Since the inception of the Tea Party, the media has largely tried to paint the movement as a group of angry, anti-government extremists who couldn’t wait to leave their secluded cabins and double-wide trailers to gather in joint opposition of the first black president.
I think the media-elites actually believed these generalizations to be true in the early months. As time went on though, and it became clear that the movement was essentially made up of fiscal conservatives of all backgrounds, the media responded by pounding the narrative even harder. They feared this uprising from the heartland and did everything they could to marginalize their message by marginalizing them.
I’m not a member of the Tea Party. I’ve never dressed up like a colonial patriot and marched in a parade. I’ve never held up a protest sign of any type, or attended grassroots rallies. I’ve never challenged an elected official at a town hall meeting. However, I admire the Tea Party, and not just because they share my principles of fiscal responsibility and small government. I admire them because they’ve put themselves out there in the public-eye and have made themselves relevant in our political discourse.
This has never been an easy thing for us every-day conservatives to do. Traditionally, we’ve been pretty reluctant to express our political views in public. Sure, we’ll occasionally do a bit of venting to those we know well and are of like-mind, but we generally assume that our peers all lean to the left of us politically. Thus, we’re conscious that they might be offended or even angered by our beliefs. When we read books by recognizable, conservative authors in a public setting, we find a way to conceal the cover to avoid unprompted confrontations with passers-by. Putting political bumper-stickers on our cars is a painstaking task for us. We think long and hard before choosing an image or message, overly concerned that it might insult someone. If we do build up the nerve to go through with it, we worry about our cars being vandalized in retaliation.
Our friends on the far left don’t seem to worry about these things. It must be nice.
During the Bush years, it wasn’t uncommon to see a “Bush Lied… Soldiers Died” bumper-sticker (and that was one of the kinder ones) pass in front of me on the interstate. When I’d go to lunch with a group of co-workers, some of the more left-leaning ones would occasionally initiate a rant on how Bush was destroying the country. My instinct was to just bite my tongue and avoid engagement. Interestingly, these colleagues weren’t trying to debate anyone. Instead, they had a natural assumption that everyone else at the table felt exactly the same way they did. Imagine that. I even have extended family that bashes conservative politicians in their annual Christmas letter that they send out to everyone. The message is loud and clear: Liberalism is socially-acceptable.
It’s pretty clear why we’ve had trouble coming out of our conservative shells. For decades the entertainment and news media have successfully labeled conservatism as a repressive ideology of intolerance, selfishness, and greed. On the other hand, those same people define Liberalism as tolerant, compassionate, generous, and thanks to the backing of the pop-culture world, cool! Who wouldn’t want to be a proud liberal?
The Tea Party, however, has been revolutionary in changing the culture in this country. In the wake of the 2008 elections, many pundits and political figures were declaring the Democratic victories as concrete proof of America’s rejection of conservatism. But in reaction to President Obama’s policies, many closet conservatives decided they could no longer worry about public perception. They saw the future of their country in jeopardy, and they made their voices heard on a scale I’ve never seen in my lifetime. They put themselves in front of the cameras, holding signs with messages of opposition, and began openly speaking their minds to their representatives. In most cases, these people were doing it for the first time in their lives, and they no longer cared what their neighbors thought.
Does anyone remember a woman named Katy Abram? She was a Pennsylvania resident who spoke up to then U.S. Senator, Arlen Specter at a town hall meeting back in 2009. She was an inspiration to me, and it wasn’t because she spoke out against the same concerns for the country that I have. She was an inspiration because of how clearly uncomfortable and nervous she was in expressing her views in public. She had written down her concerns earlier on a piece of paper that shook in her hands as she bravely and carefully read her statement with an emotional quiver in her voice. By the end of her comments, she had gained confidence, lifted her eyes up from her notes, and ended up earning the enthusiastic support of everyone seated around her. That night, she came out of her conservative shell, and I believe motivated scores of others to do the same. She certainly motivated me.
Two years later, the media is still doing their best to discredit the tea-party (lately with a certain degree of success), but I believe that the gates of patriotic dissent have been left open for those who are ready to come out of their conservative shells. Our ideals are nothing to be ashamed of, and they’re too important to let the media define them for us.
We can learn several things from the Tea Party. Perhaps most notably is their nerve.