The Tea Party members: Who are they?

A View From the Edge

Part 2 of 2

The Tea Party is a determined opposition to all the current political parties. Its members are a focused, articulate, outspoken and fervent community of well-connected like-believers. And these are hardly the attributes of a lunatic fringe as portions of the media portray them.

Previous American generations in my lifetime felt these same burning desires and suffered the same worries. However, that generation, immediately post-World War II, was inoculated against any type of movement with an absolute dictum. This generation, never having suffered under that threat, and, let’s face it, poorly educated in world affairs, has no such firewall in place.

“It would never happen here,” people assure us when it comes to dictatorship or absolutism. Those confident people were from that World War II-influenced generation and out of touch with the modern generations.

And besides, America has never had a cultural embargo not to follow extremist beliefs in religion or racism. As a tolerant country, we abide all sorts of what we perceive to be fringe organizations until they become a danger to our way of life and then we stop them cold — the KKK and the Branch Davidians are two such examples.

But a political movement that veers toward absolutist rhetoric and dictatorial beliefs (our way or the highway) are not so easy to challenge. Systems are in place to not only permit their existence but fund it as well.

We now have several members of Congress from the Tea Party. How free-thinking they will be when a national leader is chosen for their movement remains to be seen. Currently it is clear that Rep. Boehner cannot control them (and why should he be able to? They rebelled against the failed Republican Bush policies, long before Obama’s). And let’s not forget the Tea Party has recruited a large and stable following. There is nothing fringe about them.

And here are a worrying set of questions for readers to consider. Worrying because these are exactly the leverage issues the Tea Party uses to recruit new members:

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on immigration?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on law and order?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on unemployment?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on education?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on prisons and punishment?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance in public office?

Are you satisfied with either political party’s position and performance on Islam?

These questions hint at the underlying promises made by the Tea Party, since a faithful member would answer “no” to each of the above. And if you answer “no” even to one of them, if that issue is important enough to you, you could find sympathy for your point of view within the Tea Party. There is, therefore, clear potential for this movement to grow.

Remember this as well: We are now campaigning in an era guided by issues over party loyalty. The issues you want to see resolved governs your vote more than any time in American history. With 55 percent of interviewed Americans in recent polls saying that immigration is beginning to change the country and steal American jobs, the only movement that has this issue at the forefront is, you guessed it, the Tea Party. Right or wrong, they are the zeitgeist.

Those same polls show that we have little or far less confidence in our government (right or left) to solve these issues. Large parts of the American population feel that they have been lied to by politicians for decades.

Every study shows that when our government fails to deal with immigration and unemployment, trust in the government goes down. Republicans may feel they will be the beneficiary of the current target on Democrats’ backs. They would be wrong, since mistrust in government lies upon all politicians, especially with a Republican-controlled House.

And as for the media, even the far-right media may condemn fanatical Tea Party members, but those same media pundits are pushing the same currency (and selling TV and radio ads in the process). They downplay issues focusing on intolerance and instead talk about the American pride, cultural divide, economic parasitism and, of course, their perceived moral high ground on issues such as homosexuality, right-to-life and religion (especially anti-Islam).

America is not immune to the far right, nor should we dismiss their concerns — nor their numbers — as fringe or irrelevant. A large percentage of all Americans share their concerns, if not their chosen outlet. Importantly, the number of Americans who would be receptive to an articulate, charismatic and capable Tea Party leader is far greater than the number of Americans who vote every four years.

As I write this, the Tea Party is split, fragmented and struggling to fit into Washington. Don’t count on that continuing. Once they get past their political amateurism, from their ranks a leader — a capable leader — could emerge and bring their views to a national consensus. As long as Democrats and Republicans alike rely on past rhetoric and pacification of the Tea Party issues, they may not see the inherent dangers in supporting a movement that demands complete, predefined agreement on so many issues that are both basic and vital to the health of our society.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.