Grab your pitchforks! Take to the streets! Fight the power! A growing faction in American society known fondly as the Tea Party has echoed these cries over the past few years. This anti-spending, anti-government populist movement has undoubtedly had an effect on American politics, most notably in this summer’s debt ceiling crisis. But how does the Tea Party fit into our recent debate on civic republicanism and classic liberalism? It seems that the Tea Party’s methods of calling for the common good and protesting in the streets are communitarian, yet they are fighting for an ideology that mainly fits the classic liberal ideology.
The Tea Party has staged protests and town hall meetings, claimed the support of well-known politicians such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, and even became the focal point of the most recent GOP debate hosted by the “Tea Party Express.” They have used values touched on by Kemmis to achieve this: gathered the masses and pushed for more civic involvement to cooperate and fight for the general welfare that the citizens of America deserve. Yet the principles that they favor are classic liberal. They are driven by the desire to halt government and cut its funding, increase individual rights without government intervention, and have been selfish and egotistical in holding to their principles without a hint of compromise.
The political theatre of this summer’s debt debacle has proven that while attempting to pawn off civic republicanism by rallying a strong, politically active segment of the American population toward a “common cause,” the Tea Party’s classic liberal ideological roots have held our political institutions hostage with no hint of remorse. Representatives associated with the Tea Party and its supporters were perfectly content not raising the debt ceiling, letting our nation steer into default, and having its credit downgraded for the first time in history, if only to make a point. They even ran on platforms of no compromise, promising that they’d achieve their means any way possible, reasoning that it is what the country needs. Does this sound like a group of people committed to the general welfare of the country?
It is evident that the Tea Party has changed the status quo of America. Newsweek contributor Paul Begala characterized this change by saying that, “we are at turns intensely individualistic and deeply communitarian. But right now the only side that is speaking out is the individualists’.” Because they view the Federal Government as wasteful and mostly a burden to society, the Tea Party has created political gridlock in Congress, and subsequently made it a broken institution unable to pass any major legislation with any hint of compromise. Our nation was founded on the word “e pluribus unum”: from many, one. There must be a spirit of community and compromise, as well as a push for shared public values in order for our country to make the tough decisions it must to benefit the general welfare. The Tea Party’s methods of organization may be communitarian, but its actions speak differently.