Hi, do we really know what a Tea Partier is?
The anti-Tea Party "Hi, I'm a Tea Partier" cartoon video is critical of tea party members, primarily upon social grounds, and paints Tea Partiers as intolerant, paranoid, and self-contradicting. But can we really trust this to be a true portrait of the Tea Party movement, however tempting the notion is? And if we believe in this portrayal, doesn't that tend to say we have a gloomy and condescending view of the millions of Americans who have flocked to support the Tea Party movement?
Intolerance may be associated with individual Tea Partiers, and they do tend to be socially more conservative than most Americans, but with a libertarian flavor and a far stronger focus on economic than social issues. It may well be that the de-centralized, new, and anti-insider tea party is much less able to filter out idiosyncratic or erratic candidates who would be rejected by more traditional, centrally controlled parties. However, paranoid or kooky behavior can be found at every extreme of the political compass and can be found in many other political venues other than among tea partiers.
It is important to distinguish the movement as a whole from the behavior of individual candidates who claim to be tea party supporters. And one can't really debate the tea party people without knowing what their self-described beliefs are, and without going well beyond caricatures drawn by opponents or derived from fringe behavior. We have suffered far too much from the lack of dialog, understanding, and compromise in our national discourse and leadership and need to take the first step of seeking to truly understand others' views. If we criticize without understanding we run the real risk of being guilty of the very intolerance we seek to criticize.
The movement's defined issues are "cutting back the size of government, lowering taxes, reducing wasteful spending, reducing the national debt and federal budget deficit, and adherence to the United States Constitution." Tea partiers also feel that the federal government is not doing a good job of listening to the people. (Wikipedia).
Its "contract from America" has 10 elements... (1) Identify the constitutionality of every new law, (2) Reject emissions trading, (3) demand a balanced federal budget, (4) Simplify the tax system, (5) Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality (and eliminate waste and duplication), (6) Limit annual growth in federal spending, (7) Repeal the healthcare legislation passed on March 23, 2010, (8) Pass an 'All-of-the-Above' Energy Policy (to reduce dependence upon outside energy), (9) Reduce Earmarks, and (10) Reduce taxes.
Americans may disagree with items from this list, but these items are legitimately debatable and are likely to be part of our political conversation between now and the 2012 election. And, if as a result the federal government does a better job of showing that it listens to citizens, one of the major complaints of the tea partiers will have been addressed.