Tea party hides behind patriotism
The resurgence of political conservatism is no surprise in America. Since the dawn of the two-party system in America, the prominence of political parties have ebbed and flowed as national demands have. Shifts of power in Congress and the White House happen regularly, normally in shifts of two to three congressional terms or up to two presidential terms. It is then expected for a republican/conservative influx in the next few years to take place.
However, the tea party movement in America is taking political action to a different level.
The tea party movement started small-scale as a series of protests to health care reform, government bailout spending and general political inertia. In the past year, it has nearly grown to a level of political representation. Most of these self-called "teabaggers," whether the name was pegged with knowledge of the obscene pre-existing name is unknown, protest what they see as government corruption and over-spending, and values mostly aligned with the Democratic Party. The party itself seeks fiscal responsibility, a strictly textual reading of the Constitution and limited government size.
Make no mistake, the three principles they stand for are deeply rooted in the principles of the founders of the United States; however, the tea party movement is anachronistic — that is, the principles it adheres to are no longer relevant to a country the size of the one we live in. Most teabaggers probably couldn't even tell you what the Constitution says. Or how, for example, in Article I, Section 2, it is explicitly stated that any non-white person counts as three fifths of a person.
The danger behind the tea party is not that a strict, literal adherence to the Constitution — a dated document written when slavery and sexism were socially accepted — caused many political parties to be inane in stances and downright wrong on certain topics. The real danger lies in the fact that this party is gaining substantial support throughout America. The bluegrass, low-key protests and advocacy of town hall meeting style government draws comparisons to the revolutionary times and attracts those that consider themselves patriotic proponents of American principles. In doing so, the protestors also implicitly or explicitly support the sexism and racism rampant in 18th century America.
The worst part of this political movement — if it can be called that — is that ignorant, yet charismatic politicians and pundits back it. The most noteworthy of these is Glenn Beck. In the past two years, Glenn Beck has gone from part-time CNN correspondent to a host of an eponymous show on Fox News that ranks as one of the most-watched news programs on all of television. Despite consistently denying any ties to the tea party movement, Beck embodies the principles and personality its constituents strive for. Beck has touted himself as a "rodeo clown" — an attention-grabbing media personality who has no political aims, a "constitutional watchdog," if you will. Common people relate to his whistle-blowing and simple man's vernacular, as was shown by the outpouring of support at his "Restoring Honor" rally in August at the Lincoln Memorial.
The hypocrisy involved in Beck's rhetoric is astounding. Beck made more than $32 million last year according to Forbes Magazine and is tracked to make more in the upcoming year as his show's popularity and book sales increase. The appeal he has as a simple man like most Americans should be non-existent. However, this doesn't stop him from describing himself as such, nor does it stop his followers in the tea party from believing him. This also is from a self-described man of values — the same man who, after a rival radio talk show host's wife had a miscarriage in the 1990s, called her in the hospital, while on air, to proclaim how her husband couldn't do anything right.
The problems from the tea party extend far beyond the idiocy of Glenn Beck; sensible people are aware he is nothing more than a rhetoric-filled talking head for a largely conservative network. The problem lies in the fact that these people listen to him. Beck and his supporters have shown that common folks can be elected to public office. Sadly, it also represents that people with only a commoner's knowledge of government can hold office. Look at Christine O'Donnell: The Republican Congressional candidate for Delaware has shown throughout her campaign that she is an idiot, a "populist cover to a movement funded by billionaires and corporate interests."
The tea party movement represents so much more than a simple protest of big government and mass spending. It shows that the power of voting can easily be transferred to an undeserving lot. It shows that ignorance can be politically rewarded under the guise of patriotism. Most importantly, the tea party represents the neutering of political inquiry in favor of popular appeal.
Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science with a minor in history. His column, "The Tuning Fork," runs on alternate Tuesdays.