EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

April 15, 2012

Column: Social conservatives divide the tea party movement

It's been four years, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday — the creation of the modern tea party movement, which gave patriot activists hope after the disappointing 2008 election.

Before then, the spirit of the original Boston Tea Party had been kept alive by state and local taxpayer groups scattered across America, and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, D.C. Along with the traditional tax issues, the national deficit and debt issue was addressed by the NTU's Balanced Budget Amendment, and popularized by Ross Perot and his quixotic 1992 presidential campaign, which became the loosely organized United We Stand America.

Not since the Silent Majority elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 (while passing Proposition 21/2 here in Massachusetts) had we seen ordinary Americans inspired to outstanding political action as they were with United We Stand.

My partner, Chip Ford, was one of its local leaders, as closely as that word applies to loosely organized groups. He tells a dramatic, sometimes funny, but ultimately very sad story of how United We Stand fell down amidst internal wrangling and the loss of its focus.

So he and I watched with a mixture of excitement and trepidation the rise of the tea party movement, happily associating ourselves with these kindred spirits while fearfully awaiting the first internal battle. After a year went by with the tea party growing and then another year that brought it unprecedented success in the midterm elections, we started to believe that this time things would be different.

It still amazes me that tea party leaders — again, if the word "leader" applies — held it together as long as they did. As executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), I'd spent my share of patriotic holidays tossing boxes of tea in Boston Harbor; now I watched with delight as two bright, energetic young women, Corie Whalen and Christen Varley, organized the Greater Boston Tea Party (GBTP) and held the first Patriots Day rally on Boston Common in 2009.

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