My father has been gone 22 years now. It's hard to imagine him about to turn 93. But if he were my age this year, I'm sure he'd be supporting a local tea party in western Pennsylvania.
He and mother were Reagan Democrats. They ran their mom-and-pop hardware store, attended Mass after work on Saturday so they could sleep in Sunday morning following the weekly dance at a local club. Dad volunteered with the church and the local youth center, chaperoning the dances I attended as a teenager. He had his tomato patch, a few guns, his bowling and softball teams, and his own horseshoe pit at his little camp in the woods.
The son of immigrants from Croatia, he honored the country that they chose for him. On patriotic holidays, the American flag flew from our front porch.
A few years before she died in 2001, my mother was entered into the Pennsylvania Voter Hall of Fame for "having voted at every November election for at least 50 consecutive years," as it says on the commemorative plate given her by Gov. Tom Ridge. She and I enjoyed talking politics in our weekly phone visits; she'd be supporting the tea party this year, too.
So there are two profiles for those who are still trying to define "tea party." I'm a member, too, though without the church-going and dancing. I'd guess that most taxpayer activists across the country are comfortable with one use of the acronym TEA: Taxed Enough Already. Yet I don't see taxes as the defining issue, except in the sense that high taxes fund a government that many Americans find has grown too big.
The tea party is a cultural revolt between the Real People and the Beautiful People, as WRKO talk show host Howie Carr calls them: between people like my parents, and those like Barack Obama who scorn them as "clinging to their guns and their religion."
However, many of us don't own guns or belong to a particular organized religion. The social issues have been mostly set aside for the duration of the 2010 campaign. While many tea partiers may be social conservatives, the newcomers to political activism weren't so concerned about social issues that they were inspired to become actively involved earlier in their lives. Something besides these issues, besides taxes, brought them out to their first tea party rally.
That something seems to be a sense that the America they grew up in is changing, that the basic values they took for granted are under assault. Many of us longtime political activists thought we were a besieged minority: the "silent majority" of the mid-20th century had been silent for so long that we'd forgotten they were there. Now we learn that more people than we realized "get" the United States Constitution, the vision of the nation's founding fathers, the sense of "who we are," or at least who we have been, as a nation. A surprising number of young people have somehow absorbed this as well.
It's interesting to listen to professional analysis of the upcoming elections. Many pundits are still "partying like its 2008," as the song goes. They are focused on political parties, not political movements. They follow the traditional rules of electioneering, recycle the usual slogans, expect the usual response from a barely-attentive electorate.
This is evident in the commentary on the Nevada senatorial election, where tea party activist Sharron Angle defeated eight other candidates in the Republican primary to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Washington insiders chortle that she was Reid's preferred candidate, the easiest to beat because she's "wacky" and "wild," with some well-known "radical" positions.
But they are missing the "don't care" factor. I was in a forum with Sharron at the National Taxpayers Union conference a year ago. Our subject was initiative petitions and she was warning that the new game is for adversaries to deplete advocates' time and money on frivolous court challenges. Of course we bonded immediately in this arena, but aside from that, I agree with her on maybe half the usual issues, strongly disagree on some of them. The point is, during Revolution 2010, I don't care.
I don't care if she thinks Scientology might help rehabilitate Nevada prisoners. I do care that she wants to save her constituents, which include my grandchildren, from crippling national debt and the decline of America. Last year at this time I gave my son, a Harry Reid supporter, a contribution to her campaign for his July birthday, and he'll be getting the same gift this year.
Rand Paul, a libertarian with whom I do probably agree on most things, won in Kentucky even though I'm sure very few of his voters are actually libertarians — they did seem to like his pro-America, pro-Constitution, anti-deficit message though.
Here in the Massachusetts 6th District, it's an even easier choice to support Bill Hudak, whose political philosophy is much like that of our pre-Tierney congressman, Peter Torkildsen. This week I'm sending candidate Hudak a contribution to honor my father the tea-partier. Happy Father's Day, Dad.
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Barbara Anderson is the executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.