Let me go on record. The Tea Party movement is wonderful. It gets people involved in the political process who normally never would. It forces viewpoints into the public that are sometimes hard to find. And Tea Parties irritate just the right people. They are on their way to being the most important movement for conservatism (or libertarianism, in some cases) in the past twenty years.
I attended the Tea Party at the Wisconsin State Capitol last weekend, and filed this video report. It was a great event – as I documented, plenty of colorful people showed up. It was funny – many of my liberal friends e-mailed me to express shock that I was “hard” on the Tea Partiers, while my conservative friends universally liked the friendly jabs I took. (My goal is to one day have an obituary headline like H.L. Mencken’s: “Mencken, Critic of All, Dies.”) I figured these are my people – I can kid with them a little, right?
In any event, despite the steaming bowl of wonderfulness that Tea Parties bring to American political discourse, there are always ways to improve them. As I walked around and observed the festivities, I jotted down a few things I think could help build on the great event that the organizers put together this year:
1. RECALIBRATE THE LANGUAGE
I hate paying taxes. You hate paying taxes. But several of the speakers took this meme to the next level, saying taxpayers are being “raped” and that taxpayers have become “slaves.” And they said it over and over and over.
Let’s be clear: paying exorbitant taxes is not like being raped. And the government taking more of your income, as damaging to your wallet and the economy as it is, is not akin to slavery. (Nobody on a boat headed to America from Africa in the 1800s was saying “boy, I hope they don’t tax my capital gains.”)
There are plenty of reasons to be irate about paying high taxes in order to fund wasteful government spending. But a truly skilled speakers can relay that outrage without slipping into offensive hyperbole. Using words like “rape” and “slavery” only serve to marginalize the great movement that has been built to this point.
2. CANDIDATES AND ELECTED OFFICIALS – IN OR OUT?
In years past, it seems like a conscious effort has been made to keep elected officials and candidates from speaking at the Tea Party rallies. But every now and then, one will slip into the mix. This year, Ron Johnson, who is thinking about taking on U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, was given a platform to speak, while other candidates were left off the docket. (Johnson’s speech was really good, incidentally.) Last year, fiscal dreamboat Paul Ryan spoke to the crowd, but other elected officials fighting for conservatism at the state level weren’t allowed to speak.
It seems one of the themes of the Tea Parties is that they aren’t connected to specific candidates or political parties. Sure, they’ll get behind candidates with whom they agree (they are in the process of endorsing candidates all over the country), but many of their members have just as much animosity towards Republicans as they do Democrats. Tea Party organizers should make it more clear what the standard is for allowing current elected officials to speak – there are plenty of state officials that would be really good.
3. COUNTRY MUSIC
Not all conservatives like country music. Just stop it. It’s almost like the musical selection is being written by what Keith Olbermann thinks right wingers would want to hear.
4. THE CULT OF PERSONALITY
Much has been made of former Governor Tommy Thompson’s appearance at the Tea Party in Wisconsin last week, where he announced he would not be running against Democratic U.S. Senator Russ Feingold. In some respects, Tommy injected free-market conservatism into areas of state government that badly needed it (school choice, welfare reform, etc.) But in other areas, Thompson represents exactly the type of politician that Tea Partiers despise. Even Thompson’s staunchest defenders wouldn’t necessarily consider him thrifty with taxpayers’ money.
But when Tommy wanted to speak at the Tea Party, the organizers were stuck with a quandary: Do we exclude the most popular politician in the state, even if he’s only there to serve his own purposes?
Thompson’s appearance weakened the message of the Tea Party – it told attendees that the event was more about personalities than ideas. Tommy’s announcement sucked media attention away from the people who had traveled to Madison from all over the state to be there, and focused it all on himself. And the fact that his speech led people to believe he was going to run, then pulled the rug out from under them, just discouraged the crowd.
In the future, organizers should reconsider if they’re going to allow their well-meaning event to be the host for individuals to latch on to serve their own purposes. It happened this year, and damaged the event.
5. EASY ON THE MEDIA
Nothing gets a crowd of conservatives riled up (and rightfully so) than speakers slamming the liberal media. And speaker after speaker did just that. It was ironic, however, that they did so while dozens of media cameras were right there at stage side, and while just as many nattily-attired reporters were roasting under the hot sun all day covering the event. We can rip them all we want when they pass on lefty talking points (and I will continue to do so), but on this day, they deserved credit for being there. Chastising the media when they’re right there in front of the stage covering you looks self-defeating. (Samuel Alito just mouthed the words, “I agree.”)
Seriously – who’s ever heard of a Wisconsin event where thousands of people get together and there’s no tailgating? Someone figure out the grilling rules for the Capitol lawn and let’s fire up the bratwurst.
7. LAUGH A LITTLE
Last week, speaker after speaker strode to the stage, veins bulging, demanding we take our country back. (By the way, the new Tea Party Drinking Game involves taking a drink any time any speaker says “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” You’d be drunk in 15 minutes.)
It might be a nice change to have some speakers that can use a little humor to make their points. The stereotype of conservatives is that they are angry and humorless. While there’s plenty of reason to be angry, there’s also enough reason to laugh at what’s been going on in America. It disarms people and makes the speaker seem smarter than they probably are. Plus, it would be a nice change of pace from the apocalyptic rhetoric we get from the rest of the speaking lineup.
8. TELL US WHAT TO DO
While some of the speakers mentioned some specific issues (Apostle David King, for instance, denounced the “ding dongs” in the Legislature about to pass a bill making it easier to commit vote fraud), many of them discuss conservatism and limited government in the abstract. Many of them go on at length about the Founding Fathers (including an interminable speech by a guy dressed like Thomas Jefferson) and recite passages from the U.S. Constitution. (Rule of thumb in politics: 90% of people who start talking to you about the true meaning of the Constitution are lunatics.)
More emphasis should be given to what people can do RIGHT NOW. The Founding Fathers are great, but Ben Franklin isn’t crawling out of his crypt to stop the global warming bill in the Wisconsin State Legislature. The people in the crowd on the capitol lawn have to do that. Immediately.
It would be helpful if the groups organizing the Tea Party had a framework for taking action on important bills right away. Schedule visits to legislator offices. Form a Political Action Committee and get people to donate to it while they’re all standing right there. Give them the tools they need to go back home and start making a difference.
9. TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
It seemed like there were a dozen speakers on the docket last Thursday. (I’m not sure how many there ended up being, but it was in that area.) The crowd seemed like it would have been just as happy with maybe five or six high-caliber speakers, as opposed to a dozen speakers of varying quality.
10. FEWER SIGNS THAT REFER TO BENDING OVER AND GRABBING ONE’S ANKLES
This one is self-explanatory. I would pay cash money for people to avoid providing me with this visual.
The Tea Parties are on a roll – and getting people involved in spreading the message of limited government is always a good thing. But they could certainly build on those successes, and focus that discontent into actual change. And I’ll certainly be there next year to help. Until then, we should all be grateful we live in a country where we can go buy a sandwich that uses two fried chicken patties as buns.
God bless you, Founding Fathers.
April 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm
11. Don’t call every whacko a left wing plant. Some of them really are yours.
April 19, 2010 at 1:49 pm
Let’s just hope you don’t have a heart attack and need emergency care after eating that sandwich, because without insurance, you’d be screwed! But wait, the DEMOCRATS want to help, and they’ll make sure you get insurance so that chicken sandwich doesn’t one day end of costing you your home.
April 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm
Coming from a guy on the opposing end of the political spectrum, I completely enjoyed both your posts on the Tea Party Christian.
And also, I ate a Double Down with mashed potatoes and gravy tonight. I’m no crybaby liberal I like fried chicken. Also commenters, please spare me the rant that eating a Double Down is fine as long as YOU don’t have to pay for my insurance following the inevitable health problems. I’m not listening.
April 20, 2010 at 9:24 am
Christian, great points on organization. I wonder, though, even with organization how we can take this beyond a crazed, short-term movement and make it a lasting mindset.
Potential outcome: everyone keeps ranting and raving about taxes, etc. until the middle of next year, when people start throwing out presidential candidate names for 2012. We then rally around our champions, debate until the next summer who can best “take down the liberals,” and reorganize behind one person for White House control.
Said person gets in, everyone cheers; person starts failing expectations around time of first State of the Union address, everyone groans and starts speculating on the glitch in the grand scheme. Tea Party ideas drop off. Some other–potentially unwanted–movement starts generating.
Again, there are many variables to this idea, but basically if anything short of ideal takes place, are we going to have a standard to hold candidates / officials to beyond our crying, “unconstitutional” and hoping they then feel bad and reform?
April 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm
I agree with all of it. Also make sure your signs have correct spelling. Also I agree with the country music, not everyone can tolerate it. Try not to bash anything and keep it CLEAN! The less ammo we can give the liberal media the better we can get our point across. And finally and this is just me but I am agnostic (agnostic Republican, I know very rare) we do not need anything that may make it sound like we are a bunch of holy rollers.
April 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm
11. Don’t invite white supremacists like “Col.” John Eidsmoe to your events, or if you do, have a ready, mild-sounding explanation for how it’s just a little “whoopsie.” Then, when your invitation to a white supremacist IS discovered, play the victim and claim that anyone with concerns about the invitation is the real racist here.
12. Don’t have your movement be lead by a criminal fundraiser banned for funneling dirty corporate money into Wisconsin elections. But if you DO have a criminal fundraiser leading your band, never mention or discuss his history so when someone else brings it up you can play the victim once more. Neat trick!
April 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm
Yeah, thats the spirit. Let’s make sure we control the message so we can package up the tea party in a nice little PC box and deliver more elections to statist RINO’s.
Maybe we should make signs that say “income tax challenged” or “tea party for the enviornment”.
Better yet, lets just invite all the leftist party crashers in, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
April 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm
Did you ever think the reason they only play Country music is because the rock and pop singers are left wing nut jobs and would throw a fit if their music was played a tea party gathering?
Like it or not, tea partiers can identify with most country artists and not so much with the current pop sensations. I doubt we will see Lady Gaga fighting for states’ rights.
April 21, 2010 at 8:10 am
So… what is this all about? Taxes? They are at an all time low. When was the last time you heard someone really complain about them? Or are you complaining that they are too low? There is merit to that argument, given the huge Bush deficits we rang up over the last eight years. Yes President Obama gave us another nice tax cut, but that was to stimulate the economy. Are you complaining that government is too big and powerful? WHAT??? Our govt was asleep at the switch on 9-11 just as they were when it came to oversight and regulating the financial sector. Our govt is so weak and ineffectual, look at the health care debacle. We could have had a decent single payer system like every other civilized country but we ended up with essentially nothing more than a huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry and insurance industry.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the whole teabagging thing. I guess I missed it on FOX news.
April 21, 2010 at 11:42 am
“Taxes? They are at an all time low. When was the last time you heard someone really complain about them?”
You mean other than the 10,000 people at the rally that this column is all about?
April 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm
The Ten Tips are interesting, but miss one very important point. That is that the Tea Party Express is NOT the same as the Tea Party Patriots. Two different sets of organizers and two very different purposes. Don’t get confused as so many readily are and continue to be. If someone just says “Tea Party”, ask them which one. If they can’t tell you, then they don’t really understand what they are talking about.
April 22, 2010 at 10:25 am
You must not realize the amount of taxes we all currently pay. Not just Federal Income Taxes, but State Income Taxes, Property Taxes, Vehicle Registration Taxes, Home Improvement Taxes, Pet Taxes, Gas Taxes, Energy Taxes, battery taxes, Sales Taxes, Phone Service Taxes, Hotel Taxes, FICA Taxes, etc, etc, etc. Not only that, but, more importantly, there’s our deficit. How do you think they are planning on paying off those deficits? Raising and adding more taxes, not just on us, but on our children’s children.
I really think you need to do more research on the financial sector as the Federal Government forcing banks to make bad loans was the largest factor in the housing bust that led to the crisis we’re in.
But, to answer your question…it’s not all about taxes. It’s about our rights being voilated over and over again. It’s about having to ask the government’s permission to do EVERYTHING. It’s about not getting to keep the wages that I work hard for, because others have no personal responsibility. It’s about not being able use my own money to invest in my retirement, instead I have to give it to the government to control. And if you WANT to do that, if you know you cannot handle your money well and want to give it to the government to spend for you, fine. Go ahead. I don’t care. Do whatever you want with your money. But don’t FORCE me to handle my finances the same way. I know what’s best for me, not the government. And, if I don’t, well, that’s what failure is for. That’s how we learn (pretty much everything), by failing and failing and failing some more, until we get it right.
For me, Dan, it’s about true Freedom. Freedom to work hard and not be punished for it (progressive tax rates). It’s about Freedom to make my own decisions and my own purchases and my own mistakes. It’s about Freedom to LIVE.
April 27, 2010 at 11:51 am
How about call out the racist and stop letting your party be taken over by the likes of Sarah Palin. What I’m hoping for is that the tea party splits the Republican Party in two so we’d have some entertainment in 2012.