Nostalgia fuels tea party effort

September 22, 2010


The results of the electoral activity of the past few weeks have both shocked some mainstream politicians and made it clear that the nascent “tea party” movement cannot be dismissed simply as a fringe group. In a number of primary elections, including the Republican senatorial primary in Delaware, mainstream Republican candidates were defeated and newcomers, often with the backing of tea party members and former governor Sarah Palin were victorious.

If these results came as a surprise to party officials and traditional party members, they should not have. The tea party movement has been gaining strength every month since last spring. It is not, by any means, a major national political force and may well never be. On the other hand, it has gained support among some members of Congress who have now begun a tea party caucus and, obviously, it resonates with enough voters, particularly disaffected Republican voters to influence primary elections. It also has a charismatic spokeswoman in Palin and a popular media star supporter in Glenn Beck.

Leaders of the tea party movement have shied away from calling themselves a political party and have not yet attempted to get a line on most ballots, but that it has become a well-financed political movement is now undeniable. It is a political force both parties must reckon with.

But there is a problem for the tea partiers. As yet, the movement has not found some member to enunciate a clear and coherent philosophy. Much of the rhetoric — very effective rhetoric — is a call to nostalgia for an earlier period in American history when our “freedoms” were greater. Some tea partiers even dress in colonial garb. The very name of the movement evokes American efforts to cast off the British yoke.

But nostalgia is not a political philosophy nor does it make for an effective electoral platform. Further, from what I’ve seen, much tea party nostalgia is not for history as it was, but for a version of history produced by radio commentators who incorporate into their historical narrative what they want history to have been rather than what it was.

As it exists now, I think that the tea party movement is quite fascinating and may well reflect a new populist wave in American politics. But nostalgia and bad history will not sustain a serious political effort. If the movement is to have lasting impact, it must find serious, thoughtful leaders capable of formulating and disseminating a coherent political philosophy. Whether that will happen, remains to be seen.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World. Read his “Grumpy Professor” blog at www2.ljworld.com/search/vertical/weblogs.entry/?q=Hoeflich.


Determined 7 years, 7 months ago

Nostalgia is not what it used to be...Nostalgia and history are supports for this movement, but won't carry the Tea Party Movement's ideas over the finish line. I'm seeing more and more people getting involved. Some people are writing comments, some marching in parades, some working for a campaign, some holding discussions with their neighbors. A central leader? Is that needed? Not sure because the movement has people who are motivators, but it seems to be a grass roots effort since people are seeing their rights being taken away . John Holdren is talking about de-developing the US. Information like this will continue to spur on the movement even after the November elections, and elections of 2012. Great column.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

As the President recently said: "Specifics?" The federal budget, like most state budgets, is mainly social services and entitlements. In the fed's case, the military and debt services eat up huge chunks, which is the main difference between state and federal budgets. Those who want smaller government need some ideas on what to cut. "Waste, fraud and abuse" won't do it. I doubt efforts to radically change Social Security and Medicare will go over well. Without attacking these, we are dealing with yet another group's hot air and misdirected passion.

Determined 7 years, 7 months ago

Made in China. I agree with you. The country needs to rely on it's people for social services to support those among us who need help. I don't have all the answers, but here is one answer: http://americasdistrict.com/index.html Something to consider.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 7 months ago

"McPherson for Congress" You should let people know that they're going to a campaign website.

Determined 7 years, 7 months ago

Sorry Snap. I didn't think of that. I was just impressed with the initiative.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

The "Tea Party" IS a fringe group. They're not a legit 3rd party. Just one group of Regurgicans trying to distance themselves(still) from Bushco.They still tell the same lies the Regurgicans tell.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 7 months ago

As long as the Tea Party is fronted by the likes of Rush, Beck and Palin, they can't do anything but make a bad political system worse.

mbulicz 7 years, 7 months ago

The presumptive majority of the Tea Party movement is asinine. "We the people" voted the parties and people in power into office. When "we the people" vote them out of office, it will not be because of some Tea Party nonsense, it will be because they continued the disastrous policies of the previous administration. Still, they will claim the victory and tout it as proof the country is on their side.

Additionally, it's hard to believe these purported values when two Tea Party poster children, Palin and O'Donnell, have not demonstrated these values.

Fiscal responsibility: Palin built a multimillion dollar sports facility in her tenure as Wasilla mayor. The final price tag on the center was far beyond initial estimates, because the city didn't even properly secure rights to the land. (PS - she vocally advocated raising taxes in its wake.)


Palin supported the Bridge to Nowhere, the now-infamous project to spend $80 million to connect an island of fifty people with the mainland in Alaska.

To quote her, "The money that’s been appropriated for the project, it should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done. This link is a commitment to help Ketchikan expand its access, to help this community prosper."

Making up for budget shortfalls, Palin made rape victims in Wasilla pay for their own post-rape examinations. http://articles.cnn.com/2008-09-21/politics/palin.rape.exams_1_wasilla-sarah-palin-alaska-gov?_s=PM:POLITICS

O'Donnell is currently under investigation for using her campaign funds for personal purposes, including paying her rent, putting gas in her car, and even enjoying a night out on the town. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-18/politics/odonnell.ethics_1_campaign-funds-watchdog-group-senate-candidate?_s=PM:POLITICS

This is not a fluke occurrence with O'Donnell, either... http://www.pensitoreview.com/2010/09/19/christine-odonnells-ex-campaign-manager-accused-her-of-embezzlement/

More Control to the States: Palin believes states should have the say on abortion, but not on same-sex unions: "I believe spousal benefits are reserved for married citizens as defined in our constitution." [Eagle Forum 2006 Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire Jul 31, 2006] (Sidenote: Marriage is not defined in the constitution....)

O'Donnell does not believe in the upholding of Roe V. Wade, even in cases of rape and incest. From her campaign website, she "strongly believes in protecting the sanctity of life at ALL stages."

mbulicz 7 years, 7 months ago

Governance According to the Constitution: Palin pushes government based upon Christianity and often refers to the founding fathers as "Christian" or having "Christian values."

On Bill O'Reilly in May: "Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments."

...which Thomas Jefferson would not approve: "Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination." -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

O'Donnell mentions a 'return to the Constitution' in her platform and her September 17 victory speech, but has yet to appear in the media to elaborate on this.

gatekeeper 7 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, and because of O'Donnell, Dems will definitely win in Delaware.

Do you really think we need people in office that say they hear God's voice speaking to them and want to change all laws so they adhere to the teachings of the Bible? Do you want politicians making laws based on religion?

Scott Drummond 7 years, 7 months ago

"They are actually calling for the old fashioned conservative values of smaller government, fiscal responsiblility, more control to the states, and governance according to the Constitution."

That makes a nice bit of advertising, but the fact is that America reached its zenith and came closest to living up to its promise in the period between 1940 and 1980 - the height of liberal influence in our country. The right wingers have been very effective in grabbing control of the media and employing advertising techniques to reassert their control of our country. The result, unquestionably, however, has been that their policies have been ruinuous to the middle class. Wishing we were back in the unreconstructed days of State's rights is not a recipe for improvement. The baggers need to quit with the platitudes and offer specifics. That will be the true test of their influence.

statesman 7 years, 7 months ago

And Lawrenceguy40, what's wrong with socialism? I'm a member in good standing of the Communist Party of the United States, and I'm a firm believer in socialism and communism. The American way of government has proven itself to be a failure, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. There is no middle class in America anymore. Our politicans are not elected by the people, but rather by big business and huge corporations whom they are indebted to. We must abolish the current way of government and adopt a government which cares for the common man, not the industrial tycoon. That system of government is socialism and I'm firmly embracing it. Those of you who do not are dinosaurs who are destined to die with this nation.

LoveThsLife 7 years, 7 months ago

Yeah and communism has been an overwhelming success..I mean look at Cuba and China... awesome..hope we can become more like them.

David Albertson 7 years, 7 months ago

The tea party is nothing but a division in the Republican base. These people are on the extreme right and were already voting in large numbers. It won't change much on the Dem side but it's not good for establishment Republicans. The modern GOP has a real problem with saying one thing and doing another. They say they are for small government and yet they created the Dept. of Homeland Security, which is nothing but a HUGE bureaucracy. They say they are for fiscal discipline and yet they added to the deficit by passing the "Bush tax cuts" without cutting spending. They took us in to two wars with no way of paying for them. Then, when the financial collapse happened, they move to bail out Wall Street, again without a way to pay for it. Plus, this isn't the first time they have used to power of the federal government to intervene in to private business (S&L crisis). I can see how conservatives would be pretty pissed off at the GOP. They don't represent their interests. They don't adhere to the principles they campaign on. It's a shame more conservatives won't admit they've been deceived.

David Albertson 7 years, 7 months ago

Pelosi and Reid don't show up to rallys with machine guns. Pelosi and Reid don't spit on members of congress because they disagree with them. Pelosi and Reid don't hold up signs comparing the president to Hitler. Pelosi and Reid don't talk about excersizing their 2nd amendment rights while posting pictures of politicians with crosshairs on their faces. You can disagree with Pelosi and Reid all you want, but that doesn't make them extreme.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 7 months ago

Wait till President Obama and the Democrats hit them with immigration issue (which I expect shortly.)

Will the country club republicans who have been funding the tea party movement cut off the funds when the tea partiers line up so strongly against the stready flow of cheap labor the traditional right wingers want in the country?

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 7 months ago

The Tea Party Movement is hard to define because it is no longer a sin to have a plan with no details. In fact, it is a smart political move because the Tea Party is full of people who believe that faith alone is enough to win eternal happiness. If you get this mob shouting loud enough a lot of other people will believe something profound is happening.

The real meat and potatoes in the Tea Party movement is coming from people like Senator Jim DeMint and he has been in the middle of what is really a reform movement in the Republican Party that is very relevant. Whatever you may think of some of his ultra conservative positions in the past, he does appear to be an extremely honest man who wants to get rid of earmarks and the horse trading we have seen in Washington where the folks with the money do whatever they want.

I notice that in this same paper Stephene Moore is speaking out against earmarks and is talking about cleaning up Washington. I believe the Tea Party movement is greatly impacting both political parties.

We have Brownback running a no details campaign and apparently it is good strategy, but if the Republicans don't have any more answers than what they showed under Bush, I am not very hopeful. The best we can hope for perhaps is more honesty in government and more accountibility in Washington.

David Albertson 7 years, 7 months ago

henriettapost? Now that's a reputable news source! Oh wait, that's not news that's opinion!

It's funny how conservatives don't know the difference between opinion and news. No wonder Faux News has done so well.

thusspokezarathustra 7 years, 7 months ago

That article you cite that starts off with the line, "Based upon polling" is written by the CEO of Strategic Vision a discredited polling group that no one takes seriously after they were caught cooking the books in 2008. Nice reliable source once again.

David Albertson 7 years, 7 months ago

With all the seats we won in the last two elections, it can only be expected that we give some back. The pendulum has to swing back the other way at some point. Rest assured, in a few years, Republicans will be running for cover once again. This cycle has been going on for longer than we've been alive.

KU_cynic 7 years, 7 months ago

Nostalgia also fuels Professor Hoeflich's self esteem.

Nostalgia for the distant past he had some semblance of a scholarly reputation as opposed to his current reputation for being a facetious and overpaid windbag.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 7 months ago

A lot of the votes that have been going to Tea Party candidates are from voters who, out of decency, refrained from throwing rocks at their state capital building.

Spin it all you want, but it is a reform movement within the Republican Party because it was needed.

The only thing missing is one within the Democratic Party, but I think that may also happen.

gatekeeper 7 years, 7 months ago

Nostaligia for the past - when slavery was legal, when women couldn't vote and had no voice, when women were burned at the stake for being witches, when young girls were married off because they were another mouth to feed, when people of color were lynched for any reason.

Ahhhhh, the good old days. Yeah, lets go back to life as it was in the early days of this country.

What these people don't understand is that this country is now very different than it was over 200 years ago.

"James Madison, George Washington, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson all insisted that the Constitution should be updated by future generations. Those sentiments were best expressed by Jefferson, who wrote to Madison that "no society can make a perpetual Constitution. ... The Earth belongs always to the living generation. ... Every Constitution ... naturally expires at the end of 19 years" (the length of a generation in Jefferson's time)."

salad 7 years, 7 months ago

"Some tea partiers even dress in colonial garb. The very name of the movement evokes American efforts to cast off the British yoke."

This always makes me laugh. I bet there's not a single Tea Partier that realizes the contradiction inherent in associating "Tea Party" with efforts to over throw the govt., since the Boston Tea Party was staged to protest unfair taxes levied on the colonies to pay off the British seven years war debt, and that the Brits wouldn't let the colonists have full membership as British citizens. In other words, the colonists were protesting not being allowed INTO big govt..* The "Me Party" is really about greedy, scared, middle aged white people, who already control everything, have every advantage, and don't wanna pay for any of it.

*Read, "The War That Made America" before you go spouting what you don't know about Colonial history. (It's about the seven years war).

Scott Drummond 7 years, 7 months ago

And let's not forget the monopolistic control over the English government the East India Tea company exerted which led to the revolt. If today's tea partiers would rail against the very same corporate pollution of our democracy they'd have a lot more credibility with me.

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

From the article: "If the movement is to have lasting impact, it must find serious, thoughtful leaders capable of formulating and disseminating a coherent political philosophy. Whether that will happen, remains to be seen."

I would hope both the Republicans and the Democrats would strive to find serious, thoughtful and capable leaders as well.

If the Tea Party can separate itself from the social agenda pushed by religious fanatics, then they have a chance. If not, forget about it. So far, the religious fanatics are winning the day.

Ray Thomson 7 years, 7 months ago

‎"The concept of a golden age is natural to all nations and proves only that people are never satisfied with the present and, from experience having little hope in the future, they adorn the irrevocable past with all the colorful fancies of their imagination." ~ Pushkin (1830)

mom_of_three 7 years, 7 months ago

From what I remember, Washington and Hamilton wanted a large federal government from the get-go, led by those with money, who were established and were considered leaders because of their wealth. It was Jefferson who wanted the yeoman farmers and artisans to be involved and have a small government.
SO which throwback to the original government do the Tea partiers want? Because it seems the government has been trying to figure out who it is for years.

Determined 7 years, 7 months ago

Hi- I think it was figured out and it did work up until the 1920s. A republic does work.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 7 months ago

If by "work" you mean enslaving certain segments of society and denying women the vote. Good luck trying to convince folks we should go back to that. Then there was the matter of the Great Depression...

Determined 7 years, 7 months ago

Hi Scott- By work, I mean that the country expanded and grew while the federal government was limited and defined. Individuals and charities helped people in their community. There was no social security provided by the government and no entitlements. People relied on themselves and their communities. Perfect? No. Did people fall through the cracks? Yes. The best part was the possibility of succeeding, not the guarantee of succeeding. Women did get the vote in 1920. (Women actually voted in parts of the country when the country was first founded. It was land owners at that time who were able to vote). The Civil Rights Act was supported by many people. There were unfortunately Democrats (the late Sen. Byrd) who attempted to block this legislation. There was bipartisan support for the Civil Rights legislation. The Great Depression (is only called that in the US because the rest of the world was able to move out of the problem much sooner) was continued longer than necessary due to economic policies. But we as a country, as a republic, we have overcome many of these problems.

Shane Garrett 7 years, 7 months ago

(Reuters) - Billions of dollars in U.S. tax breaks to encourage home ownership, retirement savings, business start-ups and education mostly benefit top income earners and do little to help low- and middle-income people build wealth, a report released on Wednesday said.

And from CNN http://d.yimg.com/kq/groups/17260182/1610997888/name/ftc-vi26.wmv American people have the right to say how they "feel" about their leaders.

booyalab 7 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't stoop so low as to imply this post is as outlandish as the Nazi one, but I do notice a similarity. Both invoke history without giving actual historical examples. Allegedly, if tea partiers have such an inaccurate view of history why is it so hard to specify ONE thing that they get wrong that their critiques get right?

Paul R Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

SO which throwback to the original government do the Tea partiers want? Because it seems the government has been trying to figure out who it is for years." === MoT: Good point; we have always had a bifurcated and schizophrenic approach to governance and this is reflected in the early States' rights vs Federalism debates which continue to this day. It's gonna be a strange, rough ride the next few weeks until early November.

independant1 7 years, 7 months ago

The money we spend on government. And it’s not a bit better government than we got for one-thirds the money two years ago.

(Will Rogers)

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