Another Perspective

Will You Join Us?

Tea Partiers have been able to do something that most political activists fail to accomplish.

By 8.24.10

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As we draw closer to November's midterm elections, some voters are beginning to express their optimism about the chances of sending a fiscally responsible majority to Washington. In the 2008 Presidential election, Americans begged for a change from the business-as-usual mentally that plagued the nation's Capitol. We yearned for accountability. We yearned for restraint. We yearned for sanity. So many of us voted for what we thought was a return to less spending, lower taxes and more economic prosperity. Instead we got more of the same -- more reckless spending, more fraudulent waste, more burdensome regulations, more government in general. Two years later, we hope that things will be different. This time, we expect that those who use the guise of fiscal conservatism will truly practice what they preach. But, if history has taught us anything, then we should recognize that what Americans can really expect out of their candidates is more of the same. 

Every election year, candidates from both political parties promise voters that they will go to the Washington and act differently. They say that they will be more careful with taxpayer dollars; they say that they will limit the influence of special interests; they say that they will bring about unprecedented levels of bipartisanship or transparency; they say that we can trust them. Every politician promises that he will change the culture in the nation's capitol. President Bush promised to do it. Nancy Pelosi promised to do it. President Obama promised to do it. And for some reason, we want to believe what they are telling us. We want to believe that a new era of government is only a vote away. We want to trust that our representatives won't say one thing and do another. And we always end up in the same situation, stuck in the iron clad political equilibrium that trades our freedoms and our dollars in exchange for the political ambitions of those in power.

We all fall for it. Republicans fall for it. Democrats fall for it. Independents, Conservatives and Libertarians want to believe it, too. We are working people who are too busy to get caught up in the game. We just want to be left to live our lives. We hope that the government will simply do the few things that it is supposed to but otherwise leave us to prosper. That isn't the case. Instead we get the same tired promises and the same failed outcomes. Challengers running to unseat the establishment make these promises. Even incumbents running from their own personal records make these promises. This time, they assure us, they will be different. They will not do what they did before. They will not use the appropriations process as a personal reelection fund. They will not help well financed special interests game the market to their advantage. They will stop spending money that we don't have on programs that we don't need. But they don't stop. They kick the can further down the road knowing that they will be out of office before it is time to clean up the mess. And the worst part is that we let them do it again and again. We go back to our lives and our jobs and forget about our lawmakers in Washington. We forget until things in D.C. get so bad that it draws us out of our homes to the voting booth to push back against a political process noticeably out of control. Then, once we vote the bums out, we go back to our lives and our jobs and hope that the newly elected Washington elites are better than the old establishment Washington elites. 

They never are. 

The political class is again left to its natural tendencies. The people who we elect to represent our interests go back to their old ways. They use our money to win favor with voters. They use our money to pay back the campaign donors who wrote them the big checks. They use our money to ensure their own reelection. And to some extent, they do it with our permission. 

The American founders believed that their system of government depended upon the participation of the people. They believed that once the public loses sight of government action, it opens itself up to the threat of tyranny. By neglecting to pay attention to those who make decisions on our behalf, we facilitate their abuses. Even the best public servants are manipulated and perverted by privileged interests when they lack the support of an attentive electorate. Inevitably, they too fail and fall without our encouragement. 

Why then do we neglect the political process and, by virtue of our own indifference, allow politicians to commit such atrocities? It's because we are willing to accept the naive notion that public officials leave their self-interests behind when taking the oath of office. If we just elect the right people, we believe, they can be trusted to do the right thing regardless of the political consequences. And so we keep waiting for the perfect leader to take charge and bring the real change that we have been promised time and time again. We keep hoping that he will go to Washington and reform our overgrown government from the top down.

The truth is that there is no such thing as the perfect leader. There is no such thing as a selfless politician who forgets his own ambitions and constantly does what is right for the public. If we want things to change, we need to bring about that change ourselves. The culture in Washington won't change. The candidates who promise to take Washington by storm won't change. That has never been the answer. In order to change the culture inside of the Beltway, we must first change the culture outside of the Beltway. We need to change the culture in Tacoma and Seattle and Boston and Philadelphia and Boise and Little Rock. We need to start in our hometowns and spread across the country. We need to change the culture in America. 

That is what makes the Tea Party movement so unique. Unlike past uprisings against an out-of-control political establishment, this revolt is from the bottom up. It is built on a coherent, unifying set of principles. Its core values are American values. They go back to the revolutionary traditions of our nation's founding. It is built around traditions of respect, humility and hard work. Tea partiers welcome everyone and discriminate against no one. We are made up of individuals from every walk of life and we come from every state in the Union. We protest peacefully but with a passion and intensity unmatched by any other political movement. We have used our decentralized grassroots revolution to gather disparate citizens and form a cohesive community. The Tea Party movement is not a political party. Tea parties are not political conventions. They are social gatherings. Attend any Tea Party hosted event and you will notice its fun and celebratory nature. Tea parties are welcoming and inviting. 

Tea Partiers have been able to do something that most political activists fail to accomplish. We have established a feeling of community amongst our members. Although we come from different pasts, we share the same hopes for the future. We are united -- like a family -- around the principles that bond us together. That is why Tea Partiers have been able to successfully take our emerging movement from what I call "political space," a space regularly populated by a tiny percentage of the Americans who devote their lives to the political process, to a broad "cultural space," where the rest of America lives. That is why the Tea Party message is resonating with average Americans. It is the difference between being spoken down to by a self righteous elitist and being spoken sense to by a common man expressing shared concerns. We are a community in the fullest sense of the word. 

That is what makes our movement unlike other movements. That is what makes our movement sustainable. Our ever growing community is willing to do what it takes to change the culture in every other corner of America, not just Washington, D.C. We are done with ignoring the political process. And unlike the political movements of the past, we will be there long after the first Tuesday in November. We are ready to hold our newly elected public officials accountable not just for their promises but for their actions. The time has come to change the culture in America and we have finally recognized that if we want change, we must bring it ourselves.

Will you join us?

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About the Author

Matt Kibbe is president of the grassroots organization FreedomWorks and author, with Dick Armey, of Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.