Tea Party activists gathered in front of the Robert A. Taft Memorial in Washington, D.C., yesterday to protest the debt, deficits, and the compromise over budget cuts. The rain and frigid temperatures did nothing to dampen the mood of the event, which appropriately took place at the base of a memorial to one of America’s greatest senators and an iconic conservative statesman.
According to Jenny Beth Martin, the director of the event and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, the placement of the rally at the Robert A. Taft Memorial was entirely coincidental. However, given the issues at hand, there was perhaps no better place to argue against bloated, crippling federal budgets and massive, overweening government bureaucracy.
The Tea Party event, which attracted citizens and activists from all over the country, also featured a number of prominent politicians. The speakers included Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-Va.), Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.), Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), and Rep. Allen West (R.-Fla.).
The gathering and speeches took place just after Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a powerful speech on the Senate floor. “We’ve got one Democrat leader coaching his colleagues to describe any Republican idea as ‘extreme,’ ” McConnell said in reference to either Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) or Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.). “And that’s why other Democrats are attempting to marginalize an entire group of people in this country whose concerns about the growth of the nation’s debt, the overreach of the federal government, and last year’s health care bill are about as mainstream as it gets.”
McConnell then began to highlight all of the Tea Party ideas that Democrats had labeled as extreme. The list included the following: no longer spending more than the government receives in revenue while dropping that spending to a reasonable level, ensuring that all laws passed are constitutional, and making sure that health care laws don’t eliminate huge numbers of jobs or drive up premiums. McConnell said after each one of these ideas, “Is that extreme?”
For the activists at the Tea Party rally, the answer was a resounding, “No!” followed by uproarious applause. The event ended with the singing of various patriotic songs.
Among the crowd were people like Peggy Donley, who works at a church in Pittsburgh. She began organizing with other concerned citizens back in 2007, and maintains an Internet network of ready-to-go Tea Party activists. She was passing out fliers that highlighted the “Principles of Liberty” espoused in Cleon Skousen’s famous book, The 5000 Year Leap.
Peggy said that her group is made up of more than fellow churchgoers and primarily contains, “People who value freedom and liberty.” She said, “The politics of personal destruction is over,” and believes that groups like hers can restore the republic to its founding principles.”
Many attendees were average citizens who decided to get into politics after Rick Santelli’s famous rant on CNBC. Some made it up onto the stage, including David Show, who is also from Pittsburgh and a Tea Party Patriots organizer. He said, “The Founding Fathers gave us the greatest country the world has ever seen,” and then proceeded to use a famous Benjamin Franklin quote about America having a republic if we can keep it.
The Tea Partiers came on this particular day because of the fear that newly elected Republicans and the Republican leadership were too willing to compromise with Democrats on the Continuing Resolution to address spending cuts.
The common theme was that people are afraid that America’s time as a great republic ruled by—as numerous speakers stated—“we the people” is winding down and that it is becoming something that is not really a republic, and not quite democratic.
In the mid-20th century, Robert Taft challenged establishment politicians and “mainstream” ideas in a serious and informed way. He opposed the New Deal, was a fervent anti-communist who also deplored overseas wars, and he even opposed the Nuremberg Trials because of his unwavering belief in the sanctity of law.
While the Tea Party is mostly identified as a populist movement, the ideas of Taft and other statesmen like him shone through at this event, which mostly espoused conservative to libertarian beliefs.
Taft mounted an unsuccessful conservative challenge to Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 Republican presidential primary, but his legislative advocacy and ideas have lasted to this day. Taft’s famous legislation, the Taft-Hartley Act, which curbed the power of unions in America, got through Congress twice as it had to overcome a veto by President Truman.
As a Balanced Budget Amendment comes to the forefront of American politics, it may require Tea Party support to make it a reality. A serious, game-changing piece of legislation would have a massive effect on American politics, and it was clear from the yesterday’s event that the Tea Partiers want to jump aboard any major budget-fixing proposal that adheres to their principles.