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The major parties of American politics are usually considered to be the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. However, ever since the 2008 global economic recession, the media has been bustling with news regarding the Tea Party. This paper will talk about the Tea Party and relate it to the theme of “A Democratic Idea”. While the Tea Party is a paragon of political activism, it also threatens valuable progress made by American during the past few decades.
The Tea Party has origins dated as far back as 2002. A website named www.usteaparty.com was established by Citizens for a Sound Economy. They described it to be a national event for “all Americans who feel [their] taxes are too high and the tax code is too complicated”. Some point to the failure of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign as the start of the Tea Party movement. Ron Paul, a prominent Republican politician, had announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination. Supporters held a “moneybomb” fundraising event, raising an astounding $6 million dollars in 24 hours. Many of these supporters had political views identical to the ideologies of the current Tea Party. Although the fundamentals are identical, these Ron Paul supporters did not form a real movement.
The modern Tea Party movement was born from the ashes of the 2008 economic recession. Conservative supporters were particularly outraged with the government response to the financial meltdown and the high taxes that funded these efforts. Especially angered by government tax revenue allocation to government program stimulus packages and corporate bailouts, people vented their frustration on the Internet. Various websites became hubs of debate and opinion for these aggravated citizens. For example, an investment website named Market Ticker was a integral factor for the development of the Tea Party. The chatting rooms of Market Ticker were often bustling with cries for civil protest. A proposal to mail tea bags to Congress members as a form of disapproval was spawned by the Internet community and gained much popularity within Market Ticker users. The tea bags allude to the 1773 Boston Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty’s protest to “taxation without representation”, a message that modern online conservatives seem to sympathize especially after the 2008 recession. Market Ticker’s tea bag demonstration was rather successful; in fact, Chicago stock traders had tea bags taped to their computer screens and phones in form of protest. Market Ticker was not alone. Other groups, mostly assembled via Internet, also hosted political protests. Blogger Keli Carender organized a “Porkulus Protest” against President Obama’s $750 billion dollar stimulus package in Seattle. The Americans for Prosperity held a similar demonstration in Colorado. These small protests accumulated and burst into a widespread movement.
The widely acknowledged birth of the Tea Party came on February 19th, 2009. Nationwide frustration finally found a way onto the national stage through CNBC Business News editor Rick Santelli. Rick Santelli was reporting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when he burst into a powerful rant. Santelli called out the government for “promoting bad behavior” with their bailout plans, accused individuals who procured high-risk mortgages with prior knowledge of being “losers”, and finally suggested a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest against the government. Santelli’s two-minute tirade sparked a protest on February 27th, less than a fortnight after Santelli’s broadcast. People from Chicago, Washington, and other major cities across the country rallied together to show their disappointment. They spoke out against the TARP bailout bill and the ARRA stimulus bill. This is largely considered to be the first significant Tea Party protest. These protests increased coordination and cohesion between upset conservatives, foreshadowing a larger political movement.
Further rallies and protests have brought more attention to incensed conservatives. A tax day protest on April 15th, 2009 once again sprouted all over the country. Some gatherings were colossal. Several thousand people crowded the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Police had to break up crowds in front of the White House once tea bags were thrown over the fence. In 2010, the Tea Party held its first convention at the Gaylord Hotel of Nashville, Tennessee. Delegates from various nongovernmental organizations such as SurgeUSA and Smart Girl Politics were invited to discuss the future of the USA and the possible roles they could take in society to mold their country according to their ideals. Former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin made a speech, closely relating Sarah Palin to the Tea Party. The coherence between this newly founded conservative group inspired politicians sharing their vision to appeal to the Tea Party. Republican Michele Bachmann convened a Tea Party Caucus with 28 other Republicans. The GOP largely represented the Tea Party. The 2010 election was a successful election for the Republicans; over 30 Tea Party supported candidates earned seats in Congress. However, the Tea Party failed to live up to hype and, as concern about the recession waned, attention towards the Tea Party has died down. Furthermore, radical conservatives who identified themselves as Tea Party members spurred more skepticism to the true identity of this movement. Although they continuously condemned President Obama’s health care plan, the 2012 election did not produce favorable results, affirming that the Tea Party was dying out.
The Tea Party is not an official United States political party. Although some misconceive the Tea Party as a party, the Tea Party is actually a political grassroots movement. The movement roots itself in foundational Christian values and the Constitution of the United States of America. They identify themselves closely with the Bill of Rights and keep close to the values set by the Founding Fathers. In fact, Teaparty.org, the largest Tea Party movement website, has “15 Non-negotiable Core Beliefs”. Most of them urge people to protect Constitutional rights. They are as follow:
The beliefs have been considered by the public to be rather nationalistic and very emphatic about “American ideals”. However, they are very consistent with the Bill of Rights, emphasizing a need for a balance between federal and state power while also being defensive about granted individual rights such as the 2nd Amendment, the right to possess firearms.
Sympathy with these American ideals did find an audience beyond the closely associated Republicans. Members of the Tea Party define themselves to be Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents. Only 60% of Tea Party members admitted to voting Republican almost all the time at the voting polls. However, a overwhelming majority did turn out to be white. Approximately 92% of the Tea Party was white and 61% of the Tea Party was found to male. Furthermore, about 34% of the movement was also loyal to Christian values while 45% was over the age of 55 or older. Compared to the demographics of the United States of America, Americans overall were approximately 75% white, 48.5% male, and 32% Christian. Evident in the clear contrast between the details of each group, the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white, old, male, and Christian, the typical conservative voter. As a result, Tea Party members are usually identified as conservatives and their values do, in fact, reflect that of conservatives. As their 6th non-negotiable belief states, “Government must be downsized”, is the essential philosophy of the right wing. Other core beliefs such as reducing taxes and protecting gun rights stand strict to the current GOP’s political policies and platform. The Tea Party is closely associated with the Republican Party for a reason: they both believe in Republican ideals.
The Tea Party, being largely conservative, also has conservative leadership. First of all, the Tea Party does not have a true hierarchy or organizational structure. The Tea Party has no official leadership, largely influenced by their basic characteristic as a grassroots movement, which carried contempt against government officials and inefficient parties. Nobody is a proclaimed leader of the Tea Party and, therefore, no one individual truly represents the Tea Party. Yet, that is not to say that there are no leading individuals of the Tea Party. Certain figures are considered prominent figures of the Tea Party. For example, governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is considered a strong figure for the Tea Party. She was the keynote speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, propelling the Tea Party to the national spotlight and also publically declaring that she was a Tear Party member. Other highly respected figures such as Senator Rand Paul and Lieutenant Colonel Allen West are noteworthy Tea Party members that have declared their loyalty to Tea Party principles and promoted the cause actively on national media.
The Tea Party has had large success communicating their concerns to politicians, placing over thirty politicians who publicly supported the Tea Party into Congress seats. Therefore, the Tea Party was able hold power and influence change upon America. Their stance against gun limitations and illegal immigrant amnesty clearly show their colors as well as their active sides.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School shocked the nation when a mentally fragile Adam Lanza attacked a quiet suburban elementary school with heavy firearms. The government was very well expected to take action. Past precedents such as the shootings at Columbine High School have shown that the federal government was often expected to react and find solutions to the threat of firearm possession. Changes such as the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactics were implemented nationwide for all police forces. Congress passed legislation that required safety locks on firearms as well as banning magazines that promoted heavy firearms. The 107th US Congress passed this legislation despite a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Yet, the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident failed to bring any legislative change due to a large conservative influence, heavily backed by the Tea Party. Only one proposal was brought to vote in Congress and even that failed to meet approval as well. S. 150 Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 was denied with a vote of 40 to 60. All Republicans but one opposed the ratification of the bill. Although the Republican stance towards gun laws was similar to that of Republicans in 2000, the Tea Party brought a big influence to their decision and veered the course to more gun regulation of its original path.
Illegal immigrant amnesty was a topic of discussion ever since the start of President Obama’s second term. Obama aimed to aid illegal immigrants in terms of staying in the country and also having the capability to make a steady living. The act, which was passed by Executive Order in 2014, offered amnesty to five million illegal immigrants who all have lived in the United States for at least five years. They would have the opportunity to register for a stay of deportation and a work permit. Republicans were very unsatisfied with such action. Teaparty.org put out an online petition to protest against this action with hundreds of signatures within days of posting it online. People in Texas gathered to protest on the streets against the amnesty directive in name of the Tea Party. Nationwide protests were called on October 24th and October 25th of 2014 in order recall the Executive Order. Tea Party protestors were enraged and bellowed up in civil protest against the Amnesty Act as Obama’s order violated many of their non-negotiable beliefs such as “illegal immigrants are here illegally” and “government should be downsized”.
The Tea Party is a limited success. It is a perfect model of political activism. People stand proud in their beliefs and try their best to voice their opinions out to the public. For the first time since the hippie movement, a large mass of people are grouping and starting a nationwide political movement. This is what is needed for democracies to function. The Tea Party is healthy for the American democracy. However, it is dangerous in that it may prove to be backwards progress. Often categorized as extreme conservative, Tea Party members are known to keep strictly to tradition. Even in the face of a tragedy with a massacre of six-year-old toddlers, the Tea Party argues for no limitations on gun rights. Gays are condescendingly viewed upon by the Tea Party, which believes in traditional family ideals and Christian values, principles that widely accepted as anti-homosexual. Several crucial progressive steps America has made into the future may be sent back due to the Tea Party approach, leading to complete elimination of things such as gun control and gay marriage. The Tea Party is a vitamin to America’s democracy; however, without proper moderation, the Tea Party could suffocate progress.
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