- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

Many pundits and pollsters are working overtime to neatly identify and package the Tea Party movement and those who participate in it. Opinions and approaches are legion, creating more of a fog than a clear picture. As commentators and reporters strive to uncover deep hidden meanings, shocking revelations or even simply interesting angles for their stories, what is being overlooked are the plainly stated, published principles of the Tea Party movement. They are simple and finite: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. This threefold purpose is the only solid foundation for grasping the Tea Party movement. It also is the source of the movement’s ever-growing expansion and power.

Some, like Frank Rich of the New York Times or Dana Milbank of The Washington Post continue to paint Tea Partiers as violent, racist rednecks. Commentators such as these try to come across as offering some measure of detached observation and analysis, but their words generally betray their motives. In an attempt to control the narrative concerning the Tea Party movement, they have launched ill-conceived verbal attacks, attempting to taint the public’s opinion in a negative way.

For instance, Frank Rich’s unfortunate comparison of Tea Partiers’ protests against Obamacare to Kristallnacht not only was baseless fear-mongering, it fabricated a historical congruity where none exists.

Others, like The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, strive to present a comprehensive picture but achieve caricature, not truth:

“A ‘movement’ that encompasses gun nuts, tax protesters, devotees of the gold standard, Sarah Palin, insurance company lobbyists, ‘constitutionalists’ who have not read the Constitution, Medicare recipients who oppose government-run health care, crazy ‘birthers’ who claim President Obama was born in another country, a contingent of outright racists (come on, people, let’s be real) and a bunch of fat-cat professional politicians pretending to be ‘outsiders’ is not a coherent intellectual or political force.”

As such, Mr. Robinson completely misses the nature of the political force endowed in the Tea Party Movement.

In general, the media’s attempt to portray Tea Partiers as racists has fizzled. Despite the presence of multitudes of cameras and microphones at the moment of claimed racial slurs on Capitol Hill on the weekend of the health care reform vote, no audio or video evidence has been discovered. No corroboration has been offered by anyone present, including the members of Congress who were the purported victims of racial invective. The dearth of proof continues despite the fact that Andrew Brietbart has offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who steps forward with verifiable evidence. Media outlets ran with reported anecdotal evidence but appear to have done little fact-checking. One can only conclude the evidence doesn’t exist and that the actuality of the event was different from what was portrayed in the media.

Likewise, attempts to identify Tea Partiers as violent also have fizzled. There have been no reports of violence at Tea Party events. There have, however, been violent acts against those protesting Obamacare by those who favor it. For instance, at a town-hall health care meeting in St. Louis on Aug. 6, 2009, Kenneth Gladney, a black man selling American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, was assaulted by men wearing SEIU (Service Employees International Union) shirts. On Sept. 3, 2009, Bill Rice, a 65-year-old man protesting Obamacare at a rally in Thousand Oaks, Calif., had his finger bitten off by a young Obamacare supporter. It seems Tea Party types have been the victims, not the perpetrators, of violence.

In recent weeks, pollsters have turned their attention to the demographics of the Tea Party movement. This scientific approach has yielded a more reliable snapshot of Tea Party participants. The initial picture departs considerably from the long-held assertions of the pundits. Members of the Tea Party movement were nearly universally dismissed as uneducated, racist rubes. This was propagated as unassailable, gospel truth. All this changed, however, on April 14, when the New York Times published the results of a poll it conducted with CBS, revealing that Tea Partiers generally are better educated and wealthier than the general public. Since then, we have witnessed many pundits suddenly turning on a dime, now dismissing Tea Party members as aloof elites, out of touch with America’s common man.

A Quinnipiac University poll published on March 24 found that 55 percent of Tea Partiers are women, dispelling the myth that most are cantankerous old white Republican men who remain angered at the results of the 2008 presidential election because of racial bias. Further, a Gallup Poll taken March 26 through 28 found that 43 percent are registered Independents and 8 percent are registered Democrats. At a combined 51 percent, these put Republicans in the minority, at 49 percent.

Other commentators also have had a more rational approach through which they have striven to find a historical or sociological perspective through which to view the Tea Party movement. In her April 18 New York Times article, “Tea Party Supporters Doing Fine, but Angry Nonetheless,” Kate Zernike attempts to link the Tea Party movement to “‘60s-era conservatives” ). She veers way off course, however, when she quotes Rick Perlstein: “[T]he widest gulf between Tea Party supporters and others - Republicans and the public in general - are in their responses to questions about social issues, from gay marriage to abortion to immigration to global warming.” These issues are inconsequential to the movement. Although they may be personally important to individuals associated with the Tea Party movement, they are not encompassed in the movement’s agenda.

The power that the Tea Party movement wields is not its influence on social issues. It did not emerge from nothingness in the spring of 2009 out of concern over these. The power of the Tea Party movement resides in the primacy of its threefold focus: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets; in its promise to elect officials that embrace these principles; and in its participants’ strong resolve to remain a loose-knit grass-roots movement. The magnitude of its power will be revealed this fall on Election Day. For now, its power is mostly stored as potential energy, but we already have had glimpses of just how powerful this movement is in the election of Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, and the nearly endless delay in the vote for health care reform, finally accomplished only in classic Rube Goldberg style. After Nov. 2, its power will continue to be visible in its promise vigilantly to monitor officeholders and to keep them accountable to these principles.

One question that keeps getting raised is whether the Tea Party movement is more of a conservative phenomenon or a libertarian one. There’s a good reason onlookers feel they are getting mixed signals: The Tea Party movement forms a realm in which the two easily can converge. With a focus on fiscal responsibility and limited government, absent social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, immigration, global warming, the deployment of our military abroad, gun control, etc., libertarians and conservatives have found wholehearted agreement and have formed a powerful coalition to bring about change in Washington - change our Founding Fathers would have believed in.

Doug Mainwaring is a member of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots.

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