I've never been to a tea party. Of any kind. Until yesterday. We covered a gathering of the Outer Banks Tea Party for The Voice. The article and some raw video is available here. But I wanted to elaborate on this forum about my observations of the Tea Party, OBX style.
Unlike other media that cover events like this in other markets, we have some advantages with our local media. We live in a small "town", so its easy to know people who attend various events. In my case, as a banker and one who is involved in a number of social and civic venues, I know many of these people very closely.
So, while I wasn't a bit surprised that folks commenting on my article in the Voice had classified the participants as "radical Republicans". That's what happens when you follow the national media, left or right leading with its typical axe to grind. I don't have an axe to grind, and I am as comfortable finding fault with the right as I am with the left--or even the center.
So believe me when I say the OBX version of the Tea Party was not a convention of radicals. Or even Republicans. In fact, based on my own experience at attending GOP events in Dare County, I recognized few, if any of the old party guard in attendance. And, if one held a gun to my head, I would have to say that people I know for a fact were registered Democrats outnumbered the ones I could identify absolutely as Dare GOP members.
Not only was the gathered crowd not radical, the highly educated were well represented. I spotted two former Navy officers, both of who held ranks just below that of flag officer. Several attorneys, one county official with a vast science background, bankers with business degrees, engineers, and several physicians including some in difficult specialties. If you want to classify these folks as uneducated, redneck sheep following the crowd you would be deluding yourself and others.
The crowd was also very well represented by the local business community. Again, as a banker I know these folks. Many are college educated, and among those who aren't, they represent hard working business folks who possess the equivalent of an MBA in practical experience. Any many, if not all of them, are successful. Contractors, computer specialists, insurance and real estate sales people. In fact, even though I've known some of these folks for close to two decades, I had never once heard them utter a political opinion. Nor had I ever seen them at election rallies, candidate forums, or political party gatherings.
And then there was the retirees. A lot of them. Of the ones I knew I again discovered the same pattern. Mostly former corporate people or retired government employees. A few men sported VFW hats and I am certainly not one to place those people on the fringes of the political spectrum.
Not one person I saw was wearing camos or militia garb. No one carried a pistol on their belt. No skinheads, Nazi's, or racist signs. One person's sign did refer to Obama as a fascist, and the word was misspelled "faciast" on the sign. I dislike the current vogue of throwing about that word to describe people on the right and left with which we disagree, as I feel it diminishes the true meaning of the word and its realities as practiced by the Nazi Party in Germany before and during World War II.
In short, I believe both parties should heed this movement. I know Republicans will climb on board in order to gain these votes. If they do, they would do best to heed the libertarian arguments while casting aside the more social-conservative elements of their base. The Tea Party is all about economic freedom, less taxation, and fewer restrictions on personal choice and lifestyle. Confusing this movement with the religious right would be the wrong thing to do. And, if Republicans continue to spend as they did under both Bush presidencies, I don't expect their love affair with the Tea Party will last too long.
The Tea Party itself will have to grapple with its big tent. Sooner or late, the same split between libertarians and social-moral conservatives will emerge, just as it did in the GOP. Until then, this group will wield considerable power. But once power at the polls is achieved, expect the same split between laissez-faire capitalists, religious conservatives, and pure libertarians to emerge. Ron Paul and Pat Robertson have more to disagree upon than to share in the political realm.