- (Photo: Reuters/Joe Skipper)
On December 16th we passed with little notice the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. During the hours of 7 to 10 PM, 116 people boarded the ships of the East India Tea Company and destroyed 90,000 pounds (45 tons) of tea valued at 10,000 British pounds, in today's money about one million dollars.
In 2009, an unemployed mother of two and a politically inexperienced California attorney started a grassroots movement, the Tea Party Patriots. Fueled by the passion of patriotism, focusing on three principles-free market, limited government, and fiscal responsibility, the tea party movement now claims twenty million members.
In their book, Tea Party Patriots, they cite this quote from James Madison," If industry and labor are left alone to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out."
Somewhere, in the trenches of political warfare the movement has become one of the most radical revolutionary movements in history, and they have become a right wing faction of the Republican that may prevent the Republicans from making significant gains in the 2014 mid-term elections.
A Washington advocacy group, FreedomWorks, founded in 1984 as "Citizens for a Sound Economy," has funded many of the libertarian and economic conservative campaigns for tea party candidates. The original organization was financed by the Koch Foundation. In 2003, it hired Dick Armey, a former Texas Congressman, as chairman who became the driving force behind the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.
At a tea party training session in Washington in August, a FreedomWorks organizer said, "This movement, if we can turn out hundreds or thousands to the streets to protest and wave signs and yell and make an impact on public policy debate, then we can make a lot of difference."
It is difficult to measure the success of the tea party movement. On the negative side, the intervention in Republican primaries produced unelectable candidates and cost some losses in the Senate. On the positive side many of the tea party candidates gained seats in the House of Representatives, which gave impetus to the impasse and obstruction of legislation in the House. The effort to oppose regulation, create smaller government, and lower corporate and upper income taxes contributed to the lowest approval rating for Congress in recent history.
The grassroots demonstrations attracted libertarians, the religious right, militia types, and the impeach Nazi-Kenyan-Socialist Obama people, and developed a negative visual image with inappropriate signage and colonial costumes. The liberal media focused on misspelled words and angry messages and the absence of minority participants. Some of the failed tea party supported Republican candidates made illogical and ill-chosen statements causing a loss of seats. Some successful tea party candidates have further tainted the image once elected.
To add to the contradiction, many associated the tea party with the Ayn Rand revival, which created a paradox with the Religious Right. Rand's atheist background and economic theory was a contrast to traditional biblical teaching.
The appeal to Colonial times and the original patriots had some racial overtones and comparisons to States' Rights and the Confederacy. Many of the tea party ideas have been less than tolerant of women's rights and religious freedom. The proponents for smaller government at the federal level have also been the most restrictive and regressive at the state level. The tea party has attracted some radical allies in Congress and the media that have undermined the original intent and destroyed much of its credibility.