It is undeniable that the Tea Party movement has become a prominent player in American politics. Yet, are they representative of dissatisfied Americans or just a small, radical fringe group like so many movements in American political history? Many on the right see the Tea Party as the key to revitalizing the Republican Party and winning the mid-term elections in November. In addition, the Tea Party has tremendous energy and enthusiasm among its members, two qualities that have been sorely lacking in the Republican Party. If the GOP chooses to pander to this far right group, they risk the centrist vote and subsequently, the entire election.
Although fractured in nature, the Tea Party movement has arisen out of anger and disdain for President Obama’s economic policies. The unofficial leader and promoter of the Tea Party movement is Sarah Palin. The controversial Ms. Palin rallies crowds with her cries of derision for Mr. Obama’s policies by asking, in her eloquent prose, “How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?” Ms. Palin burst onto the American political scene as a vice presidential candidate on the Republican Party ticket in 2008. Irrespective of one’s political orientation, it is undeniable that Ms. Palin showed a shocking lack of knowledge with regards to basic foreign and domestic policy. She is a controversial figure with a limited appeal. However, she is able to attract thousands of likeminded people to rallies all across the United States.
Criticism of President Obama ranges from legitimate, principled opposition to degenerates that claim President Obama is the antichrist, a Nazi or the devil. One example from the latter group included a woman at a Sarah Palin rally in Nevada with a sign that declared Mr. Obama to be a “liar, thug, traitor, commie usurper.” This sign was next to a picture of President Obama as the devil (New York Times). It is telling that Ms. Palin repeatedly refuses to denounce people like that and instead rallies them into frenzy. The GOP must do more to distance itself from Ms. Palin and her supporters, no matter how passionate they may be.
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal is able to criticize Mr. Obama’s economic policies without the reprehensible personal attacks. If the Republican Party wishes to succeed, it would be wise to criticize Mr. Obama on a factual basis rather than a personal one. While less likely to draw headlines, this tactic is more likely to bring centrist voters into the GOP tent. The key to winning any election is to appeal to centrist voters in a coherent and substantive manner. Conversely, the key to losing any election is to pander to fringe groups that appear to have more influence than they really do. In doing so, they will almost surely alienate the educated, sane voter who is looking for a coherent vision for this country. This voter is not looking for childish attacks from the gutter; on the contrary, these attacks will backfire and banish the Republican Party into irrelevance. According to the Wall Street Journal, only “twenty-nine percent of voters have a positive view of the tea-party cause.”
The Republican Party has a choice to make. Will it rise above the inane chatter of the Tea Party or glorify it? The validity and vitality of the Republican Party hinges on its response to that simple question.
Joe Varney was raised in Leucadia and is a junior at Santa Clara University.