Where Should We Go From Here: The Future Of The Tea Parties

Most of us agree that our government’s spending problems did not begin on Jan. 20th, 2009 with the inauguration of Barack Obama.  However, since that day, spending has gone off the charts and our national debt is mathematically impossible to pay off.   At the time in addition to TARP, the “stimulus” package was being discussed.  In the process of this expansion of governmental powers and government spending, Rick Santelli of CNBC lit a powderkeg that exploded into the Tea Party movement.

We can sit here and rehash the issues, but that’s not what I want to discuss with you right now.  A friend of mine wrote some advice to the Tea Parties on his blog a little while ago where he discussed what he thought the Tea Parties should focus on.  He was concerned that the Tea Parties were losing their direction and should focus on fiscal issues instead of incorporating social issues.  When we had lunch together a short time later, the subject came up again and I had to respectfully disagree with him.  However, after thinking about it for awhile and seeing the results in Massachusetts and here in Illinois, I have had a change of heart.

The Tea Parties were forged in the spirit of the American Revolution.  We rallied against a government that was acting more like the madness of King George III than Jefferson or Madison’s vision of government.  We rallied against the trampling of our Constitutional rights given to us under the Bill of Rights.  We rallied against the government expanding its powers past what is lined out in Article I, Sec. 8, 9, and 10.   We rallied as a President refused to live with the confines of Article II when he started buying car companies and taking over banks.  But nowhere at those original rallies did we rally for pro-life, defense of marriage, or other social issues.

As this last primary season went full steam ahead, the social issues began to find their way to the forefront at Tea Party rallies.  But is this what the Tea Parties have become?  Have the Tea Parties morphed into a catch-all for conservatives, both fiscal and social?  In a nutshell, I would say no.  Let me explain by what I have observed over the last year.

Many of us have seen both political parties lean further and further left, especially the Democrats under the leadership of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama.  I also believe there are a great many of us who are not only fiscal conservatives but also social conservatives.  I also believe that many of us wore our beliefs on our sleeves when we began to choose who we would support in the primary and who we ultimately voted for.  I also think there are generally more Republicans and Independents than Democrats that make up the Tea Party crowed.  As a result, not everyone agrees on the social issues and I believe that if we focus on those exclusively or if we allow those issues to drive the Tea Parties instead the fiscal issues we will run into some serious problem later on.  In essence, we would be allowing what many of us are trying to do to the political parties happen to us.  Many of us have taken up positions within the grassroots levels of both political parties and mostly the Republicans.  We are attempting to change both political parties but it just happens that one party is already closer ideologically to Tea Parties than the other.  I myself serve as a precinct committeeman.

I know many at first glance of this article will disagree with it.  However, the Tea Parties are separate from political parties.  We seek to change the political parties, but if we move away from our original intent, then we risk two things: 3rd party and alienation of voters.  First, if the Tea Parties become the catch-all for conservatives, then what is stopping the Tea Parties from becoming a 3rd party other than filing the paperwork, electing officers and establishing a platform?  I’ve never voted 3rd party, I never will, and I will never be associated with a 3rd party.  3rd parties do allow for the discussion of different issues that the major party campaigns may ignore or may not want to discuss.  On the other hand, 3rd parties in elections have allowed people to be elected that might not have been – Bill Clinton (Ross Perot), George W. Bush (Ralph Nader), Rod Blagojevich (Rich Whitney) , and Al Frankin (Dean Barkley).  Secondly, the Tea Parties are running a risk of alienating independents and some Democrats by focusing on social issues.  Many of the Independents shy away from social issues or fail to see social issues as a critical part of vetting a candidate.  Likewise, many of the more conservative Democrats may not agree with some of the social issues that conservative Republicans believe in.  The one thing that everyone can agree on is fiscal responsibility.

All of this brings me to ask what we should do now that the primary is over and the nominees have been chosen.  Bill Brady is currently leading (and will most likely end up winning) as the GOP candidate for governor.  Brady beat out a strong run by Adam Andzrejewski, which had support from many, if not most of the Tea Parties and 9-12 groups.  I think the Tea Parties will be able to easily support Bill Brady in his run for Illinois Governor.  The problem lies with Mark Kirk who won the GOP US Senate nomination.  I think we all know that despite Kirk’s stances, he’s better than Alexi Giannoulias – Obama’s protégé.  We as Tea Partiers rallied against Mark Kirk because of his vote on Cap and Trade and a few other questionable fiscal issues.  Conservative Republicans were against Kirk because of fiscal concerns and his liberal social issues stances.  The question that we face now is whether the Tea Parties can or should support Mark Kirk instead of a 3rd party candidate or sitting at home on Election Day in November.  You already know my feelings toward 3rd parties, so that leaves the other part of the question.

We know Mark Kirk voted for Cap and Trade.  We know that he has some other questionable votes or stances on fiscal issues.  He has since sworn not to support Cap and Trade as a Senator.  We do have to take into account that he represented one of the more liberal Republican districts in Illinois.  So, do we fault him for listening to his constituents like we all say our elected officials should do?  I would say yes and no.  No fault in listening to his constituents, but yes because some issues fiscal or otherwise have wider implications than just one district or one state.  I also look at Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.  Many of the Tea Parties supported his campaign, despite his pro-choice stance (notice fiscal issues overrode the social issues with Tea Parties).  So, what needs to happen before Tea Parties and conservative Republicans can support Mark Kirk?

For Tea Parties and after talking with Tea Party friend in the Metro St. Louis area, Kirk should have to sign a pledge, literally and figuratively with the Tea Parties agreeing to a set of fiscal issues that he must adhere to if he wants Tea Party support.  It must also be done publicly with the media present so he can’t back out of that pledge so easily.  One issue that Tea Parties and conservative Republicans both should demand is a new chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.  Pat Brady, the current chairman of the IL GOP, burned the bridges with conservatives, Tea Partiers, and 9-12ers when he called us a “fringe element”.  Conservative Republicans should demand that Kirk back off his support of partial birth abortion, and his opposition to parental notification and 2nd amendment freedoms.  We will never be able to get Kirk to be pro-life, but we should demand that he support the conservative position as closely as he can.  We don’t have to decide this now, the election isn’t until November, but these problems are something that we all need to start thinking about because we will have to face these problems head on eventually.

Finally, I want to direct my attention to the overall direction of the Tea Parties and some things I saw during the primary season.  First, the Tea Parties and others seemed to have skated the fine line between the ideals of the American Revolution and the attitude (not the results) of the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution.  The American Revolution absorbed the politicians of the pre-Constitution era into the new American government.  The “first” generation of Americans did not shun those that had been in office for a long time, just look at Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and many others that served in government from a young age until later in their lives.  This is a sharp contrast to Robespierre era after of the French Revolution where citizen councils called nobles, politicians and businessmen in front of them and sentenced them for what they represented – no matter if they agreed with what was happening after the French Revolution or supported the 3rd Estate during the monarchy.  I saw much of this during my travels where some Tea Parties tossed some candidates to the side of the road just because they had held office for years.  It didn’t seem to matter if they were good people who believed in the Tea Party ideals; they were admonished just the same because of what they represented – “establishment”, “career politician”, etc.  I feel we must be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water if you will.  In the endless pursuit of good men and women to represent us locally, in Springfield, or in DC, we should  not be so quick to dismiss those that believe in what we do, but who have been fighting our fight for years.  Granted, when they serve for a long time, they have voting records to defend, but there is no way we will ever find the perfect politician who will vote 100% with us as Tea Partiers or conservative Republicans.  Besides, there is only one person who walked this Earth that was perfect and he died so that we might be saved.

I’m reminded of a picture of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in front the tribunal that eventually sentenced her to die for her “crimes” against the people of France.  She was sentenced to death for not so much for what she supposedly did, but for what she represented.  This picture and my history lessons remind me of the old saying, “The Revolution will eat her children”.  Robespierre and his council went too far and they lost their heads as well and almost cost the life of Thomas Paine – supporter of the American Revolution and political philosopher who influenced our Founders profoundly.  What was the eventual outcome of the Reign of Terror post-French Revolution?  Restoration of the monarchy which later gave rise to the dictator Napoleon.  If we are not careful, we too will be consumed by our revolution against the socialist forces pushing against us.  If that happens, we may end up with more of we rally against now or worse.  Aristotle put it best, “Everything in moderation”.

In closing, thanks for hanging with me during this long rant.  These are just some ideas that I have been wrestling with since the election last Tuesday.  These are ideas that we will have to address soon as well.  Please let me know your thoughts, even if you disagree with me.  I just know one thing.  If we lose sight of what we are doing and we don’t stay focused on our original intent, we risk losing the entire movement through fracturing or becoming too all encompassing.  I think back to the founder of MADD.  She resigned her position as head of the organization because MADD had taken a turn away from the original intent that she founded it on of prevention of drunk driving.  After winning political battles and gaining traction, MADD expanded their scope to opposing almost anything alcohol related to the point of becoming pseudo-prohibitionists.  Stay focused.

Cross-posted from www.downstateiladvocate.com.