It’s Tea time in America. And, no, I’m not referring to the British afternoon socialization activity, but instead to the ever growing conservative movement making the headlines of every major media outlet and dominating the conservative conversation. What strikes me as unusual about the Tea Party is the idea of outspoken conservative activism. For the most part, Republicans and conservatives aren’t the rallying kind. Throughout most of modern political history, there haven’t been a lot of “pro-war” rallies on college campuses, groups marching on Washington or activists gathering together to discuss the events of the day. Until now. What the Tea Party has done is make being outspoken about conservative values not just OK, but revolutionary.
In Ventura County, the leader of the local Tea Party chapter, Carla Bonney, sees this movement as a response to the ever-growing government and as a sleeping giant awakened from its nap. “Big government is a cancerous growth,” she told me in a sit-down interview. When I asked her about the conservative resurgence, she said she believes multiple factors contributed to the Tea Party’s expansion. “It hit our pocketbooks and grandchildren’s future. Joe the Plumber really struck a big nerve, and the aggressive spending, taking over General Motors, the banks and Wall Street, all showed us how dangerous [this direction] is.”
These numerous factors have prompted Tea Party members, ranging from disillusioned GOP members to libertarians to upset Blue Dog Democrats to fight back despite the typical response from the left. Conservatives, in general, take a beating quite often in the press. They’re called homophobic, sexist, racist or Islamophobic on a daily basis, and due to the name-calling from the left, many have been afraid in the past to proudly proclaim their values.
Bonney has been dealing with the racist claims thrust upon the Tea Party for some time. “[The Tea Party] is not old, white — but old and white can still be effective, just as old Latinos or old blacks. We’ll take whoever wants to be involved. We’re not racist, and we’re done defending it.” Unfortunately, many on the left are still bothered by the Tea Party and its ideas.
Jim Wallis, a rising star in the religious left and the founder of Sojourners, wrote last May, “I am just going to say it. There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party, which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren’t the first black man to occupy that office? It’s time we had some honest answers to that question.” Ironically, many on the left have adopted George W. Bush’s old adage, “Either you’re with us or against us,” but in this case, it’s “Either you’re with us or your racist.”
This is the reason the Tea Party is growing. Because people see the opposition name-calling and mud-slinging against anyone who wants less taxation, illegal immigration stopped and capitalism protected. What liberals don’t always understand is that most people aren’t really political, but they don’t like higher taxes and welfare passed out like candy, and the Tea Party is willing to step up where the GOP has failed the American people.
With Tea Party members like Rand Paul, Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller making noise on the national level, and O’Donnell quickly becoming Saturday Night Live’s latest sketch character, the media at least acknowledges the growing concerns of everyday conservatives, even if it mocks them.
The Tea Party isn’t going away soon, either. Besides helping locals start businesses to get themselves out of financial woes, Bonney is looking forward to after the election when she can focus on the local levels. “Local levels affect you more,” she assured me, and already she plans to lead the fight against plastic bag wipeouts, parking meters and getting Ventura County’s city councils filled with Tea Party-approved conservatives. A few years ago, conservatives might have just licked their wounds and pouted, but because of leaders like Bonney, the times, they are a-changing.