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June 20, 2010

Column: Dad would have liked Tea Party's small-government focus

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."

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