The Tea Party movement is a fiscally conservative and populist protest movement in the United States. It emerged in early 2009 partially in response to the federal government's stimulus package, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The movement originated in anti-tax protests, and arose in response to the increase in the national debt as a result of the stimulus package and due to some of U.S. President John McCain's more centrist political positions. They has been most visible through the Tea Party protests of 2009. Protesters have also utilized the social networking outlets Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, as well as blogs, in promoting Tea Party events.
The name "Tea Party" is a reference to the Boston Tea Party, whose principal aim was to protest taxation without representation in the British Parliament rather than protesting taxes in general. Tea Party protests have nevertheless sought to evoke similar images, slogans, and themes to this period in American history.
Positions and goals
Protest organizer and co-creator of dontGo Eric Odom has argued that "This is a protest that has been in government the last few years...Bush himself was guilty of socialist policies." He also said of the Republican Party that "It’s obvious they’re trying to ride on the brand that we created... It’s somewhat insulting." His group has turned down a request from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to speak at its Chicago protest. After the denial, the Republican National Committee released a statement saying that "They're just having a little fun."
Dan Gerstein, a former Democratic Party political advisor, argued in Forbes that the protests could have tapped into real feelings of disillusionment by American moderates but the protesters had too many incoherent messages being put forth. Bridgett Wagner of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has compared the protests to the tax revolts of the 1970s and 1980s, which included the successful Proposition 13 in California that capped property taxes. Jeremi Suri, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, viewed them as "not dissimilar from what we had in 2003 with the anti-war protests, where a lot of people were uncomfortable with the war, but also uncomfortable with the anti-war position, recognizing there are terrorists out there."
An article by Thomas B. Edsall in The New Republic concludes that the findings of Robert D. Putnam that diversity has resulted in a withdrawal of many from varied community life provides valuable insight into the Tea Party movement's "explosive growth".
While the movement is in general a protest against what they socialist policies in Washington D.C. (and Democrats in particular), they also criticize the Republican president John McCain for some of his more centrist political views, claiming he is only a "Republican in name only", and that he like his Democratic and Republican predecessors are "part of a socialist conspiracy".
Composition of the movement
According to political correspondent Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press, the tea party movement "... is pure people-driven politics facilitated by the Internet. This is an ideological mix of libertarianism and conservatism with the common denominator being lower spending and smaller government." "Government is too big. Spending is out of control. Individual freedom is at risk. And both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, includingPresident John McCain, are making it all worse. But that's where the consensus ends among the diverse groups of frustrated Americans who count themselves part of this fledgling coalition."
The tea party movement also includes several more formal entities, with slightly different approaches to their advocacy:
- The Tea Party Patriots are a national organization that claims to have over 1000 local chapters, run with the help of Freedomworks, a conservative nonprofit led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
- The Tea Party Express is a national bus tour run by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, a conservative Political Action Committee created by Sacramento-based GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates.
- Tea Party Nation held a National Convention February 4-6, 2010. The event featured Sarah Palin as keynote speaker, but was criticized for charging $549 per ticket, as well as the fact that Palin was apparently paid $100,000 USD for her appearance. Palin has said she will donate the fee to unspecified conservative causes.
Texas governor Rick Perry attended a Tea Party rally in Austin, Texas. He has also discussed the protests on YouTube. Perry fielded a question at the rally about Texas secession, answering: "There's a lot of different scenarios. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
The Tea Parties also drew the praise of other elected officials. Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) said the protests showed that "this land is still owned by the people." Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) called the Tea Party movement "helpful" and "genuine."
Talk show host Leslie Marshall has remarked, in reference to the original Boston Tea Party, that "You have to look at our history. The reason these people revolted is they didn't want to pay taxes that were not presented by elected officials... Last time I checked, Obama's not taxing you to death — he is spending to stimulate the economy and he is an elected official." Political commentator Bob Cesca commented that "your neighbor's mortgage is your problem. Just watch your property values plummet as soon as there's just one foreclosure on your block." Historian Bruce Bartlett, a former U.S. Treasury Department official in the Bush administration, argued in Forbes magazine that higher taxes may not be as bad as they seem, writing that "Higher taxes may pay for services that people value and thus are not as burdensome as they might appear at first glance." Protesters at the Philadelphia Tea Party on April 18, 2009.
Many political candidates who are outside of "establishment" politics are gaining traction in their campaigns due to support from the Tea Party movement. US Senator Scott Brown's support from the Tea Party movement made him a contender in what turned out to be an upset election. Many politicians in the 2010 election cycle are riding on grassroots support from the Tea Party movement, including Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial contender Sam Rohrer, Texas gubernatorial contender Debra Medina and US Senate candidate Rand Paul.
The leaders of labor union centers such as the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation have labelled the Tea Party protests as corporately-funded astroturfing operations and have advocated for nonviolent counter-protests against Tea Party protest events, particularly during the string of townhall events at which many of the protests took place; some of the union-backed counter-protests resulted in violent altercations between union members and Tea Party activists, with conflicting accounts concerning the initiators of such incidences.
The protests have been derided by commentators such as Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, David Shuster, talk show host Leslie Marshall, New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman, conservative author Andrew Sullivan, liberal public policy advocacy group MoveOn.org, political satirist Jon Stewart, and Thomas Frank. Conversely, the protests attracted support from and been promoted by conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Reynolds, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, rock guitarist and political activist Ted Nugent, country musician John Rich, and conservative radio host Neal Boortz.
CNBC news editor Rick Santelli said "I think that this Tea Party phenomenon is steeped in American culture and steeped in American notion to get involved with what’s going on with our government. I haven’t organized. I’m going to have to work to pay my taxes, so I’m not going to be able to get away today. But, I have to tell you — I’m pretty proud of this." Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said that the events were "mostly an honest spontaneous effort...to express their outrage at government hubris".
In January 2010, New York Times columnist David Brooks, after reciting a number of recent opinion polls and other sources, suggested that the coming decade of 2010-2019 has the potential to become "The Tea Party Teens" in U.S. political history.
Following the election of Scott Brown in the January 19, 2010 Massachusetts Senate Race, the British magazine The Economist said "America’s most vibrant political force at the moment is the anti-tax tea-party movement."
In February 2010, Marvel Comics caused a controversy when a sign, based on a photo taken by journalist David Weigel, was added proclaiming "Tea Bag the Libs before they tea bag you!" in an issue of Captain America. The comic drew criticism from Tea Party leaders, and Marvel Comics editor Joe Quesada later apologized for specifically identifying characters as associated with the Tea Party movement. Quesada said the edition will be corrected in further printings and the trade paperback.
On April 29, 2009, McCain commented on the Tea Party protests publicly during a townhall meeting in Arnold, Missouri, saying: "The tea party movement is a clear sign that there are major problems in Washington, and I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we can work together, Republicans, Democrats and independents like the tea-party movement, to reduce pork-barrel spending, the federal deficit and health care costs. The problems is not simply caused by the the Recovery Act - this is simply a part of an overall problem that we've got to solve as fast as possible."
However, over time he became a target of the tea party movement, and especially by prominent members such as J.D. Hayworth, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who attacked him for betraying his fiscally conservative views and claiming he secretly had joined a "socialist conspiracy". On February 6, 2010 McCain would spark a controversy at the Republican National Committee's Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, he would off-record say to Lindsey Graham that "can't those teabaggers just fuck off if they can't stop protesting and not contribute with anything constructive?" This would enrage, and several tea party protests were held in Washington, D.C. against the president. Talkshow hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would both call McCain a dangerous socialist in disguise as a conservative. McCain would characteristically urge them to "Lighten up and get a life."
The label "teabagging" has been applied to Tea Party protests in general  and to the specific protest gesture of mailing a tea bag to the White House. The appellation emerged after protesters displayed placards using the words "tea bag" as a verb. The label has prompted puns by both commentators and protesters based on pre-existing use of the word to denote oral–scrotal contact as a sex act or prank. Tea Party activists find the term to be dismissive, insulting, and elitist.