Tea Party enigma

William Temple Contributor
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As I prepare this week for the big Tax Day Tea Party Protest in Atlanta on April 15; dry-cleaning my colonial garb, blacking my boots, adjusting the turkey feather in the tricorn, folding my Gadsden flag, and polishing my teapot, I reflect on what Tea Party success in November may well mean for the movement. This protest, in conjunction with all the other attendant protests nationally, will certainly alert the national media and reluctant politicos to the certainty that we have not been diminished or lost any of our enthusiasm. In fact, just the opposite is true. And I look forward to giving my modified and updated version of Patrick Henry’s famous speech from March 23, 1775, to a larger group than last years record setter. It is truly a rabble-rousing speech I think, with significant connections historically. (I’ll provide my version of it next week after I return.)

But, a reflection on the Tea Parties and their success, raises inexorably the problems that a movement of this size with the variety of groups associated with it, and the expectations that those groups have over time of their influence in its direction, are not easily resolved. Especially when the details of that success begin to be defined more tightly. The ancient Medes and Persians, as just one example, demonstrated the power that unifiying for a common cause can produce. Eventually, however, the movement became just the “Persians.” Somewhere the Medes were absorbed.

You see, for a movement to have more than just temporary success, it has to have something that binds it together for the long haul; regardless of class, party, life-style, nationality, or economics. This would usually be through common principles of some sort, with hopefully certain altruistic qualities attached; qualities that would carry the movement forward with an almost religious zeal. I’ve felt that already in the Tea Party movement, and I’ve watched it bring busy, quiet, conservative folks (read Silent Majority), who never protest to their feet and out into the streets with clever signs. I love the signs! And as a former Vietnam vet I was overjoyed to see this energy awakened last April. Started me looking again for Hanoi Jane, and the appropriate epithets. (And “no” she’s not forgiven!)

And I’ve heard, as have you, various labels and tags (most of them derogatory) applied to the collection of groups calling themselves Tea Parties. And it’s been fun to watch! Especially as the Tea Parties grew from 16 or so, to over 1,200 in a year, and as the liberals in government and the media at first ignored, then dismissed, then insulted, then legislated against, and now fearfully sit waiting for what seems a certain fate; hoping beyond hope that the Bastille won’t fall! And apart from liberal attempts to define the movement, or locate identifiable leaders to besmirch, the Tea Parties have remained independent and elusive, preventing the liberal’s tactic of dividing, and thereby, conquering. They just can’t find a fixed target. The most they can do is attack Palin or her family in frustration.

But it would be a mistake to think that this mass of people have no direction or leaders at the local level. I am one, and in little ole Brunswick, Georgia to boot; a VP to be sure, and a reluctant one at that. And, there have been attempts by umbrella groups (they know who they are) to take credit and enshrine themselves with the leadership of the movement, but it hasn’t worked. The Tea Parties enjoy seeing themselves as the ultimate in “grassroots”, Ms. Pelosi, and intend to remain united through their three founding principles: limited government, free-market solutions, and fiscal responsibility. And these principles are simple enough to unite large, cross-party, disparate groups with an obvious big government target in its (excuse the expression) cross hairs, a target which grows bigger by the day. I have listened amused while those in the media, and sometimes even in the Tea Parties themselves, have misapplied the terms: Conservative, Libertarian, Right wing, and any other moniker that the left enjoys attaching. The left of course is now using “racist” at every juncture, a tactic they always resort to when they have no argument left. (Thank God for cell-phone cameras!)

But, always in the back of my mind I hear that “Voice”, especially as the pastor of a church, reminding me that, “Man plans his way, but God directs his steps.” Sorry to bring God into all this, but underlying principles often take us into the sky somewhere! Even though things “are” looking good for this November’s elections, many in the Tea Party movement need to consider that it doesn’t take much on the event clock to change all destinies. An attack by Israel on Iran might be a good example. In the end we are not the “captains of our fates….”

The restoration of our Constitution is the real underlying motivating principle that will carry this movement forward, and for more than one election. But the enigma I see is that many in the Tea Party movement are not prepared to address that fact from the same perspective that our founding fathers did: “God given” liberties and rights. A Tea Party movement without God as its reforming force will last maybe an election, perhaps two. Beyond that human frailty and pride will break the movement into factions in the struggle to define the movement, and its various factional leaders. The difference between the success of the American Revolution and the French one was God was seen as the leader of the American version with God at the top, and a virtuous people underneath. The French Revolution didn’t and ultimately ate itself, followed by a dictator.

Before the Constitutional Convention was completed Benjamin Franklin called upon the President of the Convention for God’s help in bringing its divided august assembly to the wisdom necessary to achieve the document we now call our Constitution. He said in part, “…I have lived , Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground (quoting Jesus) without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid…?”

I would add or a Tea Party!

(address delivered Thursday, June 28, 1787, Philadelphia, PA)

William Temple is a historical re-enactor, a pastor of a Bible church in Brunswick, Ga., and a well-known figure at Tea Party events across the country.