Over the past week, the news media has given some publicity to two Tea Party stands that seem wildly inconsistent with its basic principles.
Let’s start with those principles, as I understand them. I’m listing the core beliefs of its leaders and members, the few statements that come to mind as soon as you think of the Tea Party; its brand, if you will:
- Grass roots movement of the people
- Wants lower taxes
- Wants smaller government that does what the people want
- Wants more dependence on the free market
Yet in several states, Tea Party members are pushing for repeal of the 17th amendment, which mandates election of Senators instead of appointment by state legislatures, which was what the Constitution called for and was the practice in the U.S. until well into the 20th century. There have been a number of articles on the Tea Party move to end democratic election of U.S. Senators, including two in the New York Times “Tea Party’s Push on Senate Election Exposes Limits” and “So You Still Want to Choose Your Senator?.” A brief search also yielded articles in local newspapers like the Anniston Star in Alabama, plus U.S. News & World Report, Huffington Post and Atlantic. One of the New York Times articles reminds us that George Will, the raving right-wing ideologue disguised as a mild-mannered intellectual, and Alan Keyes, perpetual “longshot“ values candidate, both have proposed repeal of the 17th amendment.
The arguments for repeal are weak and include the idea that 30-second sound bites have turned elections into circuses and that with direct election of Senators, state legislations lost all their influence over Congress. These arguments mask the basically anti-democratic nature of appointing legislators instead of having all the people elect them. As the approximately 125-year history of appointing Senators showed, Senators tend to support the special interest groups that support their candidacy, whether the voters are all the people or just the 50-200 members of a typical state legislature.
Why would a grass roots movement of the people want to take power away from the people and give it to government? The Tea Party movement doesn’t like any government, so why do its leaders suddenly want to put their faith in state government?
But now for the really weird: Last weekend there were a number of rallies in the state of Arizona in favor of and against the new Arizona anti-illegal immigrant law that allows the police to stop anyone for suspicion of being an illegal alien and ask them for their papers proving they are U.S. citizens. (Do you carry your passport around all the time? I don’t, but I guess I don’t have to since I don’t look Hispanic or Muslim.)
It turns out that Tea Party groups from Dallas and St. Louis sponsored one of the rallies in favor of the new law. Tea Party members were at the rallies supporting the Arizona law and not at the rallies against this carte blanche invitation to racial profiling.
And why does the Tea Party say it’s supporting the new Arizona law. From the New York Times “We are doing this to crush any boycott against the free market,” said Tina Loudon, a Tea Party member from St. Louis who helped organize the rally.
It seems to me that someone in favor of a free market would not only support accommodation of illegal aliens but want to open up our borders completely. Free means free, without encumbrance or regulation, and yet the Tea Party wants police to intervene in the free passage of people. Furthermore, someone who doesn’t like government butting its nose into private business should not be happy with any law that puts the government into the business or regulating labor markets, and a law policing immigration certainly does that.
But these are only apparent contradictions because as a study released today by the University of Washington shows, “opposition and frustration with government is going hand in hand with a frustration and opposition to racial and ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians.” There are about 40 stories showing on Google about the survey. For example, the Seattle Times reported that the director of the study said, “The tea party movement is not just about small government or frustration. It’s (also) about a very specific frustration with government resources being used on minorities and gays and lesbians and people who are more diverse.“
At heart, while the Tea Party throws around concepts such as “free market,” “lower taxes” and “small government,” what the members really are concerned with is maintaining and gaining power for their concept of what constitutes what Sarah Palin calls “the real America”—in other words: white, rural/suburban and Christian.