelm the Republican Party. Why? Because the Tea Party is organic America, which is based on the English language, rooted in Christian values, founded on Western civilization and the Constitution. It is an America that believes in no immigration without assimilation; an America based on one culture, not many.
And this points to the larger collision between conservative America and liberal America. The liberal left rejects the ideas and values rooted in America's traditional culture and religion as outdated or eclipsed by a new, "progressive" America, divorced from its past. The left promotes a different vision of America, featuring alternative principles: multiculturalism, wealth redistribution and big, intrusive government. Capturing the essence of liberal sentiment, Howard Dean recently noted that the Tea Party is the "last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity."
Against the backdrop of these irreconcilable differences, one major concern looms this spring: raising the debt ceiling. The Tea Party movement demands its members oppose any increase in the debt ceiling. Predictably, the status-quo Republicans are waffling on this issue, warning like their colleagues on the left that the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, which is now $14 trillion, could cause default.
With the future of the Republic hanging in the balance, the immediate conflict over the debt ceiling is just the beginning of a long, hard fight. It is a war the Tea Party movement was born to fight.
It is a war worth fighting because it is an existential conflict between two distinct visions of American society and national identity. To win, it must unify the social and fiscal conservative forces inside the Republican Party. To do so, these forces must coalesce around the underlying principles of American national identity: limited government, the English language, Christian values, rule of law, self-reliance and, above all, liberty. If the Tea Party can achieve this outcome, what started as a movement will become more than a political machine: It will change the country and restore the nation.
Cameron Macgregor is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate writing his first book on the new American nationalism.
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By Rand Paul
Obama acts as though we no longer have a Constitution