I was talking to someone I've known a long time the other day (he's 60ish, white, always lived in suburbia, no college but has done a lot of reading, which has made him a "know-it-all") about politics. He often reads Tea Party blogs, and thinks of himself as some sort of supporter of this "movement." However, when I pointed out some things about what Rand Paul and Sharon Angle have said, he claimed that they didn't really represent the "true" spirit of the Tea Party at all. Several minutes of "discussion" on that topic ensued, without him apparently able to understand my point that if they don't represent the "Tea Party movement," then there probably isn't any reason for any independent voter (like myself) to take this "movement" seriously.
That's not the "worst part," however. Instead, I tried to get him to explain to me what he wanted from our political leaders. He spoke of "states' rights" and job creation. I tried to explain to him that the states' right issue has been settled long ago, and that while I may not agree with that settlement entirely, I'm also not interested in "tilting at windmills." Then I asked him about why he thought this "movement" would be better at job creation and other aspects of governing. Again, I didn't really get anything resembling a coherent response, but I did point out that Tea Party people generally don't want the government involved in job creation, and in fact some of the leaders (who he does not think are "real" leaders) seem to advocate an extreme "laissez-faire" vision that would make Carnegie and Frick blush.
Things went round and round, without him willing to acknowledge that without specifics, there would no way someone like myself could support such people. I tried to explain to him that it's nice to say that you want to "cut the deficit," but then you have a responsibility to tell people exactly how you intend to do that. Then he said there were really several Tea Parties, and that the only one he knew he agree with was the Tea Party Patriots. So I went to the web site that he frequents and on the home page the "principles" of this "party" were articulated. The first is "America is good" (see http://www.teapartypatriots.org/...). Why isn't America great? Or superb? Or perhaps delicious? In any case, this is not a principle at all but rather a belief, of course (and one that requires explanation). Nowhere is there any mention of job creation, by any person or agency. Instead, it reminds me of a "12 Step Program." Here are their "12 Values," for example:
* Hard Work
* Personal Responsibility
Let's hope that some day the leaders of this "movement" will have the courage and honesty to tell us sincerely how they will take personal responsibility for the deficit if they get elected, and act with moderation and humility to lower it, while having reverence for the elderly, who have worked hard all their lives and need their Social Security and Medicare, and don't want to have to live "hand to mouth" and rely on charities and thrift stores. Now, I think it would be gracious if we all recited what probably should be the Tea Party mantra:
"I'm going to help people today... because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"
EDIT: Please note that I was trying to be humorous here, while also pointing out that I don't find this "movement" to be about politics, but rather a kind of Utopian (or "dystopian") vision that was tried and failed, during the "Industrial Revolution." I'm glad someone pointed out that these 12 Beliefs are more akin to a Boy Scout "law," but then it wouldn't work as comedy (that is, tying in with the Stuart Smalley quotation at the end). In any case, from what we've seen of coverage of their rallies, can we at least all agree that they don't all behave like Boy Scouts?
EDIT 2: I did get him to admit that government should "smooth out" the swings in the economy when they are pronounced (as was the case recently), and that Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare should be expanded or left alone, so I don't know how he can think of himself as a Tea Party person, but that might be more of a psychological than a political issue.
EDIT 3: In light of some of the criticism of this diary, keep in mind that I posed this suggestion as a question. I don't believe that there is a "right answer" to the question, but rather that it can be useful in conceptualizing how the "Tea Part movement" is unlike other major "third party movements" in the history of the United States. In retrospect, I certainly could have provided an example of another such movement, for instance, the Greenback Party, and explained how it was focused on very specific policy notions (you can read about it on wikipedia, though, obviously), and not personal, non-political beliefs and character traits.
In any case, one either understands this kind of heuristic device or one does not. As a history student, I can report that it was commonly used in both the undergrad and grad courses I took, and then when I became a history professor, I also used it. In short, the idea is to get people to think, and to consider how to categorize social phenomena in the most reasonable way, especially in light of what is known historically. I do realize that some people will simply never accept this device, and I'm sure some of my students did not like me and thought my techniques were "bad," but that is the price that one pays for trying to get people to "think outside the box." Undeniably, the Tea Party is not a "carbon copy" of any major 12 Step Program, but my point concerns one aspect of the mentality involved in both.