I have been thinking a bit more lately about the Tea Party movement. It’s a movement that I have heavily criticized in the past but all told I don’t think they are all bad. I don’t think they are all selfish or greedy or racist or any other number of generalizations that could be used to dismiss them out of hand.
What I do think they are, though, is a bit of an enigma. The best I’ve been able to gather is that the Tea Party universally stands for three issues (most recently defined by Toby Marie Walker on NPR’s Morning Edition):
- Constitutionally limited government
- Free Markets
- Fiscal Responsibility
I look at these three point and think, “well yeah, who except the most politically extreme isn’t for those things?” Ask your average liberal if they think that the powers of government should be defined by the constitution and they will say of course. Should money be managed responsibly? There’s no question, yes. Should the American economy be based on free market capitalism? Well what else would it be based on?
As with many things, though, the devil is in the details people will violently disagree on how to accomplish the same goals. The divide is fairly obvious between conservatives and liberals but I suspect that the various factions of the Tea Party are not totally united on this front either. That is because, in adhering to Libertarian philosophy, they lack any kind of foundational or centralized leadership. They are an amalgamation of disparate factions all claiming a single moniker. Just like how bunches of rocks and dirt can, under the right conditions, make a devastating mudslide the Tea Party can be a force to be reckoned with.
Just like a mudslide, though, such a force is at best very noisy and at worst utterly destructive. It does not create something new but simply pushes aside everything in its way. This may seem an unfairly cruel comparison but it is simply meant to illustrate the shortcomings of a crowd mentality. A crowd can shout mantras and wave placards but at the end of the day they are just making a lot of noise. It is the individual leaders, with the support of the crowd, who are able to sit at the table and talk about change. Even more importantly, an individual leader can listen to the opposition and negotiate: finding the middle road in the best interest of all parties involved.
Many Tea Party supporters have said that it is just that sort of “back room dealing” that they want to get rid of. That is all well and good but perhaps we are throwing the baby out with the bath water here. None of us want our society to be run by shady deals and secret meetings. Why, then, have we not created many public forums? Where are the public debates? Where are the town hall meetings (the real ones, not those political rallies passing for them)? Most of all, where is our civility and willingness to listen to our opponents respectfully?
Whether liberal, conservative, or moderate this is how real change is accomplished. Other methods may make for a bigger show but no hearts and minds will ever be changed unless we learn to listen more than we talk.