FrontPage’s Person of the Year: The Tea Party

Nichole Hungerford is associate editor at FrontPage Magazine.


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Over the past few years, while atrophy of the welfare state system has spurred violent protests in Western Europe, the United States has experienced a parallel, but remarkably distinct phenomenon. In early 2009, desperate Greeks rioted in the streets to demand that their overextended government do more for them in the face of financial crisis. Americans, at the same time, rallied across the nation for their government to do less. More than any one individual alone in 2010, this movement, the Tea Party movement, wrought tremendous change over the political landscape, realizing a historic election and revitalizing the American zeitgeist. The title of FrontPage Magazine’s Person of the Year, therefore, must be bestowed collectively on these individuals, the formidable torchbearers of our beloved liberty and prosperity.

Two days after the newly-elected President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill) into law February 19th, the Tea Party movement found its voice — in the unlikeliest of places. A little-known CNBC analyst, Rick Santelli, embarked on a spontaneous rant while delivering a market forecast live on air. His harangue was precipitated by the federal government’s decision to stem the 2009 housing and financial crisis with a series of unprecedented “bailouts” for Wall Street and the banking industry, financed by taxpayer revenue. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage, that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” Santelli wailed, turning to the gallery of traders on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. The crowd jeered. “President Obama, are you listening?” Apparently, he was not. Santelli proceeded to flippantly claim he was considering organizing a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest government spending and the apparent collectivization of wealth.

The clip was immediately picked up by the Drudge Report, a highly influential driver of conservative discourse. (For nostalgia’s sake, Santelli’s video clip is here.) Prior to this incident, there had been several large conservative-oriented rallies held around the country, some of which were publicized by conservative journalist and blogger Michelle Malkin. To our best reckoning, however, the “Tea Party” moniker had not been applied to this growing brand of conservative activism until after the Santelli clip “went viral.” Within hours of the rant’s debut, a number of “Tea Party” websites went live.

The notion of a Tea Party protest following the 2008-2009 financial crisis was completely felicitous at the time. It encapsulated at just the right moment, in just the right way, an ambient sense of unease, not just among steadfast Republicans, but among individuals erstwhile unengaged in the political process. By the time the Obama administration incestuously “bailed out” the auto-industry in March of the president’s inaugural year — or more precisely, bailed out the his union patrons — followed by the effective ousting of the presiding General Motors president, the political die had already been cast. President Obama’s throng of support quickly evaporate into a haze of resentment from the now not-so-silent majority.

The rancid reaction of the Left to the Tea Party is well known and not worth treatment here. What is important is setting the record straight on what the Tea Party really is. This is no straightforward task, to be sure, as the term “Tea Party” is essentially an umbrella label for numerous regional and national conservative activism groups. Members are predominately Republican voters, many of whom are disaffected and work largely outside the GOP establishment. Only 54% of Tea Party supporters had a favorable view of the Republican Party, according to an April 2010 New York Times/CBS News poll. Polls consistently show the movement’s single greatest unifying principle is fiscal conservatism, including a desire for a smaller government and a concern over the federal deficit.  Social issues are mixed and far less uniform. According to the same poll, slightly more people favored civil unions for homosexuals compared to those who believed gay couples should receive no legal recognition (41% to 40%) and 45% are pro-choice (believing abortion should be available, but with restrictions), while only 35% believe abortion should not be available.

The movement’s focus on the virtues of fiscal conservatism in an atmosphere of immense economic uncertainty proved to be a political powder keg. In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s presidential victory, with both chambers of Congress controlled by the Democratic Party and headed by far-left leadership, many left-wing commentators believed the Republican Party was on the wane. And in fact, perhaps they were right. A large portion of Tea Party supporters, almost 40%, did not like McCain and slightly more had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. Glenn Beck was more well-liked than both McCain and President George W. Bush. The Left’s pronouncements may have been accurate with respect to the political clout of the Republican Party, but conservatism was — and is — still very much alive. As the Democratic Party moved farther and farther away from economic matters after the stimulus bill was passed, and as beleaguered Republicans stood by impotently, worried fiscal conservatives took the only avenue left.

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  • okrahead

    NAACP issues news release labeling Tea Party a hate group, read it here… http://beautifulletters-bls.blogspot.com/2010/10/

  • USMCSniper

    Obama has a ruthless quest for power. He did not come to Washington to make something out of himself, but rather to change everything, including dismantling capitalism. He can’t be straightforward on his ambitions, as the public would not go along. He has a heavy hand, and wants to level the playing field with income redistribution and punishment to the achievers of society. He would like to model the USA even left of Great Britain or Canada . The current level of spending is irresponsible and outrageous. We are spending trillions that we don’t have. This could lead to hyperinflation, depression or worse. No country has ever spent themselves into prosperity. The media is giving Obama, Reid and Pelosi a pass because they love their agenda. But eventually the bill will come due and people will realize the huge bailouts didn’t work, nor will the stimulus package. These were trillion-dollar payoffs to Obama’s allies, unions and the Congress to placate this base, the left.

  • C_T_CZ

    Uh sorry but the author does not mention Ron Paul as the father of the tea party, which means the author really did not understand the full political dynamics at play. As a refresher, Ron Paul supporters had a moneybomb in 2007 on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, where we raised over $6 million in 1 day. http://www.meetup.com/ronpaul-59/photos/266111/

    The discontentment againt both political parties was clearly evidenced throughout the entire Ron Paul campaign by his supporters, and has direct and unmistakable ties to the current tea party makeup and political philosophies. You think some news reporter started the tea party? By just making a statement where a video was captured and aired by the Drudge Report? That is complete hogwash. Had the political environment for the tea party not existed, that video would have fallen on flat ears and been unnoticed. Indeed, it was the political climate at the time that gave rise to the tea party, and that political climate (for the folks who then subsequently labeled themselves as part of the tea party) was CREATED by Ron Paul supporters!

    Had Ron Paul not ran in 2008 for president, we would not have a tea party today. Period.

    • evergreen78

      I know NOW about Ron Paul's tea parties; however, at the time of the Rick Santelli rant, I didn't. I don't know whether Mr. Santelli knew about the Ron Paul tea parties or not. All I know is, Rick Santelli said "tea party" in Feburary 2009, it was on TV, & by Tax Day 2009, people all over the country were gathering in huge numbers, a phenomenon which was covered (mostly negatively) in every news medium. I don't recall seeing Mr. Paul's tea parties on TV, or anywhere else. Like I said, I never heard of them until AFTER I had been to some TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Parties.

      Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anything bad about Ron Paul. I'm saying that I was one of the "individuals erstwhile unengaged in the political process" mentioned in the above article. I only developed what I call my "news hobby" in September 2008, when the economy went in the toilet. Frankly, I blame LESS the politicians than the Mainstream Media for the situation we're in. They have purposefully kept us uninformed or misinformed, which I never knew before.

      Regardless of who owns the "copyright" to the Tea Party label, I'm just glad we're here. I'm grateful to know I'm not alone. I am grateful for this article, because I am sick of being called an ignorant, uneducated, racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, islamophobic teabagger, both in public and in private, by people I know & by people I don't know, because I, for one, am NONE of those things, & neither is anyone I've met in the Tea Party Movement. Thank you, FrontPage, for the pat on the back! :)

      • Peni AZ

        Well said, I to never heard of Ron Paul Tea Party. I watch CSNBC daily and I watched as Mr.Sentella said the words, plus I remember see on a live stream on the internet about a group of peolpe putting tea in the Boston Harbor. I felt the day this man came to office we as a nation were in trouble. I was 17 years old when Ronald Reagan came to office, I was looking for a job and trying to go to school when I needed a car. I paid 19.5% intrest for a Ford Escort with no AC,( I live in AZ). Obama and his policy's
        were going to place us back to those day's and I needed to become informed and involed. I'm one of those people and very proud to call myself one. God Bless the USA

        • Mark

          Many people I spoke with talked about a symbolic "tea party" event to show disgust for the bailout long before Santelli or Paul did anything national. It's part of our heritage and it was natural for the conservatives to simultaneously fall under that label do to the similarities in philosophy with the originals.

  • Stephen_Brady

    The next two years will be the most important in America's history, possibly even more so than World War II. The Tea Party is virtually the only hope we have for keeping the GOP's "feet to the fire" in the House, and making gains in the Senate, along with a brand-new president in 2012.

    If these things don't happen, the United States will be little more than a shadow of its former glories, just a few years from now. Only the Tea Party and the conservative blogs on the internet can stop the terrors that lie ahead.

    Good choice, FPM …

    • Peni AZ

      Don't forget that at the State level we changed may seats. I for one will be keeping a eye on all the level's of government. If we have any hope of changing things the State is were we have to start. I'm one that believe's that the States right have been lost and that to much of the Fed's controll us. Some of you may know about the fight my state is having with the Fed's (AZ). I will be supporting all efforts for States Rights.

      • Stephen_Brady

        I agree with you, wholeheartedly. Some 680 state legislive seats, nationwide, changed hands on Nov. 2, along with a number of governors. This gives us all reason for hope.

  • waterwillows

    USMCSniper,

    I do agree with you that spending billions that the nation does not have will indeed bring the bill into their face.
    The only bright spot in this, is that the lefty journalists will be beating the pavement for a job that is not there. Without government payouts to the media for propaganda news, there would be no media. The people hate them.

  • Guest

    "Even under Republican leadership, the size and scope of government has increased every year. "

    So true. Not a single GOP president, including Reagan, made any serious attempt to scale back the expanding alphabet bureaucracies started by FDR. Some like Nixon and Bush junior have expanded them. The so-called GOP is a schizoid entity divided into a few conservatives but dominated by good ol' boy liberal-lite RINO's who are spineless in facing down their Lefty opponents. The RNC must be rid of the RINO dominance or nothing will change. At this point that's all that matters. It's Grrr! = get rid of the rino's!

  • muhammad

    you can lie and lie but yourself firstly ,so search the truth without effects of fancy.
    we respect all prophets and you must know that Ibraham not Jewish or Christian man but he worshiped one god.
    my brothers(sons of Isra'el) ; please don't distort the facts about Islam ,just search the roots deeply.

  • Eisa

    Why Muslims protected Jewish people in their lands

  • scherado

    "…Huckabee, Sarah Palin — fall short of the adequate support needed to defeat Obama. …

    I've concluded that the anti-Palin vipers succeeded. S.Palin did not employ the proper tactics in her dealings with media. Of course, we have the luxury of hindsight in this regard.

    • Stephen_Brady

      The primaries, next year, will not be "winner takes all", like in 2008. They will award delegates to Presidential candidates proportionally to their vote. The Upside? It will keep certain candidates in the race, for a longer time. The Downside? It will turn the GOP primaries into a long, brutal, slugfest. Whoever emerges with the nomination will be bruised and bloody, ready for a media pounding using the statements of their primary opponents against them …

  • qsome

    everytime you turn around everything this president does is unprecedented and historical because he said so. the filtered news networks can't get enough of it. yet when the people speak up in numbers it doesn't matter. there certainly something historical going on and it is not what the president is doing, that's been done before by governments in history. it's the press turning their back on the American people. all these years we have stood by them and the idea of freedom of press just so they use their position against us. who ever thought we would see this to this extreme?

  • jgreene

    I believe that the Tea Parties and the American People must keep the new Republican Congress responsive to the Peoples' desires – small, responsible government, lower spending and REVERSAL of ObamaCare.

    • Stephen_Brady

      I've heard that HR.1 will be the repeal of Obamacare. Unfortunately, the RINO's at the top of the GOP didn't support the people who would have given control of the Senate to the Republican Party. Even if they had, Obama will veto any repeal of this abomination, and the votes just aren't there for override.

      I agree about keeping the GOP responsive to the people's will, and what that consists of. Symbolic, I know, but the Constitution wll be read in the House, on Wednesday …

  • WilliamJamesWard

    We need to get rid of the Obama crowd and elect patriotic, level
    headed and honest people into government positions and if we
    do not do it, well then we pay the piper. The MSM will go under
    and that will be no loss but Socialism leads to a loss of not just
    being a wealth creating Nation but of our freedom from government
    control. I do not want to live in a slave state as the European or a
    narco State like Mexico, what I see if we as conservative patriots
    fail in the next two years is a combination of all that is wrong with
    Europe and Mexico and discord not seen in America since the civil war………………………………………………….William

  • MollyBrand

    I attended the tax day rally in my city in April, 2009, town halls in the summer and fall of 2009, D.C. rally on 9/12, Bachman rally in November 2009 and march on the Capitol in spring 2010 to protest Obamacare. I am essentially unsophisticated in my knowledge of high finance and inside politics. I do have a college degree, a job and 5 kids and was a strong Clinton supporter. But after Obama used race to hijack the Democrat Party I woke up to what was happening. Even though I cannot get to my local tea party meetings all the time I am with them in spirit-and I think that is what the party stands for-the American spirit- the year after Obama took over my state voted in two tough constitutionalists as Governor and attorney general in direct repudiation of the Obama socialist agenda. So there is hope.

    If anyone wants to name an "enemy of the people" of the year award I think it should be the Mainstream Media-they will certainly rue the day they turned their back on the truth.