Jack Kelly: Tea Party tea leaves

Liberals delude themselves about the uprising on the right

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Some liberals seemed thrilled to learn Jerald and Amanda Miller, the drug-addled psychopaths who killed two Las Vegas police officers in a pizza parlor June 8, had a Gadsden flag.

“They draped one officer’s body in a swastika and a yellow ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag that has been adopted as a symbol of the Tea Party,” The New York Times reported.

At long last, the elusive Tea Party killer had been found!

“Hatriot politics created the Las Vegas killers,” wrote John Avlon in the Daily Beast. Their shooting spree was “a product of Tea Party ideology,” wrote a contributor to the Politicususa blog.

Alas for liberals, reality — as it has so often before — soon harshed their mellow. Jerad and Amanda took part in a lot of anti-government activities, including Occupy Wall Street.

Rick Santelli’s epic rant on CNBC Feb. 19, 2009, triggered the largest grassroots political reform movement since the People’s Party of the 1890s. Between 440,000 and 810,000 people attended Tea Party rallies on Tax Day 2009, according to a Harvard study.

The rallies were peaceful. Those who attended picked up after themselves.

Liberals, terrified by their numbers, rushed to demonize and suppress. The IRS went after them.

Tea Partiers are “racists” and “domestic terrorists,” some liberals charged, without a shred of evidence.

When a car bomb was found in Times Square in May 2010, some liberals initially speculated that it had been put there by someone from the Tea Party. The perp was an Islamist of Pakistani descent.

Some liberals suspected the Tea Party was to blame for the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The killer was mentally ill, wasn’t politically active.

After the massacre in a movie theater in suburban Denver, Brian Ross of ABC News thought he’d spotted the Tea Party killer. But the James Holmes who was the shooter turned out to have no connection to right- wing groups, and the National Enquirer reported that he’d converted to Islam in prison.

Liberals pronounce the Tea Party “dead” nearly as often as they calumnize it. Some did so again after Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., narrowly won renomination Tuesday. But reports of its demise have been exaggerated, as former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., can attest.

Tea Party groups are larger than ever, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights said in a report in January. But only one of six national groups has a membership bigger than the turnout for the Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009.

Tea Partiers are older, whiter, much better educated than other Americans, CBS found in a poll in December 2012. Fifty-four percent are Republicans; 41 percent independents; 5 percent Democrats.

“Activists” — about 4 percent of Tea Party identifiers – are angrier and have more radical views than the rank and file, CBS said.

The reputation of the Tea Party has been besmirched nearly as much by the antics of some who claim to lead it as by the left’s vicious smears.

Dave Brat, the economics professor who upset Rep. Cantor, epitomizes what a conservative insurgent candidate ought to be. He kept his tone civil, he focused on issues, he treated Rep. Cantor with respect — and perhaps because of that got no help from national Tea Party groups or from those in Washington who loudly proclaim their hostility to the “GOP establishment.”

They expended their efforts instead on behalf of more strident candidates, some with disturbing associations and ethical challenges, in quixotic challenges to “establishment” conservatives.

But in most primaries, pluralities and sometimes majorities of those who identify with the Tea Party vote for the candidates their self-proclaimed generals oppose. Only those incumbents more responsive to special interests than to their constituents have gotten into trouble.

“The civil war in the Republican Party is so civil,” remarked John Dickerson of the liberal webzine Slate. The GOP primaries are producing strong candidates for the fall, he said.

The presidential candidate of the People’s Party carried five states in 1892. By 1896, it was history.

Its life was short, but not unhappy. The People’s Party disappeared because both Democrats and Republicans rushed to adopt big chunks of its agenda.

So far, only Republicans have listened to Tea Party concerns. But dissatisfaction with obese, arrogant, incompetent, unaccountable government is spread across the political spectrum. Democrats soon may regret having turned a deaf ear.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).


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