Inside the Tea Party Movement
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I’m in a Tea Party State of Mind

By Jessica Chasmar (8/17/11)

“I bought the groceries and kept the kitchen stocked,” said Laurie Newsom, “but the kids make their own lunch. If they forgot their lunch, they didn’t get lunch.”

It was this parenting structure that Newsom — wife and mother of four, an ophthalmology clinic owner and the president of the Gainesville Tea Party — believes gave her children a sense of personal responsibility at a very young age and made them the successful professionals they are today.

Newsom is not your run-of-the-mill, stay-at-home, June Cleaver mom. She was very hands off, letting her kids make their own decisions. They eventually learned responsibility and accountability through trial-and-error. It’s this type of mentality that Newsom believes most young people in the United States have lost, and it’s the same mentality that she, as president of the local Tea Party, is trying to bring back.

“The Tea Party is really best described like what our chair of the Alachua County Republican Party describes it as: It’s a ‘state of mind,’” she said.

It’s a “state of mind” because the Tea Party invites everyone who shares the same values — free markets, limited government and fiscal responsibility — to have a voice in politics.

“We’ve had a variety of conservative Democrats switch into the Republican Party,” Newsom said. “Libertarians face a problem because of the social issues. The Republicans need to understand that those issues have their roots in individual freedom. We’re trying to bridge that gap by saying that our values have nothing to do with social issues.”

Newsom believes that if you have a limited government, then you have an opportunity to make your own decisions on those social issues.

“We don’t care about abortion,” she said. “It’s none of the government’s business. See, we’re not fringe, yet we’ve been perceived that way. The Republicans are the ones who are fringe Right when it comes to social issues. It hasn’t been Tea Party people up there promoting pro-life. We won’t even go there.”

Newsom doesn’t want the Republican Party denigrating Tea Partiers as fringe. Not only is it inaccurate, she said, but conservatives can’t afford the rift. It’s her responsibility, as president, to advise against voting for a third-party candidate or a libertarian candidate, such as Ron Paul. Newsom supports and admires Ron Paul, but she agrees that a vote for him is a vote for President Obama — a vote she isn’t willing to make.

“We need to vote for people that we can actually envision sitting in that seat,” she said. “I really am a libertarian, but I’m also a pragmatist.”

She also agrees with many Tea Partiers that I’ve interviewed in the past that a vote for Mitt Romney is not a vote for him, but much more a vote against Obama.

“When McCain won the nomination, it was obvious there was a push from the left because they knew he would lose,” she said. “That’s why the media are pushing Romney. He’s the Democratic choice for a Republican candidate. Romney is not a good candidate. He will lose.”

GOP candidate Herman Cain is Newsom’s favorite at this point. Cain attended more than 40 Tea Party rallies last year, including one that Newsom attended. Minn. Rep. Michelle Bachmann is her second-in-line, but she also believes that electability and name recognition are working against both candidates.

Newsom never meddled in her kids’ lives. She never made their decisions for them. She never bothered with telling them what courses to take. She never told them what they could and could not pack in their lunches. She simply expected them to do their job appropriate for whatever age they were, and if they didn’t perform at that level, they faced the consequences. Her laissez-faire parenting produced a doctor, a lawyer and two successful businesswomen. It was that type of individual choice and responsibility that she used in her parenting that translates into how she feels about the public education system.

“Government should not be in the education business, period,” she said. “Compulsory schooling is not conducive to individual freedom. If they can’t afford to educate their children, they shouldn’t be having them. If they have them, they have to face the consequences of raising them.”

She believes that parents don’t feel the responsibility now to take care of their own children, because the government has safety nets in place for them. In her opinion, there’s nothing more optional than childbearing, and education is not a right for any American.

It might be a hard thing for people to understand: Education that’s not free? But the truth is, we have lost a sense of personal responsibility. If we, as Americans, knew that we had no one else to depend on other than ourselves and ourselves only, can’t it be assumed that we would make different choices? After my interview with Newsom, I couldn’t help but wonder: Where does government responsibility end and personal accountability begin? What happened to the individual liberty that our Founding Fathers intended for us, and how do we get it back?

“No matter what Obama or [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi say, we are Americans,” Newsom said. “We are different from any other group of people. We still have gazillions of people, be it from Germany all the way down to your third world countries, who want to be here. It’s not just because we have iPods, it’s because we’re us. You can see the difference. The Tea Party has showcased that ‘exceptionalism.’”

Tea and the GOP

By Jessica Chasmar (6/21/11)

As we saw in the November election, the Tea Party has been particularly powerful in its attacks on perceived “RINOs” (Republicans in name only), such as moderate Republicans Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Delaware’s Mike Castle. These Tea Party victories gained national attention and speculation from people on all sides.

Luckily for Republicans, the Tea Party Movement refused to create a third party during the midterm elections that could have split the conservative vote and created a permanent left-wing majority in Congress.

But what we’re seeing now in the GOP is a war between the moderate and conservative Republicans: There are the Bush Republicans of the late 2000s, who became disillusioned by the rise of domestic spending. There are the fiscally conservative Republicans of the Tea Party, who see the rise in spending and lack of corporate accountability as contributing to the disintegration of the economy. And there are the libertarians, many of them disavowing Republicans, who broke off from the GOP because of its stance toward social policy issues, such as abortion rights and gay marriage.

According to Gainesville Tea Party President Laurie Newsom, the failure of the Republican Party to protect the three values that the Tea Party stands for — “limited government, fiscal responsibility and a free market” — is what got her involved in the movement.

The House Tea Party Caucus was launched in July 2011 by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said in a statement to POLITICO that Americans have “had enough of the spending, bureaucracy and the government-knows-best mentality running rampant today throughout the halls of Congress.” In an interview with The Daily Caller, Bachmann said the idea for the caucus originated when Republican Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul said he would form a Tea Party Caucus in the Senate if he won that November.

The caucus currently consists of 52 Republican members, including Fla. Rep. Cliff Stearns, and it held its first event late last year.

According to Kenneth Vogel, reporting for POLITICO, the Congressional Tea Party Caucus is part of the solution for Republicans trying to channel grass-roots conservatism. However, instead of embracing the caucus, many Tea Partiers see it as yet another effort by the GOP to hijack their movement.

The inaugural meeting commenced Jan. 27, 2010, without three of the senators who won elections under the Tea Party name. Sens. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) may have rationalized that they would stand a better chance of advancing their ideas from within the Senate establishment, but Rubio told The Washington Post the reason he was not joining was because he didn’t want politicians in Congress “co-opting the mantle” of the grass-roots movement.

On Feb. 4, 2010, Rubio made an appearance on the “Trey Radel Show” and said, “My fear has always been that if you start creating these little clubs or organizations in Washington run by politicians, the movement starts to lose its energy.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) warned that the caucus may be seen as trying to “co-opt” the movement and questioned the motivations of its members.

"I’m 100 percent pro-Tea Party, but this is not the right thing to do," Chaffetz, who declined to join the caucus, told POLITICO last August. “Structure and formality are the exact opposite of what the Tea Party is, and if there is an attempt to put structure and formality around it, or to co-opt it by Washington, D.C., it’s going to take away from the free-flowing nature of the true Tea Party Movement. If any one person tries to become the head of it, it will lose its way.”

The new caucus has allowed some Democrats to jump on the opportunity to link Republicans in Congress with the Tea Party, especially during the midterm election period.

"The Republican Party agenda has become the Tea Party agenda, and vice versa," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said at a news conference late last July. Fla. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, now chairwoman of the DNC, later echoed those sentiments on MSNBC’s “The Place for Politics.”

The truth is, the caucus could give legislators a chance to claim they’re part of the Tea Party Movement without holding to its ideals, trying to appear more conservative than they really are. The country has been leaning more right in the past year or so and moderate Republicans have been forced to adapt to that trend.

A Rasmussen poll conducted last month on 1,000 likely voters found that voters see the “Tea Party” a bit less negatively as a political label these days, while the terms “liberal” and “progressive” have lost ground even among Democrats. “Conservative” remains the most favored description, with 42 percent of likely voters saying they view it as a “positive if a candidate is described as politically conservative.”

Republican legislators could be skeptical about aligning with the Tea Party Caucus for three reasons: 1) They genuinely care about the organics of the Tea Party Movement and want to protect its grass-roots feel, 2) They feel they would be more useful in the already established GOP, or 3) They fear aligning themselves with the perceived “extreme” right.

Tea and the Media who cried ‘race’

By Jessica Chasmar (6/16/11)

The public, as well as the news media, has become intrigued by the Tea Party Movement and its implications for party politics. According to an article by Amy Gardner of The Washington Post, media coverage of the Tea Party has greatly evolved since it began in 2009. At first, people in the media were dismissive of the Tea Party. There was the instance of CNN’s Susan Roesgen at one of the very first Tea Party rallies, who suggested that attendees were ”anti-government, “in debt” and inappropriate for “family viewing.”

The “Nationwide Chicago Tea Party” protest was coordinated across more than 40 different cities on Feb. 27, 2009, establishing the first national Tea Party protest. However, according to the following figure, provided by Williamson, Skocpol and Coggin of Harvard University, the event was hardly covered in broadcast news.

Cable news was slow to recognize the growth of the movement until the April 15th “Tax Day” protests. Hundreds of protests were held nationwide, with protestors at each event often numbering in the low thousands. Poll analyst for The New York Times Nate Silver estimated the total number of Tea Party participants at more than 300,000 people nationwide that day.

According to Williamson, Skocpol and Coggin, CNN’s coverage is largely reactive, but “Fox coverage anticipates Tea Party events in the early months of the Tea Party’s activity, and maintains coverage between peak events.” They posit that CNN’s level of coverage is partly caused by the anticipatory coverage on Fox News.

The Washington Post conducted a canvass among hundreds of local Tea Party groups last October and showed that 76 percent of local organizers said that media coverage of their groups has been either very fair or somewhat fair. Only 8 percent said coverage has been very unfair; 15 percent said somewhat unfair.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, even said in an interview with Amy Garner of The Washington Post that news coverage has improved dramatically: “The more time reporters have had to actually talk to activists and cover the events, the more the coverage has gotten far more fair and realistic about what’s actually going on.”

Some others might disagree with that statement.

Laurie Newsom, president of the Gainesville Tea Party, in Florida, said, “Since the beginning of this movement I have not yet read or heard a mainstream news article or analysis that accurately portrays the Tea Party or its members.”

FSU law student and Tea Party supporter Jaime Sherman said, “[The media] have not portrayed the Tea Party correctly because most news stations have an agenda. The more liberal stations try to paint the group as crazy, backwoods racists. The more conservative stations try to portray it as a movement by Republicans to restore ‘traditional Republican values.’ It’s neither. It’s a movement focused on getting the government out of human life – both economically and socially.”

On May 20 of last year, accusations by members of Congress that Tea Party protesters had hurled racial and sexual epithets at them outside the Capitol prompted a wave of media coverage over whether the Tea Party was based on anti-Obama racism. A string of stories focused on the racially charged statements of certain protesters.

Such coverage drew criticism from Sarah Palin and other conservative leaders. Andrew Breitbart has since offered $100,000 to the first person who can produce a video or audio recording of the incident. One year later and no recordings have come forward. A detailed timeline of the “incident” can be found at HotAir.

Jerry Merckel, a member of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., said he has attended many Tea Party events, ranging from 10 attendees to the hundreds of thousands.

“I have never seen any evidence of racism,” he said. “All participants acted in a civil manner toward one another.”

He does acknowledge, however, that not many blacks attend the rallies. “The Tea Party events are mostly attended by white persons,” he said. “The number of blacks participating is growing slowly. However, it appears to me that most of the black community is supportive of the present administration.”

There have been isolated public incidents of racism within the movement, but Tea Party activists normally root those offenders out. The Washington Independent reported that Texas activist Dale Robertson, who held a sign comparing taxpayers to a racial epithet and Congress to slave owners at a 2009 rally, was reportedly encouraged to leave and “pilloried by his peers.” David Weigel of The Washington Post reported that Mark Williams, formerly the spokesman for the Tea Party Express, was booted out of a Tea Party event after penning a parody that had the NAACP hoping for slavery.

Newsweek reported that a 2010 survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality “offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers.” The report stated that Tea Partiers have a 25 percent higher probability of being “racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters.” The data suggested that the Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government, but also race.

The Newsweek article goes on: When read the statement that “if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites,” 73 percent of the movement’s supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up “without special favors,” as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents.  

The problem I have with this data is it fails to explain why Tea Partiers would agree with these statements. Tea Party supporters are hopeful that “The American Dream” still exists. The entire premise of the American Dream is that ANYONE — black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight — can achieve success if they just try hard enough. Just look at the many underprivileged people who came from literally nothing. People of minority races who have risen above societal pitfalls and made incredible successes of themselves: Amancio Ortega, Colin Powell, Antonio Villaraigosa, Oprah Winfrey, Marco Rubio, Michael Steele…

Most of these people grew up in a time where racism was still widespread and blatant, yet they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and took control of their lives and their futures. That’s beautiful. That’s what the Tea Party stands for, because that’s what The America Dream stands for.

To say Tea Partiers are more likely to be “resentful” toward other races doesn’t tell the full story. Tea Partiers believe all races in America can achieve the same successes whites can without federal assistance. True libertarians and conservatives believe the government needs to stay out of our business and leave the achievements to us. True liberty is allowing for equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. In fact, true libertarians and conservatives believe policies, like affirmative action and welfare, actually hurt minorities rather than help them.

Shelby Steele — a black-American author, columnist and documentary filmmaker, who has become a very prominent voice on this issue — asserts that affirmative action has reinforced a self-sabotaging sense of victimization among blacks by encouraging them to blame their failures on white racism instead of their own shortcomings.

“Blacks now stand to lose more from affirmative action than they gain,” he once told TIME Magazine. This is the view most Tea Partiers hold toward affirmative action, as well as other entitlement programs like welfare, and it’s the same reason they’re also seen as “racist.”

In a comment on the Newsweek article, Jaime Sherman said, “There are racist people within the movement just like there are racist Democrats, Republicans, Socialists and the like. The core principles have nothing to do with race, nor is race even a sweeping issue among self-proclaimed members. It has, and always will be, a red herring claim used to discredit those who want true freedom.”

The truth is simple: If Obama was a conservative or libertarian, who supported conservative and libertarian ideals, the Tea Party and the GOP would have supported him.

Who are These People?

By Jessica Chasmar (6/15/11)

The Tea Party Movement is a “grassroots reaction to an intrusive government taking the country towards socialism,” said Laurie Newsom, the president of the Gainesville Tea Party in Gainesville, Fla. ”All Tea Party groups adhere to the same three basic values: limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.”

Newsom got active in the movement in response to the “failure of the Republican party to protect those three values and the rapidity by which [the United States] is disintegrating.”

In a National Review/McLaughlin Associates poll conducted last February, six percent of 1,000 likely voters said that they “had participated in a Tea Party or similar protest.” Fifty-three percent said they “had not participated in a Tea Party protest, but [they] generally agree with the reasons for those protests.”

But what kinds of people make up the Tea Party? The movement cannot accurately be described as “monochromatic” and “all white,” as Chris Matthews once described it, referring to a Tea Party rally held in D.C. Sept. 12, 2009. In fact, several black Tea Partiers have spoken out against accusations that the Tea Party is all white.

Bob Parks, a Project 21 member from Virginia, said in a press release, “Here’s a news flash for Chris Matthews. I was there. So was my son. Last time I checked, both of us are black — and we weren’t the only black people there. I know other black people who attended the September 12 rally in Washington, including some of the ones who spoke at the podium. I guess the MSNBC camera people missed them.” Project 21 is an initiative of the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives.

A Gallup poll conducted last April found the movement to be “representative of the public at large.” Tea Partiers diverge from the general public in that they are mostly Republican and conservative in their leanings. They also have higher incomes than average voters and are slightly more likely to be male, according to a New York Times/CBS poll conducted last April. However, according to Gallup, when it comes to age, educational background, employment status and race, Tea Party supporters are mostly similar to the public in general.

According to Kate Zernicke and Megan Thee-Brenan of The New York Times, Tea Partier’s responses are like the general public’s in many ways. Most describe the amount they paid in taxes last year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools, and most do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president.

Nearly 9 in 10 Tea Partiers disapprove of the job President Obama is doing overall, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues, such as health care, the economy and the deficit. According to the Times, when voters were asked if Barack Obama’s policies “are moving the country more toward socialism,” 92 percent of Tea Partiers said yes an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

Yet while Tea Partiers are more conservative than Republicans on some social issues, about 8 in 10 say that they are more concerned with economic issues than social issues, as is the general public.

Jerry Merckel, a member of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean of the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction at the University of North Florida. He got involved in the movement because he was concerned about the future for his three children and his eight grandchildren.

“The economy is declining, tax revenues are decreasing, unemployment is now heading toward 10 percent, the deficit is increasing and the U.S. government is printing more money,” he said. “Continuing on this path leads to U.S. bankruptcy. All that you have worked for will be lost. The future for our children is in doubt.”

According to a New York Times/CBS poll conducted last year, while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.” When asked what they are angry about, they offered three main concerns: health care, government spending and a feeling that their voices are not being heard in Washington.

FSU law student and avid Tea Party supporter Jaime Sherman is a self-described voluntaryist. He defines voluntaryism (or anarchism) as seeking to maximize individual liberty through voluntary living. This means removing coercion from human interaction as much as possible.

“The Tea Party, as it was first started, was a frustrated group of Americans who were tired of government growth as pushed by both major parties,” Sherman said. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans were living up to their promises, and the size of government and national debt kept growing. In response, the Tea Party was formed out of anger toward our nation’s leaders and their disrespect of individual liberty and autonomy.”

In recent years, the Republican Party has seen its approval levels sink to new lows. In 2001, 32 percent of registered voters told Gallup they considered themselves Republican. By 2009, that number had dropped by 5 percentage points. The number of voters who identified themselves as Independent showed a corresponding rise.

What is interesting, however, is that over that same time frame, the number of voters self-identified as conservative stayed relatively constant. It’s still too simple to imply a one-for-one swap, but the trend seems clear: The Tea Party Movement arose in an environment in which a growing number of fiscally conservative Americans believed the GOP was not voicing their concerns.