The Tea Party's Legacy Goes Beyond the 2010 Elections

This summer, the Tea Party movement is growing beyond rallies and town hall meetings to become more of a political educational organization.

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Think back for a moment to last summer. We saw news reports of Tea Party rallies by angry taxpayers, protests over healthcare reform, and later, in August, came the boisterous town hall meetings in congressional districts. Contrast that with this last weekend. Over the Fourth of July holiday, some folks were attending gatherings similar to the one held near the Blue Ridge Mountains, called “An American Event.” This particular one featured Civil War reenactors and readings of the Declaration of Independence; at others, citizens distributed pocket-sized copies of the Constitution and signed people up for classes to study it. According to the Washington Post, there was no central organizing group, just a series of local Tea Party-like gatherings that came together because of interested individuals.

"So many people have already studied this stuff, and now they're looking for more," said Ken Vaughn, an organizer of Northern Virginia 912 who recently prepared a course of study on the financial crisis for interested members. "We want change, but we don't just want empty change. We want a government that's more accountable to the people.”

... "I've read the Constitution 20 times in the past two months," said Brock Price, the Fauquier County, Va., farmer who organized "An American Event" Saturday. "People are ignoring it. Politicians do not know anymore what's right and what's wrong."

What comes through in the coverage of these events is that many Americans are highly engaged not only in politics, but also in civics and political theory. A quick check on Amazon shows that among non-fiction books, biographies of the Founding Fathers and copies of the Federalist papers are big sellers (at least they are as I write this). Not only are folks paying close attention to the daily news about government spending and the growing scope of our federal government, they’re increasingly interested in what our Founding Fathers had to say about it. 

In particular, a Pew Research poll that came out right before the holiday shows that many voters are concerned with the dangers of single-party rule: two-thirds of those planning to vote for a Republican say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote, compared with just over half of Democratic voters. And as we head into the midterm elections, it sounds like many voters--four out of ten--are sufficiently concerned with what’s going on at the federal level that they say national concerns will have the biggest effect on their vote. Of those, more say they’ll vote Republican than Democrat by nearly a ten-point margin. The most interesting part of the survey has to do with how closely independent voters are following all this: 

... Independents who say they will support the Republican candidate this November are much more engaged than those who favor the Democrat in their district. This pattern is evident across several measures--enthusiasm about voting, attentiveness to campaign news and intention to vote.

More than half of independent voters (55 percent) who back the Republican candidate in their district are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year; that compares with 36 percent of independents who prefer the Democratic candidate. While 63 percent of independent voters who favor the GOP candidate are closely following news about the election, just 48 percent of independents who support the Democratic candidate say the same. And 77 percent of independent voters who support a Republican say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 62 percent of independents who back Democrats.

This summer, the Tea Party movement is growing beyond rallies and town hall meetings to become more of a political educational organization. Challenging citizens--especially those in the wide center-right majority of our nation--to learn more about our founding principles is becoming the work of the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party’s focus on liberty and the limits of federalism are gaining credibility with people in the middle and, in the long run, is improving the level of civil discourse in our country. More than affecting specific candidates or elections, perhaps that will become the Tea Party’s real legacy.