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The Politics of the Tea Partyers


Many “tea party” activists staunchly oppose big government, except when it is warring, wiretapping, or waterboarding. A movement that started out denouncing government power apparently has no beef with some of the worst abuses of modern times.

Unfortunately, there is scant evidence that most tea partyers have studied the copies of the Constitution they generously hand out to bystanders.

At a Tax Day tea party in Rockville, Md., the speaking venue was draped with a huge banner: “Tired of Big Government?” Members of the “Tyranny Response Team” stood near the front of the rally with their official blue T-shirts. Giant American flags and ones with “Don’t Tread on Me” (with a coiled rattlesnake) were carried around by men with tri-corn hats. Political campaigns busily sold “9/11 Remembrance” bracelets.

And yet, the crowd of 300 seemed most outraged that the US government is not being sufficiently aggressive in using its power.

Ken Timmerman, the author of “Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America” and other hawkish books, declaimed that the US government must take every step to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Mr. Timmerman denounced the Obama administration for being soft on Tehran and urged support for legislation to impose harsh sanctions on Iran. Timmerman previously advocated a US naval blockade of Iran, which he claimed was planning a nuclear attack on the United States.

Running through a litany of President Obama’s greatest failings, Timmerman denounced him for forcing US agents to “stop using enhanced interrogation methods. Has that made us safer?”

“No!” the crowd hollered indignantly.

Jeffrey Kuhner, a local talk-show host, sneered that Obama “has found his inner Muslim” and raged against his bowing to foreign leaders and kings. He complained that Obama has “taken over college loans,” and warned that illegal immigrants could be “the shock troops of Obama’s socialist revolution.” The crowd ate it up.

One of the MCs gushed about how he and everyone else in the crowd loved the police. There was not a word spoken about the video released earlier that week showing a nearby horrendous police beating of an innocent University of Maryland college student.

The rally featured a string of Republican candidates praising fiscal responsibility and denouncing the national debt. One would have thought that it had been 50 years, rather than 15 months, since the Republicans controlled the White House.

There was almost no dissent from any of the 300 attendees. One 50-something man in a faded green T-shirt walked around with a handmade sign declaring, “Stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – Bring Our Troops Home Now!” He told me that almost no one he’d talked agreed with his message.

Much more in tune with the crowd was the 20-something woman carrying a sign: “PROUD to be the Military Super Power.”

The fact that the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq thus far roughly equals the projected cost of the first decade of Obama’s health-care program is irrelevant. Military spending is viewed as holy water by many activists who otherwise despise Washington. While tea party activists rage over Obama’s alleged lies, they ignore the Bush administration’s deceptive justification to attack Iraq.

None of the speakers criticized the warrantless wiretaps that the National Security Agency began during the Bush administration. The feds’ vacuuming up thousands of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a warrant seems to be a nonissue for these folks. Perhaps some tea party leaders hope that Republicans will soon be in position to use such powers to surveil the left.

There are many decent Americans who understandably feel that the government has become too powerful and oppressive. Yet, seeking enlightenment from most tea party speakers is like searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there.

Many of the attendees seemed to hate liberals far more than they loved liberty. A CBS/New York Times poll conducted in April showed that two-thirds of tea party members have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin, and 57 percent have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush. Denouncing big government while approving of President Bush is like denouncing immodesty while sunning oneself on a nude beach. After all, it was Bush who championed the prescription drug benefit for seniors that adds $7 trillion to Washington’s unfunded liabilities.

Some of the Republican incumbents endorsed by tea party organizations have been champions of “enhanced interrogation.” As long as the feds don’t announce specific plans to begin torturing card-carrying conservative activists, why worry?

If tea party activists cannot vigorously oppose torture and other high crimes, then counting on them to stalwartly resist any government policy that doesn’t mulct their paycheck is folly.

America needs real champions of freedom – not poorly informed Republican accomplices. Either tea partyers should become more principled or they should ditch their Gadsden flags and wear T-shirts of the lobbying group that organizes the rally they attend.

JAMES BOVARD is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.

This article was originally published by the Christian Science Monitor.



James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at

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