The Real Tea Party

by Charles Stampul

Recently by Charles Stampul: How Football Explains America

In a move to break American resistance to taxation, British Parliament in 1773 relaxed a tax on exports, allowing a struggling English tea company to send its surplus product to the colonies. The tea would be priced low, but carry a tax payable to Parliament. Sensing a trap, the colonists organized. At Charleston the tea was seized and stored by customs agents. At New York the ship was turned back. At Boston, the seat of American agitation, 340 trunks of tea were thrown into the harbor.

We’re seeing similar protests today. Jury nullification of drug convictions. The launch of Wikileaks to reveal government secrets. And perhaps the closest thing to the Boston Tea Party to date, coordinated resistance to naked body scans and evasive pat downs at airports on November 24, 2010. Standing largely apart from this Tea Party inspired activism, is “the Tea Party movement.”

Young people adopt new and unusual sayings to individuate from parents, schoolteachers and other adults. “Off the hook,” was one such phrase. It was popular several years ago. A year or so later you heard one of the View ladies call something “off the hook.” By this time youths were saying “off the chain.” Responsible, financially secure, community involved, set-in-their-ways adults caught up, forcing young people to drop the phrase altogether. It’s like this for libertarians and the Tea Party.

Ron Paul supporters used the 2007 anniversary of the Boston Tea Party as a special fund-raising day. Then in 2009, after a string of bank bailouts, the Libertarian Party of Chicago organized the first Tea Party gathering. They invited CNBC black sheep Rick Santelli. In an inspired rant that became a Youtube sensation, Santelli called viewers to Lake Michigan for a Chicago Tea Party in July.

But the Tea Party movement is largely a media invention. A new twist in the Republican versus Democrat epic. In an effort to win by any means, off-year Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose a one-term Alaskan governor as his running mate. She, it was reasoned, would bring in women voters, who McCain was failing to excite. Because she chose to bring a fetus with Down Syndrome to term, she also stood to motivate evangelicals, unhappy with McCain for various reasons. It was a potential masterstroke politically. No one was under any illusion that Sarah Palin could be a competent president, or even discuss current affairs in an intelligent way. But now, because she was the vice presidential candidate, she is the media’s frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2012, and by extension, the leader of the Tea Party movement.

Just as they failed to challenge the reasons given for going to Iraq, the media is now failing to expose individuals like Palin who rail against national debt, but want to maintain, even grow the military-industrial complex. Thousands worried about how the government’s mounting debt stands to change the American landscape and lifestyle are being duped by the media and political opportunists to support establishment Republicans and the status quo.

There have been points in American history when political parties have made 180-degree turns. Certain principles or planks are abandoned by both major parties, leaving an opportunity, if the support for the principle or plank is great enough, for either to take it on and take control. 150 years ago the Democratic Party championed reserved rights of states. 100 years later, it was a Republican issue, which Democrats opposed. Along with following the Tenth Amendment, neither party in the last fifty years has proposed reining in the American military.

There is the opportunity for the Republican Party, by following Ron Paul, and leaving Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rudolph Giuliani and other neocons behind, to capture a new moderate center, opposed to war and worried about the government’s ever-growing measures to control and corral its subjects. By offering credible solutions to the debt crisis, the Republican Party could become a dynasty rivaling and undoing the damage of the Democratic dynasty of the 1930s and 40s.