Scrudato: Going to Tea

No doubt you’ve heard the stories. There’s a political storm is brewing, and it’s based on anger. They’ve taken over our primaries; they’ve overthrown the establishment; and they’re against civil rights.

Yes, I write about nothing other than the Tea Party.

The disdain felt for it is easy to spot. Inevitably, when the topic comes up among my friends, there are references to “those people.” It is cursed for the threat its poses to the legislative agenda and it’s refusal to be tamed. Even esteemed Yale professors, who shall go unnamed, have taken the time in class to attack the “vile” Tea Partiers.

I don’t write today, however, to debate the merits of a particular belief of the Tea Party.

Instead, I have one simple question: Who’s been to a Tea Party?

In April 2009, I attended my first Tea Party and was surprised by what I found. While one can judge the Republican or Democratic parties based on what their leaders say or what policies they espouse, the Tea Party is a decentralized movement with no single leader, no official leadership structure and no party platform. The name itself often trips people up. It’s not a political party at all. It’s a movement whose namesake is the Boston Tea Party. There is no “Tea Party” party (except in a few small towns). References to “Tea Party” candidates are inventions of the media — they are all running as Republican candidates.

Still, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. So, with camcorder in hand, I took the train down to Washington and spent this past Sunday talking to and interviewing hundreds of Tea Partiers.

And, folks, you’ve got to get out more because the Tea Party you’re talking about isn’t the Tea Party I found.

I didn’t see a single racist sign or symbol. In fact, there were numerous African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic attendees who all attested to the Tea Party’s incredible colorblindness.

As for being the plaything of a Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck, well, almost no one agreed with the characterization. Every person I talked to told me the Tea Party was not under the control of a single person or organization. The Republican establishment has tried to harness its energy, but its core remains wild, unpredictable and independent.

I met registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and everything in between. Granted, most were Republicans, but they admitted so begrudgingly. They stressed that they voted on principles first, party line second.

What do they want in a candidate? Someone of strong moral fiber who will stand for small government. The much-ridiculed Palin ticket was nowhere to be found. Only two people out of the 75 I interviewed wanted to see Sarah run in 2012. Both of them want her to be vice president.

And they’re not ignorant rubes. I met multiple doctors, educators and individuals with masters’ degrees. They are housewives, mechanics, teachers, engineers, small businessmen — the same as you’d find in any political party.

They are dissatisfied, but they are not disgruntled. They are agitated but not angry.

Their stories are the stories of the middle class. While they cared for their families and struggled to do their part in society, noisy activists with fewer responsibilities and a different vision worked to change the system they knew.

So, you’ve got it all wrong. Worse, you’ve never taken the time to check your facts.

You don’t have to agree with the Tea Party, but you ought to at least find out what it’s about.

After all, isn’t ascribing unflattering characteristics to a group of people on the basis of their membership the sort of stereotyping we are so afraid of in other areas? Who would sit idly by as someone said, “Oh, I’ve heard Mexicans are undereducated and ignorant”? No one would — it’s false and morally reprehensible. So too, to assign a stereotype to an entire movement based upon a few unflattering individuals covered in the media. “Tea-bagger” is no more appropriate than taboo ethnic slurs.

Are there some racist Tea Partiers? Inevitably. Are there some misinformed Tea Partiers? Certainly. Does that mean we can tar them all with the same brush? Heck no.

Understanding is the foundation of civility. If you can’t love your neighbor, at least take the time to figure out why.

John Scrudato is a senior in Morse College and a former staff columnist for the News.

Comments

  • FailBoat

    Bravo, Mr. Scrudato.

    As a racial minority who is supposedly hated by the Tea Party, I’ve seen my race come up far more often when discussing politics with Yalies than when discussing it with the Tea Party conservatives I know.

    Yalies are quick to point out that I “should” be voting a certain because of the color of my skin. I have no choice, really. It’s either Democrats or people who hate me. Tea Partiers acknowledge our areas of agreement (there are many) and disagreement (there are many), and have been much more willing to engage in a substantive discussion of the issues. Famously, Rush Limbaugh listeners scored as highly on scores of political-awareness as NPR listeners, and well above readers of Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

    The attempt to marginalize a legitimate political movement through sophomoric sexual slurs and fabricated stereotypes is beyond reproach. I have lost respect for many of my fellow Yalies this way.

  • Madas

    Of course the key here is that Yalies don’t want to know the truth. It is far easier to assume those who disagree with their ingrained worldview are somehow evil or stupid than it is to reconcile themselves to the fact that people can disagree based upon reason and facts.

  • Anonymous Bosh

    While Taxed Enough Already is a spiffy “backronym,” the movement, just like the original, has always been about government programs and the taxes that fund them. [Wikipedia][1] has a great history of the movement.

    The media often scoffs at those who publicly worry about taxes, with some more left-leaning outlets claiming that most tea-party advocates (derisively mocked using a more puerile term, tittered over by immature media types) are [undertaxed][2] or that they are the beneficiaries of various programs. This misses the point: Folks are rightly concerned about the *future* tax rates required to pay for recent [bailouts][3] and “stimulus.”

    Keynesian econs (e.g., Krugman) sound kinda like campus Marxists: “Communism WOULDA worked–WILL work–if only it were implemented globally/utterly/forever.” The Krugmans of the world will make statements that the Bush bailouts and follow-on Democrat-led stimuli worked to stabilize a dire situation (rather than prolonging it, as I contend) and, assuming that Dems get cold feet and/or Repubs take control of the House, will forever bemoan that “Obamanomics WOULDA worked if only, if only, if only…”

    Now is the time for an enterprising Yalie to be focusing on modern European history, which is happening right now, right before our eyes. Socialism and Islam (sorry to bring that one up here, but it cannot be ignored as a force) are the two greatest forces (I leave it to the researcher to decide whether these forces are destructive or productive) rearranging Europe. Right now. Right before our eyes. Sweden? Germany? DENMARK? France? Britain?

    Demography is destiny.

    Who is going to inhabit Japan’s empty buildings? Russia’s? Italy’s? Who will fund America’s creeping (well, “leaping,” of late) socialism? Who, exactly, is going to pay for all this… stuff? Any Yalie in debt **certainly** must understand the crushing force of front-loading expenses (although one could argue, in a Yale education, these are capital expenditures–not so for the likes of Social Security, Medicare prescriptions, etc.)

    Scrudato is right to acknowledge that the Tea Party movement is driven by a common goal, not by identity politics, victim status, or whatever. They are level-headed folk honestly worried about the diminution of future opportunities by increasing current obligations. And they are right!

    Lastly: interesting–and humorous—article on the Tea Party movement in the [Washington Examiner][4] today, noting that despite being dismissed or derided in the media, the movement is supported by as much as 20% of the population.

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_protests
    [2]: http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/04/15/hey-teabaggers-your-taxes-are-actually-really-really-low/
    [3]: http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_S_protest16.4024876.html
    [4]: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/One-nation-under-revolt-859047-102901454.html

  • CTConservative

    FailBoat is correct. You will find far greater focus on race on the Yale campus than at a Tea Party rally where political philosophy is not raced-based. Tea Partiers are all about political principal. Race has nothing to do with it. We welcome anyone who believes in our core principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets, but will engage anyone in a spirit of open inquiry. As a retired college faculty member, I have learned how well informed these people are. They’re always talking about the latest books or articles they have read, and readily share them with each other. Peter Schweizer’s book “Makers and Takers” provides solid empirical evidence drawn from a variety of nonpartisan public opinion surveys for FailBoat’s observation that conservatives, including listeners to Rush Limbaugh, are far better informed than liberals who read the New York Times or listen to NPR. I have certainly found this to be true. George Mason law professor Ilya Somin has identified a significant gap between self-identified members of various political groups in terms of their civic knowledge, from “Strong Republicans” at the high end to “Independent” at the low end. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has characterized the gap between “Strong Republican: and Strong Democrat” as the equivalent of several years of formal education. While Tea Partiers take issue with the Republican Party on a number of points, they are at the core of what might be described as “Strong Republican.”

    Sadly, political indoctrination is alive and well on the Yale campus as it is on many college campuses and, for all the talk about diversity, there is little intellectual or political diversity. Leftists figure that by hiring only leftists, they can convince students that intellectualism and leftism are synonymous. To anyone outside of the rarefied hothouse of academia, such a notion is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it is the students who are cheated of an education. Those wanting to read about an extreme example of political indoctrination to which students are sometimes subjected should read the Spring 2010 issue of “Academic Questions.” Adam Kissel’s “Under the Green Thumb: Totalitarian Sustainability on Campus,” sounds more like a description of the thought control practiced in Hitler’s Germany or the former Soviet Union than it does the University of Delaware where it was tried (but now abandoned after its exposure).

  • Yalie2012

    @ Mr. Scrudato, Failboat, Madas, Anonymous Bosh, and CTConservative:

    You are fighting against bigoted (i.e. classist and elitist) generalizations made about the Tea Party, and rightly so. Anyone who judges the Tea Party based on anecdotal evidence or the media’s narrative about it, or who generalizes the views of a few nutjobs (who get all the media attention) to the Tea Party as a whole, is clearly demonstrating their own prejudices and anti-intellectualism.

    But in saying that all (or even most) Yalies “have got it wrong,” “have never taken the time to check the facts,” “don’t want to know the truth,” “are quick to point out that ‘I’ should be voting a certain way,” and have “little intellectual or political diversity,” aren’t you in fact making broad and sweeping negative generalizations about a large group of people yourselves?

    The sorts of broad statements about the poor character, low diversity and careless thinking of the general Yale student body are in fact just as vaguely and poorly justified as any of the elitist generalizations about the Tea Party that (rightly) bother you so much. You have decided that Yalies fit an extremely negative caricature not rooted in fact as much as personal prejudice and anecdotal evidence. And as a Yalie, that pisses me off.

    If you want to make the argument that the negative stereotypes about the Tea Party are wrong, don’t start by stereotyping an entire group of people as those making them.

  • FailBoat

    I did make a broad claim. I have spent several years living here at Yale and heard many (but certainly not all, as I will gladly admit) of my classmates insult and belittle conservatives, southerners, Christians, Republicans, and now the Tea Party movement. But do I dismiss all Yalies as unworthy of debate and discursive engagement? Clearly not.

    Mr. Scrudato’s claim, as I understand it, is not that we shouldn’t make any generalizations about groups (eg: Tea Partiers are generally not racist), but that we should not dismiss an entire group through hasty generalizations.