Civic curiosity drew me to attend the recent National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Though questions remain, this much is clear: The tea party is a loosely formed grassroots coalition of disaffected independents and Republicans, with a sprinkling of Blue Dog Democrats. It is an ideological mix of conservative and libertarian thinking revolving around the size and role of government, fiscal responsibility and establishment corruption. It is a patriotic, leaderless collection of people, many of whom have never before engaged in politics.
Because it is a threat to both major parties, Democrats want it minimized, and Republicans want it commandeered.
The tea party emphasizes core unifying principles — limited government, controlled spending, individual liberty and a minimization of progressive policies. Unlike some media characterizations, the tea party is not a collection of lunatic racists upset over the election of the nation's first black president. The movement arose in response to the overwhelming progressive policies of the new president and Democratic Congress, combined with the tiresome machinations and ineptitude of both major parties.
The tea party is about personal freedom versus government control. There is anger over escalating socialism and collective command-and-control government managed by the privileged political elite, an unaccountable bureaucracy and special interests.
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There is urgency to recapture the sense that individuals with liberty and free-market access will take advantage of opportunities, be entrepreneurial and self-reliant, have a stronger work ethic and thus develop a more innovative, efficient, educated, community-centric, values-driven and prosperous society.
The tea party understands the federal government is financially insolvent, the money will not exist to fulfill the promises made, and we cannot merely tax or print our way out of the problem. Hard, businesslike decisions must be made to salvage our credit and secure our economic viability.
The tea party insists that government must be limited and its programs must be sensible, economically feasible and evaluated on results. There should always be constitutional compliance — the rule of law — to restrain people who are inherently power-seeking and fallible, and to contain the inevitable corruption that arises from election-cycle-mindedness and politicians with little wisdom or integrity.
Some believe the movement must be contained within the Republican Party through contested primaries. Another faction is more independent and anti-establishment, and tired of corruption, ineffective party politics, self-absorbed career politicians, and incompetent and unprincipled governance.
I believe we need a new spirit of nonpartisanship, with focus on discovering candidates with strong veracity, integrity, discipline, principles and competence, preferably without the tainting of political experience. Why should already having been a politician be a prerequisite for political office? We need newcomers willing to hold others accountable and be held accountable. We need solution-driven people who have not been molded by the party machines and are not beholden to them.
We should elect on a case-by-case basis, and make it clear that incumbency is not an entitlement program and party affiliation is not the determining factor.