The History of the Tea Party
The Movement

The modern incarnation of the tea parties is spectacularly sober movement, animating spirits that seemed dormant for the better part of a generation. For decades, conservatives have watched large rallies in Washington for gay rights, opposition to Middle Eastern wars, the Million Man March, gun control, and dozens of trendy, lefty causes and consoled themselves with the idea that the grassroots of the Right just weren’t the kind of folks who attended big rallies. (Pro-lifers, in their annual March for Life held in bitter January weather, made a striking exception.) Unions often secure the day off for their members; college students and professors find it all too easy to skip or cancel class. You didn’t see the demographics that make up the GOP base – small businessmen, parents, members of the military – marching and waving signs because they were too busy working for a living.

The Libertarian magazine Reason noted that followers who subscribe to a socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative philosophy were most likely to own jacuzzis and hot tubs. Couple this with a preference for individualism over broad-based group action, and one can quickly understand why you don’t often see giant Libertarian rallies: they’re mostly at home having fun in their hot tubs. In fact, it takes a dire threat to their liberties to get them out of their hot tubs.

Enter the Obama administration.

Like most successes, at least a thousand figures are claiming fatherhood of the Tea Party phenomenon, but a key moment came Feb. 19, 2009, from an unlikely source: CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli, who launched into an off-the-cuff rant when asked to evaluate the initial moves from the Obama administration to deal with a housing market that had plummeted. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli shouted, accusing the administration of a plan that amounted to “subsidizing the losers’ mortgages.”

“This is America!,” Santelli shouted. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?… President Obama, are you listening?”

He articulated the concern that drove welfare reform, the most significant policy achievement of Bill Clinton’s presidency: government was taking from the responsible in order to save the irresponsible from the consequences of their own bad decisions. Americans are a charitable people, but they quickly anger when they suspect they’re being played as a sucker.

The first nationalTea Party” day, held April 16 2009, ran into the usual trouble; if you’re trying to rally big crowds of squeezed and harried taxpayers, it’s probably a mistake to hold the rally the day that federal taxes are due. But a tea party skeptic, liberal blogger Nate Silver, went through accounts of crowds from Denver (5,000) to Bound Brook, New Jersey (20) and came up with a minimum number of estimated attendees nationwide: 111,899, a number he granted was “reasonably impressive.”

Listen to a discussion of the debt and deficit at a Tea Party meeting, and you won’t hear a lot of numbers; instead, it is articulated as a moral issue, and a national moral failure. The spending spree of TARP and the stimulus — and a deficit exacerbated by plummeting tax revenues — is spurring Americans to look at the debt as a great horror inflicted upon their children and grand children. Occasionally, you’ll hear a bit of denunciation of the Chinese holding American debt, but by and large this is seen as an American failure to practice thrift, impulse control, and responsibility – or more specifically, American lawmakers’ failure.

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Top 5 Misconceptions About the Tea Party


US Tax Day Protests

They’re not “independents,” they’re not fake, they’re not all nuts. And, as Wingnuts author John Avlon explains, they’re not going away.


1. Tea Partiers = Independents

Independents are the largest and fastest-growing voter segment—a new CNN poll puts independents at 42 percent of the American electorate. Given the Tea Partiers' anger at overspending under Bush as well as Obama, it's been tempting to equate them with independent voters—but there are fundamental differences. Polls of independents' policy positions consistently place them in between Republicans and Democrats—closer to the GOP on economic issues and closer to the Democrats on social issues. But the Tea Partiers tend to be to the right of the Republican Party on both fiscal and social issues. Their opposition to the Obama administration is overheated and absolute. Independents are angry at the polarization of the two parties; Tea Partiers want more polarization between the two parties. Independents tend to be centrists; Tea Partiers attack centrist Republicans as Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs. Tea Partiers are conservative populists.

There is real grassroots anger going on, based in deep policy debates over the proper role of government as well as shallow partisan politics.

2. Tea Partiers Are All Wingnuts

The guys with the Obama-as-Hitler signs get all the attention, for obvious reasons, but the reality is that the Tea Parties began as a fiscal conservative protest in response to the $787 billion stimulus amid bailout backlash. Their ranks are full of folks who've never attended a protest before, small businesses owners who were angry at the way they were struggling to pay their bills while big business and big government could rack up debts and pass the buck onto taxpayers in backroom deals. There is common-sense anger at unsustainable deficits that are seen as generational theft. Reagan's rhetoric won Americans' hearts and minds when it came to Keynesian spending. Unified Democratic control of Congress and the White House also provokes in many a distrust that is consistent with a Madisonian desire for checks and balances. Extremists are always ultimately their own side's worst enemy, and I've seen plenty of people with ugly cases of Obama Derangement Syndrome at Tea Party protests. But it is by no means the whole crowd.

3. Tea Partiers Are "Astroturf"

On Tax Day 2009, Tea Party protests were held in 346 towns and cities, drawing an estimated 300,000 people, according to the dependable At the time, liberal columnists joined with Nancy Pelosi in trying to downplay the events, dismissing them as artificial "astroturf" protests rather than a genuine grassroots movement. True, groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks helped fund organizational costs while Fox News helped make the protests a national conservative happening by airing more than 100 commercial promotions for the protests in the ten days before Tax Day. But these were the equivalent of conservative public service announcements. For all the "astroturf" asides, the crowds were homegrown. They may have been pumped up by partisan interests, but they were not purchased. There is real grassroots anger going on, based in deep policy debates over the proper role of government as well as shallow partisan politics.

4. Tea Partiers Are All Libertarians

This is the opening pitch to any young Tea Party attendee, a revealing attempt at finding common ground. The libertarian label accounts for the anger at overspending under the Bush administration and gives the movement a modern-sounding spin, recasting the Obama opposition into a clear-cut fight between individualism and collectivism. By contrast, social conservatism has an ideologically inconvenient collectivist streak embedded in it, particularly an intrusion of the government into questions of sexual and reproductive freedom. Past icons, like libertarian Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, couldn't have passed the party purity measures pushed by some conservatives. And current Tea Party icons like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh enforce the social and fiscal conservative straightjacket—they embrace the idea that there are no enemies on the right and RINOs on the left. Accordingly, they are hugely popular with conservatives but kryptonite to independents and centrists. Libertarians are given plenty of lip service, but they are not trusted with leadership roles in the conservative populist movement to date.

5. Tea Partiers Will Take Over the GOP

Rep. Michele Bachmann has said she wants the Tea Partiers to take over the GOP. Sarah Palin's hopes are more modest—a "merger" of the two forces. There's no question that conservatives are trying to surf the Tea Party wave into increased influence while also trying to purge RINOs from the GOP. But if you take a close look at what's happening in key campaigns, a different story emerges. The greatest symbol of the Republican resurgence to date is the election of Scott Brown to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate. The full 2010 trifecta would include taking Obama and Biden's Senate seats—and the once-implausible scenario now seems increasingly likely because of the centrist GOP nominees running. Illinois' Mark Kirk and Delaware's Mike Castle have been targeted as RINOs by grassroots conservative groups because they describe themselves as social moderates. Like Scott Brown, they are pro-choice. Like Brown, they are also fiscal conservatives and national security hawks. The secret behind the GOP's improved electoral chances is in fielding centrist candidates who can win over independent voters.

Don't Tread on TEA

Dont-Tread-300.gifGadsden flag is a historical American Flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the snake is the legend "Don't Tread on Me." The flag was designed by and is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. It was also used by the Continental Marines as an early motto flag. It was the first flag ever carried into battle by the United States Marine Corps, during the American Revolution. 

The timber rattlesnake and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake both populate the geographical areas of the original thirteen colonies. Their use as a symbol of the American colonies can be traced back to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, he made the first reference to the rattlesnake in a satirical commentary published in his Pennsylvania Gazette. It had been the policy of Britian to send convicted criminals to America, so Franklin suggested that they thank the British by sending rattlesnakes to England

Benjamin Franklin's "Join, or Die

In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published his famous woodcut of a snake cut into eight sections. It represented the colonies, with New England joined together as the head and South Carolina as the tail, following their order along the coast. Under the snake was the message "Join, or Die". This was the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper.

As the American Revolution grew, the snake began to see more use as a symbol of the colonies. In 1774, Paul Revere added it to the title of his paper, the Massachusetts Spy, as a snake joined to fight a British dragon. In December 1775, Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit:.

Considered one of the first flags of the United States, the flag was later replaced by the current Stars and Stripes (or Old Glory) flag. Since the Revolution, the flag has seen times of reintroduction as a symbol of American patriotism, a symbol of disagreement with government, or a symbol of support for civil liberties.

The First Navy Jack, which was directly related to the Gadsden flag, has been in use by the Uited States Navy since its ginnings. In 1977, the Secretary of the Navy directed that the ship in active status with the longest total period of active service shall display the First Navy Jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive service, at which time the flag shall be passed to the next ship in line with appropriate honors. The display of this jack by the oldest ship in the fleet is intended as a form of recognition to promote pride of service, enhance morale, and contribute to the tradition of naval service. USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) became the oldest active ship in the United States Navy upon the decommissioning of USS Independence (CV 62) on September 30, 1998. Kitty Hawk is only the second aircraft carrier ever to hold the honor of flying the First Navy Jack.

In addition, since the first Patriot Day on September 11, 2002, which commemorates the lives lost in the September 11 attacks, the First Navy Jack has been flown on all active naval ships for the duration of the global war on terror. The rattlesnake from the flag is also shown on the U.S. Army's Drill Sergeant Identification Badge. Tea Party symbol

Beginning in 2009, the Gadsden Flag has become an adopted symbol of the American Tea Party movement [10][11] Nationwide it serves as an addendum to the stars and stripes, stressing the Tea Party platform.[12][13] It was also seen being displayed by members of Congress at Tea Party rallies.[14] Some lawmakers have dubbed it a political symbol because of the Tea Party connection,[15] and the political nature of Tea Party supporters. Don't Tread on Tea!

Tea Party symbol

Beginning in 2009, the Gadsden Flag has become an adopted symbol of the American Tea Party movement Nationwide it serves as an addendum to the stars and stripes, stressing the Tea Party platform. It was also seen being displayed by members of Congress at Tea Party rallies. Some lawmakers have dubbed it a political symbol because of the Tea Party connection,and the political nature of Tea Party supporters.

Awakening Sleeping Giants

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The Movie

Voices of the Tea Party

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