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'Tea Parties' -- A New Political Movement Is Brewing

By Peter RoffSenior Fellow, Institute for Liberty/Former Senior Political Writer, United Press International

Washington's continued mishandling of the economic crisis has disquieted the electorate. The bad economic numbers, the precipitous decline in the stock market, the dramatic increase in government spending and the tax increases lying just over the horizon paint a picture of an out-of-control federal government grasping at straws in the search for solutions.

These are not, some of the organizers of individual events point out, complicated events to stage . . . The key is that there are many events occurring all day on the same day -- this is what brings them their sense of community and their political strength.
President Obama and his economic team's proposals can be summarized simply as more borrowing to pay for more spending offset by more taxes. Even the president seems to acknowledge this -- "Listen, I will take responsibility," he said in California. "For everyone in D.C. scrambling how to blame someone else," he said in a reported deviation from his prepared remarks at a Town Hall meeting, "just go ahead and talk to me." But he continues, as he did when he blamed the Bush tax cuts for the current economic troubles during last Thursday's White House Online Town Hall forum, to pass the buck to the previous administration.

The president and his advisers seem slow to comprehend that occupants of the Oval Office get to claim credit for good news they had nothing to do with and must accept the blame for bad news not their fault, as was the case when American saddled President Bush and the Republicans with the responsibility for last year's near-doubling in the price of gasoline.

In the case of the current crisis the blame appears to have been assigned almost totally to Obama, at least by the thousands of U.S. taxpayers attending near-spontaneous "tea parties" in protest of the Democrats agenda of more taxes, increased spending, higher deficits and a surge of borrowing to pay for it all. These mass protests, which have been occurring in different spots almost weekly -- 2,000 people in St. Louis, 3,000 people in Cincinnati, 6,000 people in Orlando -- promise to culminate on Tax Day, April 15, with at least 300 protests at sites large and small according to the "official" Tax Day Tea PartyWeb site.

As was the case with the Obama campaign, the new "Tea Party Movement" is bringing people out to engage in politics, many for the first time in their lives. And, again, as was the case with the Obama presidential campaign, these activists are making liberal use of new media technologies like Twitter and Facebook to find supporters and allies, to meet each other and to establish a sense of community, a community of people who are being economically oppressed by the new burdens being placed on them by the Democrats who now are in complete control in Washington,. D.C.

These are not, some of the organizers of individual events point out, complicated events to stage. They don't need expensive backdrops reminiscent of Greek temples behind them or the presence of all the major broadcast and cable news networks (with attendant commentators explaining deeper meanings) or thousands of people to achieve success. The Tea Party movement, say national supporters, would be just as happy to have 10 people outside a U.S. Post Office on April 15, spreading their message, as they would be with 10,000 people on the Las Vegas Strip. The key, they say, is that there are many events occurring all day on the same day -- this is what brings them their sense of community and their political strength.

Part of the genius of the idea rests in its historical significance --everyone can relate to the story of how Sam Adams, Paul Revere and others in the Sons of Liberty dressed as American Indians in a nighttime shipboard raid to dump British tea into Boston Harbor. But there is also genius in the simplicity of the idea itself, of using the tea party as a metaphor to bring people together to speak out as one against the ongoing effort to borrow, spend and tax the nation deeper into the economic doldrums.

The "Tea Parties" augur the beginnings of a new political movement, it is now clear, that may eventually exceed the power of MoveOn.org and others of the new liberal pressure groups in their ability to influence the votes of politicians in Washington as well as state capitals in every region of the country.

Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a group promoting consumer choice throughout the marketplace.