By Jessica Chasmar (5/21/11)
“Tea Party Patriots, Inc. as an organization believes in Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. Tea Party Patriots, Inc. is a non-partisan grassroots organization of individuals united by our core values derived from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill Of Rights as explained in the Federalist Papers… We hold, as did the founders, that there exists an inherent benefit to our country when private property and prosperity are secured by natural law and the rights of the individual. As an organization we do not take stances on social issues.”
Though there is no universal Tea-Party platform, people in the movement do hold a general agreement in their ideals. Common themes among Tea Party groups are deficit reduction, reducing the size of government and eliminating mandates, such as universal health care. Some may argue that the Tea Party Movement’s platform can be traced all the way back to the Populist (People’s) Party’s established in 1887. Though the two movements may have had some similarities, such as their anger with the government and national banks, the parties differ dramatically in their overall goals for the nation. The Populist Movement sought more government intervention, such as control of railroads, telephones and telegraphs. Populists also sought a graduated income tax. Tea Partiers couldn’t be more different from the Populists in their relationship with the federal government.
The Tea Party Movement seeks to restore limited-government Constitutionalism. According to TeaParty-Platform.com, “the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land and must be adhered to without exception at all levels of government.” Also, “reducing the overall size, scope and reach of government at both local and national levels will help to eliminate inefficiencies that result in deficit spending which adds to our country’s debt.”
According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in the summer of last year, Tea Partiers differ from those neutral or opposed to the movement on the issues they perceive as “extremely serious threats” to the future of the United States, specifically the federal debt and the size and power of the federal government. However, when considering unemployment, involvement in Iraq/Afghanistan and discrimination against minority groups as serious threats to the United States, Tea Party supporters and opponents are essentially indistinguishable.
Social policy has not been central to the Tea Party Movement, although some have tried to connect it to religion, including Fox commentator Glenn Beck at his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington. According to the same USA Today/Gallup poll, Tea Party supporters are much more unified in their views of the government’s role in economic matters than in matters of morality, with 80 percent of Tea Partiers saying the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses. Just over half of supporters believe the government should promote traditional values, and 39 percent say the government should not favor any set of values.
According to a Feb. 23, 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, roughly half of Tea Party supporters said their religious beliefs are the most important influence on their views of gay marriage and abortion. In contrast, only 37 percent of overall voters said their religious beliefs were the most important influence on their views of same-sex marriage, and only 28 percent cited religion as the primary influence on their views of abortion.
The analysis shows that most people who agree with the religious right also support the Tea Party, but that support is not widely reciprocated. The poll found that 46 percent of Tea Party supporters had not heard of or did not have an opinion about “the conservative Christian movement sometimes known as the religious right;” 42 percent said they agree with the conservative Christian movement and 11 percent said they disagree. Among Republican-leaning voters, 91 percent had heard of the Tea Party compared with 68 percent who were familiar with the conservative Christian movement. The poll found 86 percent of overall voters had at least heard of the Tea Party Movement, with only 64 percent having heard of the conservative Christian movement.
Tea Party groups and individuals all over the country have filed suit against members of the Obama administration over the health care legislation signed into law last March. They claim the legislation, nicknamed Obamacare, is unconstitutional and are continuously seeking to have the legislation overturned. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Florida said this January that the Obama administration’s historic health care overhaul is unconstitutional, siding with 26 other states that had sued to block it. The issue was whether the government is using its power beyond the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce by requiring citizens to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.
“This is obviously a very difficult task,” Vinson wrote in his ruling. “Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”
Most Tea Partiers are older, from 45 and up, and a lot of them collect Social Security and Medicare. According to a New York Times/ CBS News poll, 17 percent of Tea Partiers collect Social Security (compared to 12 percent of all respondents,) and 16 percent of Tea Partiers surveyed are covered by Medicare (compared to 13 percent of all respondents.) When asked, “Are the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare worth the costs of those programs?” 62 percent of Tea Partiers said yes, while 33 percent said no.
So why the inconsistency?
Their reasoning behind opposing big government, yet accepting benefits from that government, is often that they’ve already spent years paying into the system, so why not reap the benefits? It may make some sense logistically, but philosophically it doesn’t. This adds to the wide perception among Tea Party opponents that Tea Partiers are illogical and hypocritical. How can a veteran who collects benefits from the federal government support the Tea Party?
I defend the Tea Party-supporting veterans who collect benefits because, as a libertarian, I believe the primary and sole responsibility of the federal government (let’s not confuse federal and state government. Libertarians are not to be confused with anarchists) is to provide a powerful military. Libertarians believe that the federal government’s only right to collect taxes from its citizenry is to properly fund the military. Therefore, it’s seen as proper for a vet to live off the system it was created for and to continue to take care of our men and women when they come back from serving. I haven’t been able to find a reliable poll that asks whether some Tea Partiers identify as libertarian, but according to a Gallup poll, 43 percent of Tea Partiers identify as Independents. Coming from my personal observations in dealing with the Tea Party, it can be inferred that a great deal of them are libertarians and follow this mindset.
The Tea Party is still unorganized, and given that there’s no universal platform, Tea Partiers often get confused with what they support and what they don’t. Sometimes they have trouble backing up their ideals. Though their ideals may seem legitimate in theory, sometimes they have a hard time articulating and defending their stances. Kate Zernike and Megan Thee-Brennan of the New York Times, for instance, wrote an article about the Tea Party in April of last year and found that nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut. But in follow-up interviews, they said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security. Some defended being on Social Security by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits. Others could not explain the contradiction.
According to a column by Tea Party supporter Brian Koziara of The Michigan Daily, “A man’s right to earn, create and own property is the essential building block of a free market society. We view governmental mandates to buy healthcare as an imposition upon personal freedom and choice. We view cradle-to-grave entitlement programs as irresponsible and as ‘generational theft,’ a term invented by Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.).”
A common view among Tea Partiers and socialized medicine opponents is that health care should be viewed as a commodity, not an individual right. They stand behind the “Commerce Clause” in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, which says the federal government does not have the right to levy taxes. Because, under the legislation, individuals will be penalized financially if the don’t buy the mandated healthcare, opponents say it is an unconstitutional tax on citizens.
Many are against the federal income tax as well, with organizations, such as FairTax.org, and 2012 presidential candidates, such as Herman Cain, proposing a “fair tax” on U.S. citizens. According to FairTax.org, “The FairTax Act (HR 25, S 13) is nonpartisan legislation. It abolishes all federal personal and corporate income taxes, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, and self-employment taxes and replaces them with one simple, visible, federal retail sales tax administered primarily by existing state sales tax authorities.” According to various Tea Party websites, Tea Partiers stand behind this legislation in very large numbers.
Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), the primary sponsor of fair tax legislation, said in a statement to The Hill, “Both the Tea Party and the fair tax seek to put power back in the hands of the American people.”
Some groups have also tried to rally Tea Party activists against global warming policy. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in October 2010, only 14 percent of Tea Party supporters said that global warming is an environmental problem, in contrast to 49 percent of the rest of the public. More than half of Tea Party supporters said that global warming would have no serious effect in the future, while only 15 percent of other Americans shared that view. Eight percent of Tea Partiers said they did not believe global warming exists at all, while only 1 percent of other respondents agreed.
Tea Partiers stand for many different things, but one thing is apparent: they’re fed up with rising taxes and the increase of government intervention in their everyday lives. Most of them believe that if it’s not in the Constitution, it doesn’t belong, making them view the healthcare mandate as an imposition on their freedom to buy goods as they choose. They have become increasingly dubious of climate change policy because of the mandates associated with it, such as cap and trade. They see the federal debt as potentially catastrophic to the U.S. economy. They seek to abolish the “welfare state” they believe has led to a society of entitlements. And they seek to cut, or abolish completely, federal bureaucracies, such as the Department of Education, in hopes to delegate more rights to the free markets of the states. Tea Partiers want to take power away from the federal government and give it to state’s governments, in hopes that they would compete in a free society.
Virtually since the days of the New Deal, the United States has yet to see a system that even resembles what I’ve explained here, and many Tea Party opponents have considered Tea Partiers radical partly because of it. Opponents see the Tea Party as an impractical, illogical way of thinking and have often considered them irrational, angry or hypocritical. There are people on extreme sides of every party, but we’ll have to see whether or not the Tea Party can come up with a relatively universal platform, working out the vital kinks it needs in order to establish legitimacy.