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Let's Talk Tea Party

By Derek J. Bekebrede

The Tea Party is perhaps the most interesting political movement to hit American politics in recent memory. Arising from a series of loosely organized, local protests, the movement quickly became a leading political force calling for smaller government closer to the American people. Congressional “Town Hall” sessions were suddenly transformed from small gatherings of quiet conversation into actual debates where representatives were forced to explain their votes, and soon Democrats (and some Republicans) were slandering and downplaying the movement.

Most recently, liberals and MSNBC hosts blamed the tragic shooting in Tucson on the Tea Party for spreading “hatred” and “extremism” in American politics. The evidence, however, showed that the murderer was a clearly deranged man who, based on documents found in his home, most likely had begun to target Rep. Giffords in 2007, two years before the Tea Party even existed. Still, ignoring the evidence, liberal hosts marched on with their rants against conservatives and the Tea Party. Parts of the Tea Party may be extremist, as is true with any political group, but its message of smaller government represents a substantial portion of the American population. Such false accusations against it are an insult to the American people and take away from the actual debate on government spending that this country desperately needs. The Tea Party deserves to have its record set straight, and liberals, although they are free to disagree with it, should disrespect and slander the movement at their own risk.

The Tea Party began with “the rant heard ‘round the world” (or at least the entire United States). On February 19, 2009, CNBC Business News Network editor Rick Santelli loudly criticized the government’s plan to refinance mortgages and called for the creation of a “Chicago Tea Party” in a live broadcast. Within 24 hours, Tea Party groups and protest “events” had appeared on Facebook, and, on Tax Day 2009, the movement flexed its muscle for the first time with protests in more than 300 locations across the United States. The continental army costumes were cute, but the movement was serious and popular. Unlike most political movements, the Tea Party rallies required no political parties, conspiracy theories, or 501(c) groups like MoveOn.org. It required facebook, texting, e-mail, a little news coverage, and a lot of American taxpayers who saw out-of-control government spending and expansion as obstacles to America’s future success. While the Republican Party and its leaders floundered in their original response to President Obama and his policies, the Tea Party organized itself to make up for what the Republicans were lacking. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck may be the self-proclaimed leaders of the Tea Party, but they, like many other conservative figures, merely jumped on the bandwagon. Both figures also believe in smaller government, but the Tea Party did not need their lectures and Mamma Grizzlies to become the force it is today.

What makes the Tea Party so incredibly special and hard to define is that the movement requires no formal organization or “litmus test.” Everyone is welcome to take part in their movement to promote smaller, more efficient government, leading to their diverse and bipartisan ranks—15 percent of Tea Partiers identify themselves as Democrats, and many Tea Partiers have not been politically active in the past. Their ranks may include “birthers” or social conservatives, but the Tea Party itself does not work to promote those beliefs. Scott Brown, the liberal Republican Senator from Massachusetts, was just as much a Tea Party candidate as Rand Paul. He focused on his message, believed that the American people have answers to our nations problems, and rode the wave to bring change to Washington.

Perhaps you disagree with the Tea Party, which is completely understandable. The movement certainly has made some mistakes and nominated flawed candidates, but what party or movement hasn’t? However, the nation is undeniably well along its way to a fiscal crisis that both parties have a history of ignoring. The Tea Party exists because neither party could wake up and recognize the reality. To shrug off the movement as extremist or crazy is both disrespectful to the American people and ignorant. If you want the movement to go away, here’s an idea: Fix the problem and make our government efficiently work for its people. Following the original Boston Tea Party, the British sealed their fate by expanding the power of Parliament over the colonies and harshly punishing the colonies instead of resolving the issues the revolutionaries had highlighted. The current administration and its Congressional allies seem to be unwisely following a similar path. Voting against a House proposal to cut government spending to 2008 levels and not even proposing a budget in 2010 while mocking the Tea Party will only lead to another shellacking in 2012. The Tea Party’s message for smaller government is popular and will only continue to spread if it continues to fall on deaf ears.

Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House and the Vice President of Speakers and Political Discourse for the Harvard Republican Club.

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