Keith Harris – 4/23/10

The Tea Party movement has steadily gained support throughout America since Barack Obama was elected.

Members of the party insist that America is moving toward socialism at a dangerous rate. They are often dressed in colonial garb. Their signs read slogans like, "I’ll keep my guns, freedom and money. You keep the change." Others simply bare pictures of Barack Obama with a Hitler moustache. Their calls of "Don’t tax me, bro!" echo in settings ranging from public parks to Wendy’s-adjacent street corners and all the way to Washington.

Upon encountering this spectacle, one’s response might reasonably be ridicule. But to judge the Tea Party movement based solely on their attire and often nonsensical rhetoric would be dismissive. Such sweeping generalizations would have also looked over the points made by the protesters who dressed in animal costumes for their disruption of the 1999 WTO conference. Instead, one must go beyond the surface to understand the principles of the movement.

In general, the movement is about distrust of the government. The way they convey this message, with photoshopped signs and historical quotations which have no context whatsoever to contemporary American life, is admittedly absurd.

However, this does not change the fact that these protesters are perfectly justified in their disillusionment with the government. At a time when the nation is wasting money on two falsely justified wars, the gap between rich and poor is steadily growing and banks, not people, are being bailed out. It would be foolish not to distrust the government. It is the timing of the Tea Party movement’s genesis which raises concern.

The majority of the problems Americans face now are the result of the policies of former President Bush. The Tea Party movement, however, did not become active until the election of Barack Obama. Moreover, the expansion of presidential power, against which Tea Partiers protest so vehemently, occurred in great magnitude during Bush’s presidency. Why then did the protests begin after Obama was elected? An optimistic view of the protesters might suggest that the protests began as a direct result of the Wall Street bailout. However, given the energetic opposition of protesters to nearly all of Obama’s policies, this seems unlikely.

Of course, there is an undeniably racist element to the movement. Signs reading "Obama’s Plan: White Slavery" attest to this. The fact that around 90 percent of Tea Partiers are white also helps to clarify this. Then there are the signs which may be racist, but may merely reflect insanity, such as those featuring a picture of Obama, along with the slogan, "This is only the beginning," and then pasting up a picture of Osama bin Laden next to it.

But rather than merely disregarding the protesters, it is important to attempt to understand where they are coming from. In truth, they come from the same place as nearly all Americans. They are angry and they want answers.

Unfortunately, the answers that they have received up until now have come from the most illegitimate and unreliable of sources: right-wing media that is infiltrated with bias. More unfortunately still, it seems the Tea Partiers have accepted these false answers as facts. And why shouldn’t they? The ideas proposed by right-wing pundits make sense insofar as they are feasible. Furthermore, living, as most Americans do, in a void bereft of historical context and global perspective, these ideas seem downright plausible.

What it all boils down to the simplest of facts, it must be admitted that these protesters of the Tea Party are wrong. But when one is not given the opportunity to be right, in the case of the Tea Partiers being deprived of an effective education, one can hardly be blamed for this fault. In this way, the nonsensical rhetoric of the Tea Partiers is a direct result of the inadequacy of the American education system. Maybe some day the inadequacy will be altered and the American education system will rise so that people will in fact be given the opportunity to be right.