Monday, May 12, 2014

Why I will no longer call myself a member of the tea party.

Recently the Gallup poll reported that support for the tea party was down from 32% in November 2010 to 22% today.  Quite frankly, I am not surprised and expect further decline unless the tea party can become less dogmatic and extreme.

When the tea party first came on the scene, I was all on board. I opposed Obamacare and run away deficits and wanted Republicans to stand strong, vigorously oppose Obamacare and not raise taxes. I felt I was part of a movement. I saw the tea party as a movement of newly energized people who for too long had been silent. On April 15th, 2009 I attended a tea party event and wrote enthusiastically about the experience. I was exited when Tea Party Express rolled into town and reported on it.

April 18, 2009

From the very first however, I was put off by some of the fringe that I saw attaching itself to the movement. At an early tea party event on Memorial Plaza (also called Legislative Plaza), either the event referenced above or another early event, there was a John  Birch Society booth. I was surprised. I thought the JBS had disappeared long ago. I had not heard anything from them in years.

 The John Birch Society emerged sometime in the 50's as a conservative, anti-communist organization.  There were chapters all across America.  Many respectable people joined the organization. On specific policies I almost always found myself in agreement with the JBS.

However, the problem with the John Birch Society is not the position they take on most issues but that they are nuts. When they talk about "the insiders" they do not simply mean people with influence the way you and I might use the term. When the JBS talks about "insiders" they are talking about people who belong to a secret society that has been pulling the strings since about 1776 with the formation of The Illuminati. According to JBS, The Illuminati has front groups and subsidiaries like The Council on Foreign Relations, The Trilateral Commission, The Bilderburg Group and others.  The JBS believes almost nothings just happens or is the result of clashing interest or ideologies but is planned and controlled by a handful of elites they call "the insiders."  Not everyone in the JBS even knows what the organization believes and they join  not knowing. If they are only causal members they may be clueless about what it is they have joined.

By the mid 1960's, the JBS had gained so such power in the conservative movement and in the Republican Party, that William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater issued a joint denunciation of the organization and urged conservatives to disassociate from it. After that the organization twiddled.

With the advent of the tea party, the John Birch Society found fertile ground for resurgence and growth.  One of the projects they took on was something called Agenda 21. Agenda 21 was a 1992 UN sponsored study suggesting a course of action for sustainable development. It was not a treaty.  Some countries voluntarily implemented some of the Agenda 21 recommendations.  The JBS developed training kits where one could become an expert on Agenda 21 and present slide shows and produce brochures and teach about it.  These classes were taught all over the country, including here in Nashville. According to the JBS, Agenda 21 is a plot to take away all property rights, force people to live in tiny apartments and kill 97% of the worlds population by poisoning them with aspartame and fluoride. Crazy I know, but that is the theory. Everything from wide sidewalks, to roundabouts, to traffic calming, to mass transit, to art in public places, to bike share programs, to water conservation, to reintroduction of wolves in the wild became suspect as part of the grand conspiracy of Agenda 21.

The reemergence of the JBS caused me concern but I viewed them as nutty opportunist attaching themselves to the tea party and that did not make me less enthusiastic about the tea party. There were also others associated with the movement that made me a little uncomfortable, but I dismissed them as the extreme fringe or people simply carried away with enthusiasm and exhibiting over-the-top exuberance. In the early days it seemed that the speakers and leaders never engaged in excessively militant rhetoric and discouraged any thing that would bring discredit on the movement. Contrary to what some in the mainstream press said, I never saw even the slightest hint of racism associated with the movement.

In September, 2009 I attended a "liberty rally" at municipal auditorium that made me a little uneasy. The primary spokesman at the event was  Dr. Bob Basso, who portrays Thomas Paine in numerous YouTube videos and personal appearances across the country. There was a big crowd and lots of enthusiasm and waving of flags and cheering at the event. I joined in the  enthusiasm of the moment. However, Basso pandered to the birthers at this event. He said something to this effect: “I have been called a community organizer and to a certain extend I guess I am but,” and here he paused and reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper and held it up and said, “I am a community organizer with a birth certificate.” The audience went wild and cheered.  I did not. I think the birther movement is a discredit to the conservative movement and I want no part of it. As his speech went on, I also cheered  and applauded. I also want to throw the bums out. I want to reduce the size of government, etc. etc. I want to “take my country back.” As his talk went on however, he nearly advocated secession and resistance to paying taxes. I am not ready to take up arms and man the barricades. I knew this brand of tea partyism was something I did not want to be part of and I said at the time, "I feel that if the extremism is not curtailed the movement will be discredited."

While there were various other events that I attended and enthusiastically endorsed, such as the Gibson Guitar event and the Education Reform event, more and more I found myself parting ways with factions of the tea party. One group identified as "tea party" is the Glen Beck associated 9-12 group. In July of 2012, our own local 9-12 chapter took out a full-page, $5000 advertisement called, "an open letter to Governor Haslam and the people of Tennessee." It said the actions of Governor Haslam would make us subject to Sharia law and attacked Governor Haslam for his administration's hiring of a highly qualified Tennessee attorney who happened to be a Muslim. I find that just nuts and a waste of time and money, and bigoted and wrong. 

Nashville Tax Day Tea Party rally April 15, 2009
People identified as "tea party" were also heavily involved in efforts to stop the building of a Mosque in Murfressboro. While I recognize the threat of radical Islam, you do not combat that threat by denying Freedom of Religion. Opponents of the Mosque took the unbelievable position that Islam is not really a religion but rather an ideology and therefore should not have the protections of freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution. It seems a lot of tea partiers have a much different interpretation of the First Amendment than I do.  Maybe if they can deny First Amendment protection to Muslims, then next it will be the Church of Scientology, then Jehovah Witness, and maybe Mormons. After all, Mormonism is not really a religion but a cult, I can hear them argue. And Buddhism? Why, that is not a religion; it is a foreign philosophy.  Buddhist don't even claim a deity. Surely the First Amendment does not apply to Buddhist. Don't allow them to build temples! Where would it end?

While I disagree with the way some in the tea party movement interpret the First Amendment, I also
disagree with them on the Second Amendment. While they want to shrink the First Amendment to mean much less, they want to expand the Second Amendment to mean much more. Some who claim to be supporting the Second Amendment want to interpret the Second Amendment to mean they can trample my private property rights and can carry a gun into my home or my place of business even if I have a "no guns" policy.  Clearly the second amendment is a restriction on government, not on the right of someone to prohibit guns on their private property. Elements of the tea party defeated Debra Maggart, a good leader of the Tennessee Republican Party in the State legislature, over this issue.

Ben Cunningham at Gibson Guitar Rally Oct. 2011
Another issue that causes me concern is the many tea party people who disregard the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and support the   discredited  theory of nullification. Nullification says each state can decide whether or not a federal law shall have effect in their state. Even George Wallace when he stood in a school house door to stop integration of the University of Alabama did not do so on the basis of nullification. When the National Guard was federalized, he stepped aside. Tea party members of the State legislature have introduced laws that would require local law enforcement officers to arrest federal agents enforcing federal law. I am not ready to join an armed rebellion and engage in insurrection.

The tea party also has a history of supporting real losers for public office. Nationally there have been
May 21, 2013 IRS protest
some "tea party" candidates elected who I admire and support such as Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Curz, Tom Coburn, and Mike Lee. However, the tea party has also supported some embarrassing losers like  Christine O'Donnell in Delaware of "I am not a witch" fame, and Sharron Angle who won the primary to run against Senate majority leader Harry Reid and then lost the election when a more establishment Republican could have probably beat Reid. Candidates backed by the tea party effectively cost the GOP five winnable Senate elections in 2010 and 2012 in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado, Indiana and Missouri. Todd Akin lost in Missouri, Richard Mourdock lost in Indiana, and Linda McMahon lost in Connecticut.

Here in Tennessee, the tea party has lined up behind Joe Carr. Carr supports nullification, does not
The Tea Party supports Joe Carr for "Sentate"
think Muslims have the right to First Amendment protection and thinks the Second Amendment allows an individuals to carry a gun on to private property where the owner does not want one to carry a gun. In addition Carr has ran a bumbling campaign. Should, by some miracle he win the Republican nomination, Democrat Terry Adams would most likely be the next Senator from Tennessee.

The tea party is not a political party, but rather a movement. It is a conservative-libertarian-populist movement and I have considered myself part of it. Even when disagreeing with some of the factions in the movement and some of the leaders of the movement, I still though myself as part of it.  No one person can speak for the tea party. I have occasionally been asked if I am part of the tea party and in the past I have proudly said I was. If to be a member in good standing of the tea party however means one has to support Joe Carr, believe in nullification, believe the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims and believe the Second Amendment trumps property rights, then I no longer want to be part of it.

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1 comment:

  1. Both political parties have "Fringe" groups but to single out one group like the JBS will just continue to weaken the Tea Party movement. The political system does not like people's movements unless they are in step with their platforms. The people will never get true representation if the parties will only support what the political parties want.