Language matters. What we call something is primarily what it becomes in our minds. We act on those names and the beliefs that go with them, even though, if we thought about, we might decide to do otherwise. Got it?
If I drive a ten year old, broken down Chevy and put a sign on the side that says LAMBORGHINI, does that mean it is one? How absurd, you say. Such a car is a specific thing, designed and built in Italy, possessing an engine that can move your lips to the back of your mouth on acceleration. So, too, is a “Party” in the political realm.
A loose collection of interest groups came into being in 2009 behind the idea called The Tea Party. They are still a loose collection of groups, but their primary affiliation with the Republican party is no longer in doubt. The so called Tea Party is actually a branch of the Republican party that gives people who are unable to find enough rage in the Republican ranks some place to go.
The confusion here derives mainly from the name Tea Party. The Boston tea party was a protest against unfair taxes imposed by a foreign, ruling power, Great Britain, over the people in what would become the United States. It was a series of events, actually, to protest taxes on, among other things, tea.
The people in the current Tea Party groups wanted to associate themselves with the idea of protesting unfair taxes, so they rolled out the Tea Party label. That doesn’t make it a party.
Our two major political parties have board members, state divisions, national chairpersons, written rules and are to a degree covered by legally binding requirements passed both at the state and national level. The “Tea Party” has none of that. It does not field candidates, it does not hold a national convention, there is nowhere you can go to meet with the “Tea Party” and complain about its activities or try to turn it in a different direction. If you want to do that, you have to join one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of various local groups operating under the general banner and hope that the group you join has some influence beyond Toledo or Kansas City or wherever you happen to live. You can’t join the Tea Party because there is none.
This so called party is getting the benefit of being thought of as an important national power with little of the backing and none of the transparency of a real political party. What a deal. The national media has allowed them to get away with this, in part, out of laziness and sloppiness and because most national outlets have been intimidated by the charges over forty years that they favor the Democrats. For television reporters, it is so much easier to say “The Tea Party this...” or “The Tea party that..” than to say the Tea Party groups or Tea Party Associations. In point of fact, tea party shouldn’t even be written in capital letters, but it is not a proper name and it doesn’t describe one group but rather hundreds.
This kind of confusing nonsense gets carried around the world as foreign reporters assigned to the U.S. pick up our bad habits and send out reports echoing what they read and see here. Ten years from now, when the Tea Party will probably be long gone and forgotten, it would not be surprising to run into a European and be asked, “So, is there any chance for a Tea Party candidate for president in America?”.
One way of referring to the tea party people is to call them the Tea Party Republicans. This reflects accurately what their role has been so far and it also puts their influence where it belongs. They are not, at the present time, trying to organize a third party. They are trying to help the Republicans win elections and pushing them, hard, into far right positions. The new members of the House are particularly beholden to the tea party groups, since the riled up voters of 2010 put most of them in office. Once the tea party has faded, many of those new Congresspeople will likely be gone and those that remain will probably march away, as fast as possible, from the absolutism now such a rage among this loud, demanding minority group. That’s not an insult to call them a minority, because most of us at one time or another fit into that category, particularly if we seek change in the status quo.