What is the Tea Party? Who is the Tea Party? Big media types and the larger left have their demagogic spin: Tea Partyers are racist, backwoods, anti-government dunderheads with a predisposition toward domestic terrorism. In a word, they're "extremists."
This disingenuous political packaging was recently divulged as an official Democratic talking point in a gaffe by the ever-loquacious Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. During a super-secret conference call with reporters he explained that, while referencing the Tea Party, "I always use the word 'extreme.' That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week."
This characterization, of course, is twaddle and liberals know it. But when called out on what constitutes genuine extremism, the ad hominem attack remains the "progressive" device of choice for those endeavoring to "fundamentally transform" America. It's impossible to make a secular-socialist omelet without breaking a few constitutionalist eggs.
Rule 13 of "community organizer" Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" presents the budding provocateur with a template: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
And so "progressive" ideologues like Chris Matthews, Sen. Harry Reid and the backbiting hate merchants over at the Southern Poverty Law Center busily paint self-serving swastikas across Tea Party Granny's Ol' Glory sweater. It's dishonest, it's tired and America isn't biting. The more they do it, in fact, the greater the backlash.
Still, truth is that one can more easily nail Jell-O to a wall than precisely characterize the Tea Party demographic. Its membership crosses racial, generational and party lines. The Tea Party is not so much defined by "who" as it is by "what."
I recently attended the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration hosted by the Republican Party of Virginia. It was co-sponsored by, among others, the Ronald Reagan Institute for Conservative Leadership. Michael Reagan, the oldest child of the man widely considered our greatest modern president, was the keynote speaker.
Mr. Reagan said something that I think concisely sums up the core values shared by the ragtag millions who comprise the Tea Party movement. "People often ask me if Ronald Reagan would have supported the Tea Party," he said. "Ronald Reagan was the Tea Party."
About three-quarters of the 1,500 or so in attendance erupted into enthusiastic applause. Those who did not responded, instead, with scowls of pragmatic disapproval. These hushed naysayers represent, I think, the dwindling minority of liberal-leaning RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) within the establishment GOP. Yes, Republicans can be snobs, too.
How true, I thought. Tea Party conservatives are simply Reagan conservatives by another name: same values, different decade.
I've said it before. Ronald Reagan often spoke of a "three-legged stool" that undergirds what I call "complete conservatism." The legs symbolize a strong national defense, strong free-market principles and strong traditional social values. For the stool to remain upright, it must be supported by all three legs. If you snap off even one leg, the stool collapses under its own weight.
A Republican, for instance, who is conservative on social and national defense issues but liberal on fiscal issues is not a complete conservative. He is a quasi-conservative socialist.
A Republican who is conservative on fiscal and social issues but liberal on national defense issues is not a complete conservative. He is a quasi-conservative dove.
By the same token, a Republican who is conservative on fiscal and national defense issues but liberal on social issues - such as abortion, homosexual rights or the Second Amendment - is not a complete conservative. He is a socio-liberal libertarian.
I was discussing Reagan's three-legged stool the other day with my friend Mark Lloyd, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation and president of the aforementioned Ronald Reagan Institute.
"What do you suppose holds together those three legs of the stool?" he asked. "Do tell," I replied. "The seat," he said. "And the seat, which is sustained by all three legs - a strong defense, the free market and traditional social values - is where we as Americans can rest steady."
"What does the seat signify?" I asked. "The seat represents those certain unalienable rights granted by our creator, addressed in the Declaration of Independence and enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. The seat is our individual life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, bound together by faith in God and love of country," he concluded.
Indeed, the ongoing Tea Party uprising is a monumental grass-roots clamoring for a national return to Reagan conservatism. Reagan conservatism is merely an extension of the fundamental principles held near and dear by our Founding Fathers.
For those wishful thinking "progressives" and lukewarm RINOs who imagine that the Reagan revolution is over, I say it's only just begun.
Copyright ©2011 J. Matt Barber