The Real Tea Party Movement

The New York Times broke a big story last month when it published its findings from a survey of Tea Party supporters. The “attitudes of those in the movement have been known largely anecdotally,” wrote Zerninke and Thee-Brenan, the authors of the exposé. The media depiction of the Tea Party hasn’t been particularly favorable, partially because the Tea Parties have been protest movements. There is no clear leader and rarely if ever has a Tea Party representative sat down and had a serious political discussion with the media. And even when they have, we shouldn’t take that person’s view as representative of the entire Tea Party movement; the Tea Parties are loosely organized and their supporters have a wide variety of beliefs. The Times published a few statements from followup interviewers. But the majority of the article surrounded the data collected in the survey. So to augment theTimes‘ findings, I conducted a number of interviews with Tea Party supporters over the past few weeks. The interviewees ranged from well-known Tea Party leaders to regular people who have attended a few rallies. Hopefully these interviews provide can provide a better record of what the Tea Partiers really stand for–better than a few news clips of screaming protestors. The comments have been lightly edited for clarity.

Teresa Clarity

Q: How did you originally become involved with the Tea Party movement?

A: I became involved last year when it became apparent the current administration was hard of hearing when it came to the people they were supposed to be working for. My husband is a retired Air Force Military Sergeant, so as a military wife with over 23 years serving our country I have always loved America. A career military family has a regard for our country a little higher than the average citizen. We give up years of our lives, as well as the possibility of our loved ones’ lives, in service. I have always voted, absentee ballot if need be, and have been a registered GOP all my voting life. I was not happy with the choice of McCain, feel he is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), but at least he did hold a love for America that Obama could never voice. He can barely force himself to respect the flag.

Q: Would you say your military background influences your political views? Would the fact that a politician served in the U.S. military give you a more favorable opinion of that individual if they were running for a federal office?

A: Military service influences my views just as any life experience does, but in a positive way. As a military dependent I got to live in many states and see many places, meet many people I would not normally have gotten to meet or see. I have a broader view of the diversity of America. As a member of the military, we are a huge “family” of all races, colors, backgrounds wearing the same uniform. We are Americans, not the hyphenated kind either. Base housing serves military families of every race & ethnicity. Our children grow up together as “military brats”. I also experienced the government health care first hand. I don’t think the rest of the country will be very happy with it. Yes, I think military service is a definite plus in the age we live. We would understand the term “Commander In Chief” much better.

Q: Do you think tea partiers have gone too far in their attacks on the Democratic Party? Do you think that creating posters depicting President Obama with Hitler’s mustache is an accurate portrayal of your and his political and economic views?

A: He’s a Marxist. So was Hitler. The signs are a means of expression that help some folks get their point across. I prefer the “Don’t tread on me” yellow Gladsen flag.

Q: Given your pick of any politician in the country, who would you elect as the next president of the United States and why?

A: I like Ryan, Pawlenty, Palin, Patreus, among others. Can’t stand Romney or Gingrich. Both RINOs.

Q: Would you say you generally approve or disapprove of the Republican Party as it currently stands?

A: The GOP has strayed away from the conservative small government principles in trying to please “moderates”. I say, let them go be Democrats. If you are conservative, pro-life, and believe in the Constitution as it was written, you’re a member of the GOP. Otherwise, you’re a Democrat.

Q: Do you believe that the recently passed health care bill provides for the creation of “death panels” which would determine whether an individual was eligible for care, as Sarah Palin said in an August 7, 2009 comment?

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

⎯Sarah Palin, via a Facebook note

A: Since I have read the resolution for the HCR bill I not only believe it, I know it to be true. Call it anything you wish, “end of life counseling” or whatever fancy government bureaucracy you wish to name it. It still stinks of what it is.

Q: I think we’d disagree then on the definition of a “death panel”. Would you feel that Sarah Palin is capable of leading the United States?

A: Yes.

Q: OK, one final question. The financial reform bill proposed by Senator Dodd of Connecticut is composed of a number of regulations to help protect consumers and arrest some of the actions which led to the financial collapse of 2008. As a Tea Party member, do you believe this is within the scope of what the federal government should do? Do you generally oppose any expansion of government, or only the significant expansion of government spending?

A: The so-called finance reform bill sponsored by Senator Dodd (Mr. Countrywide) is a typical piece of legislative smoke and mirrors. Our own Tennessee Senator Corker was working with Dodd on this particular bill and I contacted him to let him know that anyone claiming to be a conservative Republican would never co-sponsor a “finance reform” bill with one of the top 10 most corrupt politicians in D.C. He has since distanced himself from this nasty piece of business. This bill would set up a permanent $50 billion a year TARP fund. Guess one of the banks benefiting from this bill. Give up? Goldman-Sachs. Isn’t that special. One of the highest donating banks to the Democrats. Including Obama.

I dislike any expansion of the government. Why? It’s a peculiar thing about government. When you give it an inch it takes a mile. It is like body fat, hard to get rid of once you gain it. I believe, as the founders did, the best government is closest to the people it governs.

Q: Actually a lot of what you said isn’t true.

There is no $50 million perpetual TARP fund. That was a lie perpetuated by Mitch McConnell. There is such a fund, and it is designed to help wind down “Too Big to Fail” banks rather than giving them Federal Reserve or Treasury capital and preventing their failure. It is not, however, a fund provided by any government agency. The money is drawn from the banks themselves. Essentially, the industry has to pay for its own failure should it later occur. The goal of this industry fund is to prevent future TARP-like programs, not to create a permanent one. Goldman Sachs is also not benefitting in any special way from this bill. As with all banks, it would be hurt by regulation. If anything, the recent fraud charges against Goldman will likely act as a catalyst to push the bill through Congress. And Goldman has lobbied heavily against financial reform, as has the financial industry as a whole.

A: Regarding Dodd’s finance reform bill, where do you think that $50 billion will come from? The banking entities you say? And where do you think they will get the money to pay into this? The consumer through higher banking fees.

Bill Hinmann

Q: How did you originally become involved with the Tea Party movement?

A: I originally became involved with the Tea Party as a result of the bailout bill.

Q: Which of the following, if any, would you personally identify with? If more than one, rank them in order of importance. Democrat, Republican, Tea Party Supporter.

A: I identify most strongly with the Tea Party, I do not identify at all with Democrats or Republicans. If someone is fiscally conservative, supports a strong military and is interested in rolling back government at all levels, I will support them.

Q: You say that you will support someone who supports a strong military. Why are you so strongly in favor of military spending but oppose all other types? Would you say that it was within the purview of how you define a strong military for the U.S. to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq and attempt to rebuild those countries?

A: It’s pretty simple really. Defense is in the Constitution, as a mandated function of our government, at the federal level. A strong military is what our military leadership says is needed to confront any threats to the U.S. In full disclosure, I am a U.S. Air Force veteran from 1960-64. I think you will find that many people like me have a sympathy for our military.

Incidentally, your biases are showing when you state, “to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq and attempt to rebuild those countries?” Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say we were in the process of liberating them? Ask the average Iraqi whether he appreciates our ridding their world of Saddam Hussein. I will bet the answer is a resounding “thank you”.

Note: In Afghanistan, where the U.S. invaded based on the pretenses of searching for and eliminating terrorists, 7 out of 10 Afghans support NATO troops according to a recent poll. But in Iraq, where we invaded based on the assertion that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction, the vast majority of Iraqis disapprove of U.S. military presence, according to a 2006 poll published by USA Today. Nearly 80% responded that the presence of a U.S. military force in Iraq “provoked more violence than it prevented.”

Q: Do you believe that the recently passed health care bill provides for the creation of “death panels” which would determine whether an individual was eligible for care, as Sarah Palin said in an August 7, 2009 comment?

A: Actually, as I recall, and I do not have the text here now, but the “death panels” were created in the TARP bill. Specifically as Comparative effectiveness research panels.

Q: Comparative effectiveness research as defined by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 analyzes various treatments and compares them, such as name brand drugs to generic drugs and drugs to surgery. The panels do not mandate that any doctor or patient utilize any specific treatment; they only evaluate the treatments so that the doctors and patients may choose between different treatments more effectively. It is not a death panel. Given this information, would you like to revise your answer or do you stand by your previous statement?

A: Comparative effectiveness research may in fact be what you claim it to be. However, if treatment is denied, or modified by virtue of its recommendations, and that is contrary to what your doctor ordered, and payment is reduced or denied by virtue of its recommendations, then it is in fact a “death panel”.

Q: I think we’ll just have to disagree on what a death panel is–you’re stretching the real definition well beyond its limits. But I have one final question. A number of Tea Partiers have held up signs charging Obama with being a fascist. Would you agree with them?

 

A tea partier holds up a sign saying President Obama is a fascist

A: Interesting question. So I went on line and did a search.  Here is what I found. fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

So, in my opinion, when someone extolls a “centralized, autocratic government, headed by a dictatorial leader, with severe economic and social regimentation, with forcible suppression of opposition,” he can be characterized as a fascist.

Q: That sounds awfully like you’re calling the president a fascist. Is that what you intend?

A: You have what you have. I will not characterize his administration. If the definition fits, so be it.

Michelle T.

Q: How did you originally become involved with the Tea Party movement?

A: I became involved in the Tea Party movement due to a high level of concern for out of control spending of the government which included the TARP and stimulus. It was clear that our Congress was not listening to the concerns clearly and loudly voiced by the American voter. Congress was ignoring the Constitution and infringing upon the liberty of the citizens of the United States.

Q: Do you regularly participate in tea party meetings and events?

A: Yes, I am a “first time in my life” activist, committed to vote for and support fiscally responsible candidates for public office who commit to uphold to the Constitution.

Q: Do you believe that President Obama was born in the United States?

A: I have seen no evidence to the contrary.

Q: Do you believe that the recently passed health care bill provides for the creation of “death panels” which would determine whether an individual was eligible for care, as Sarah Palin said in an August 7, 2009 comment?

A: I believe that the addition of millions more people to the health care system will cause rationing of care and whether we like it or not it will cause repercussions.  Younger people may not see this now however; they may be hard pressed to find future care for their ailing parents.  At that time they will reflect on how their votes affected their future and that of their children and will be very disappointed.  It’s hard for them to see this now, but it will come to pass without question.

Healthcare should have been addressed first with reform:

  • Pre-existing conditions modifications (this exists somewhat now in that when a person changes jobs, they have “insurance continuation” and no need to satisfy an elimination period for pre-existing conditions)
  • Tort Reform – legal costs would influence significant reductions in insurance premiums
  • Risk Pools – as with car insurance, “risk pools” could spread the risk among many companies and those who do not have insurance or cannot get it due to a pre-existing condition could have access
  • Purchase Across State Lines – more competition equates to less cost

Mandy (Liberty Chick)

Mandy is a well known self-described conservative constitutional activist. She blogs fromlibertychick.com as well as the popular right-wing Big Government blog. It was a special honor to interview Mandy and to get the opinion of someone who has been a longtime political activist.

Q: How did you get involved with the Tea Party movement?

A: I don’t run a tea party. I am very politically active and I’m active through outreach programs that have to do with the Constitution. A few Tea Parties in the state were trying to organize at the state level and so they called and asked me to help them organize themselves.

Q: So since then have you been a regularly participating member?

A: Yes.

Q: We’ve seen a lot of negative images of President Obama begin displayed by Tea Partiers in the media. Specifically, one showing Obama with a Hitler mustache. How would this align with the Tea Party’s views?

A: Most of those aren’t Tea Party people. They’re LaRouche members. We don’t condone that at all. We regularly chase those people out and ask them to leave.

Q: Would you say the Republican Party right now represents Tea Party views?

A: Well, if I had to say which party represented most of the views of the Tea Partiers, I’d have to say the Republican party.

Q: So would you generally approve of the Republican Party right now and its politics in Washington?

A: Yes. I agree with a lot of the things they’re opposing.

Q: Do you believe that the recently passed health care bill provides for the creation of “death panels” which would determine whether an individual was eligible for care, as Sarah Palin said in an August 7, 2009 comment?

A: Well that part is true. I’ve examined all those panels and that’s true. I would not call them death panels, but there definitely are a barrage of panels that are most definitely going to impact who can get coverage and how quickly they can get coverage.

Q: Are there any specific panels that would do this?

A: There’s some sort of radiology panel and they’ll determine from the Center of Comparative Effectiveness and they’ll determine who can get x-rays or MRIs. That really worries me because I’ve been in that situation in the past. I needed an MRI because I had broken hardware in my back, but because I was on state Medicaid at that time, they didn’t pay for it.

Q: I’m interested that you mention that you’ve been on Medicaid in the past. Does that mean you support Medicare and Medicaid?

A: Actually, I don’t. In general I support them. I always think there’s a role for the government to play when there’s no other choice. Whatever we can do to minimize the people who go on those programs, we should do that. In the past we’ve encouraged people to go on these programs. What really worries me about the healthcare bill is that they’re expanding Medicaid. Medicaid is a mess right now.

Q: Does it strike you as ironic that the same sort of rhetoric was used in the ’60s when Medicaid was first introduced? The same type of people were demanding that government stay out of healthcare. If they had succeeded, Medicaid would have never existed and you would never had gotten medical care during the time you were on Medicaid. How do you differentiate between a program like Medicaid and the people being supported by the new legislation?

A: Well when I was on Medicaid, I didn’t get the care I needed. And so what ended up happening was that there was a doctor who said he’d take care of me for free. I think that’s the model that our country needs to look at. But to address your question, Medicaid should be addressed at the state level. Once it was kicked up to the federal level, the government was too big and too involved. State’s should be able to balance their own budgets.

Q: How do you propose that states pay for Medicare and Medicaid? The federal government has been providing massive subsidies to keep the programs afloat. The stimulus bill provided even more funding.

A: People need to pay more attention to their state budgets. There’s a lot that doesn’t need to be there. I also think there’s a lot that the nonprofit community can and is willing to pick up. But because we’ve had it embedded in government, these nonprofit solutions have never been tried. We have to look at the bigger picture; do we want to cut other areas so that we can fund Medicare?

Q: I think you may be overestimating how much of a dent your solutions would put in state budget deficits. Keep in mind that these deficits exist even with regular federal subsidies. Additional subsidies were required to keep states afloat. Do you think it’s reasonable to ask for improvements in Medicare and Medicaid but effectively advocate for reducing their budgets? How many people can we expect can get a doctor to care for them for free? I feel like that’s a pretty unrealistic solution.

A: We really need to be more responsible. Like I said, there are nonprofit options out there. And if we really looked at our state budgets, we’d find things to cut.

Q: Okay, to close out, as a Tea Partier, what is your view on the military. Are we spending too much?

A: That’s one area where my belief always is that I trust what our defense department says they need. I’ll support what they say they need since I view that as a more nonpartisan operation of the government. Defense is one area where I’m more comfortable with government being involved because they’re the only ones who can do it and our Constitution specifically mentions it. It’s not like you’re creating programs that last forever and ever and create all kinds of costs and consequences.

Q: What is your opinion on the military when it moves beyond defense? For Afghanistan, you can make the argument that we’re trying to eliminate terrorist threats. But not for Iraq. Are we overstepping the bounds of defending our borders as outlined in the Constitution, or no?

A: My belief is that it is still within defense. I support the Defense Department is because they’re the only ones with the access to the information. I can’t read over a defense budget like I can a bill.

Q: What I’m trying to get at here is that every Tea Partier has told me that the government should be spending less, addressing the deficit, and reducing our debt. Why does the military get a free pass–a blank check in effect?

A: I don’t have anything in front of me to go back and say I don’t agree with a defense appropriation. They have the information, I don’t.

Rose Ann

Q: How did you originally become involved with the Tea Party movement?

A: Well, last year, prior to April 15th, I received an email from a conservative organization whose email list I’m on and they asked if I’d be willing to work on organizing a tea party in our community. I thought that was all I was getting involved with, but little did I know, I’d become a lot more active. We’ve founded a relatively strong organization here in Sussex County, NJ.

Q: If you had to describe the views of the Tea Party, what would you say is the primary political focus of the Tea Parties?

A: Well, that would vary across the country, but I’d say the most important thing is to restore the Constitutional values of our country. We don’t feel that President Obama’s policies jive with the Constitution.

Q: What specific instances would you say have been violations of the Constitution?

A: Well, healthcare and cap and trade.

Q: What way does healthcare violate the Constitution? In how it was passed or the content of the bill itself?

A: Both.

Q: So would you say reconciliation is unconstitutional?

A: We would say it’s an objectionable process.

Q: Do you believe that the recently passed health care bill provides for the creation of “death panels” which would determine whether an individual was eligible for care, as Sarah Palin said in an August 7, 2009 comment?

A: While I probably wouldn’t say it creates death panels, I would say that it’s seriously harmful to senior citizens. It cuts back on costs for nursing homes and private healthcare. And it also impairs their ability to get devices like wheelchairs. I know that there were indeed “death panels” in the previous bill, but I haven’t read through the one they passed.

Q: Did President Obama raise or lower taxes for middle class families this year?

A: Well, he may have lowered them, but the American people aren’t stupid any more. He can throw us a bone and lower taxes now but we know with the inflation rate the economy is going to be destroyed.

Q: How is the economy being destroyed?

A: Well, jobs are being destroyed. I find it hard to believe that jobs can be created while more are lost in the same month. When people continue to lose their jobs, the economy is being destroyed.

Q: Sorry if this dives a little too much into semantics, but you say “the economy is being destroyed.” Not that it’s faltering, but that it’s being destroyed. Who’s doing the destroying and how are they doing it?

A: When we’re spending more on our debt service than our domestic product, that’s a destructive policy. You can’t keep spending and think that jobs are being created. Especially when a lot of that stimulus is being sent overseas. Eventually we’re going to run out of money.

Q: Our stimulus bill was primarily composed of tax cuts, as opposed to China’s which was focused on infrastructure. It looked more like the New Deal. It was focused more on job creation than relieving the deficit burdens of Medicare and Medicaid on states. If you don’t believe that taxes should be raised, how do we lower the deficit and eventually the national debt?

A: The way to do that is the way Reagan did. He reduced taxes which stimulated the economy. The way to stimulate the economy is to lower the tax rate. The wheels of progress start to turn.

Q: Where is the most important use of government funds? Aside from tax incentives and cuts.

A: The most important use of funds is to carry out our enumerated powers.

Q: Is it okay for the U.S. to spend roughly 25% of its federal budget on defense in waging two wars when withdrawing from those wars could help us reduce our deficit?

A: We could have cut our deficit in much more constructive ways. War always produced debt for us, but it’s allowed in the Constitution.

Q: That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. If we want to reduce deficits and subsequently debt, why does the military get free reign when they’re contributing in a big way to our budget shortfalls?

A: I’m not sure I can answer that properly for you. Whether we’ve exceeded the time we need to be there, I just don’t know.

Q: So as long as something is a specifically enumerated power in the Constitution, the government can feel free to do it?

A: Yes.

Findings

In general, the New York Times’ findings were generally represented in my interviewees. The Tea Partiers were more politically active than most, and tended to self identify more as Constitutionalists than small-government advocates. I found it especially enlightening that no one was willing to to suggest that military spending could be reduced at all. I was a bit alarmed however to find that no one was willing to criticize Sarah Palin for her death panel comment, a statement which PolitiFact.com declared the “Lie of the Year”.

What I can conclusively say though is that, as they all told me, Tea Partiers are fairly diverse. They tend to be Constitutionalists, but otherwise vary significantly in their backgrounds and their political beliefs. Next time you turn on NBC and see a screaming mob of people harassing Congressmen and holding reprehensible signs, just know that the Tea Party movement is more than that. It may be hard to find, but there are real people behind the movement. The Tea Parties themselves may sometimes get out of hand, but we shouldn’t dismiss them as a political force because of that. There are real people behind them who, although I may disagree with their views, are capable of even-handed political discussion as much as the rest of us.

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