One of the crowning moments of the Tea Party Movement—a move that allowed the movement to gain even further consideration as a political force—occurred Saturday night when former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin took the stage at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville and commanded live prime time coverage. The sight of Gov. Palin on stage gave a very strong non-verbal message with the image of her addressing the convention: namely, that the Tea Party is about taking everyday Americans into the fold to stem back the spending from government, the abuses from legislators, and lack of cooperation that impacts the nation, as just it had over the past several years.
One of the limitations of the Tea Party movement was also put on display, just as the cameras panned the audience during Palin’s speech—given on the first Saturday of Black History Month.
The dearth of African Americans visible in the audience Saturday night was eerily reminiscent of the 2008 Republican National Convention, a low point of the GOP despite having its future chairman and possible next African-American senator address the convention during the official three-day event. And although many would inaccurately consider that to be the evidence that most conservatives are racist Republicans that actively pursue returning to the glory days of the 1950s (and the Jim Crow racism fought therein), the critics of the movement and their viewpoints that the movement is limited in its effectiveness has merit. As long as the growing populist movement in America fails to incorporate a greater diversity of Americans (and the growing populations in America) into its fold, it will eventually find itself hitting obstacles that will inhibit its supporters’ ability to win more big elections in November and successfully govern should their candidates win.
This is not to say that the Tea Party movement is racist. As a frequently requested Tea Party public speaker, I can attest to the best intentions of the patriots that I have encountered during the movement. I have been accepted by event organizers, tea party activists, and grassroots supporters alike as an equal American worthy of their attention. Those that I have met have a love of America that disallows for there to be a co-existing hatred for Americans based on skin color, gender, or religion. During my speeches at the events, I have been well-received during my calls to action for a return to the American Way, ones that have intertwined the credos of personal liberty and economic justice for all from a diversity of Americans ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Martin Luther King (even calling King a “20th century Tea Party patriot” in one of my speeches) and Frederick Douglass to Ronald Reagan. And the same time, I have also spoken to the need for us as Americans (notably, conservatives and Tea Party activists) to find avenues through which to improve America without increasing government. I have spoken to the waste of police resources on domestic violence, arguing that if we as a community can eradicate domestic violence throughout our awareness and intolerance of it, we can re-direct millions of dollars in police resources towards eradicating violent crimes, drug proliferation, and illegal immigration in our communities. I have noted that those suffering as one of the 16 percent of the nation underemployed have the opportunity to volunteer in our schools, particularly as we have seen that increased spending by massive school systems does not automatically result in better-educated students and safer school environments but more interaction with students regularly does. I have directed my audiences to meet more neighbors, debate more citizens on the issues, and challenge the barriers between us as we address America’s issues—and to do so with respect for each other and without fear of passionate debate. Unfortunately, I am one of the few to promote these tasks as tea party talking points as much as merely cutting government spending (another needed task.) When Tea Partiers accomplished these tasks as well, the Tea Party movement will have changed from being a movement within America to be a force that moved America—and moved it in a better direction.
In my book, I have repeatedly called this phenomenon, “smaller government, bigger people.” The primary complaints of the Tea Party Movement—e.g., irresponsible government spending, big government control over everyday choices for Americans, more bureaucracy with less efficiency—will never be adequately addressed until there is a universal willingness to address those that benefit from OPEG (Obama Plan to Expand Government). With a Tea Party Convention occurring in Black History Month without much diversity amongst its ranks in Nashville, one of the challenges comes clear: without touching young voters, more urban voters, and—yes—African-American voters, the Tea Party movement will be effective in changing out Congress members but will face a tougher time changing out how government performs.
If the Tea Party folks—and a growing number of Americans – are willing to go with the first half of the “smaller government, bigger people” side of the equation, we must also be willing to invest in the “bigger people” portion of the matter if the end goal is a more competitive, more efficient, and more self-sustaining United States. While fiscal conservatives noted the need for fiscal cuts during the Tea Party Convention as they have throughout the tea party movement, there is also been a relatively silent voice towards remedying the issues of student achievement, single-parent households, lack of global competitiveness, and fixation on fast lives and early deaths that dangerously rock our youth from being the next generation of leaders to being a potentially lost group of Americans. All of the previously mentioned challenges already impact black America to the point of rendering a large swath of our youth irrelevant—aside from burdening America through disproportionately taxing the system in a disadvantageous fashion because of limitations stopping them from being contributors to society as their forefathers were for generations.
Until the Tea Party movement finds a way to embrace diversity (just in the same way that the GOP has needed to do the same) while finding ways to eliminate the needs for (and, thus, the emotional binds to) big government and its programs, the battle for America’s soul—and collective wallet—will remain a segmented fight that unfairly brands some as separatist and radical without giving others a tangible reason to join the movement. This includes a large majority of African Americans, a group that consistently polls conservative and votes Democratic with minimal results for improving our communities.
Racist rhetoric by a small minority of Tea Party-goers (such as the “Obama Witch Doctor” posters) is not acceptable at all from the movement, but advancing the history of men such as Wentworth Cheswell –a Black Revolutionary-era patriot selected to draft New York’s first constitution—should be. Black History Month is the opportunity that the movement should not miss upon, particularly if it wants to break the cycles of government spending and self-purposed bureaucracy that finds its roots in local and state governments that count on urban plight to maintain its toxic philosophical influence—one that threatens black America at a disproportionate rate robbing us of the Vivien Thomases, Ben Carsons, and Colin Powells that could help turn America around as some of the “bigger people” that we need today.
The Tea Party movement has already shown the ability to impact the nation. However, the contrast from Saturday night highlighted that there is a gap to address if the tea party is going to change the nation for the better. Should more tea partiers choose to make Black History Month the springboard to taking their Americanism to another level, it may not be long before the movement becomes truly historic—and the strangleholds of fiscal irresponsibly, big-government ideology, and Democratic control of black voters become history.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative)”. He has been featured on multiple outlets and shows including XM Radio’s “The New School”, Fox Charlotte’s “Fox News Rising,” CNN’s “Newsroom,” and Fox News’ “Glenn Beck.” Follow him on Twitter as @lennyhhr and on Facebook.