The United States is truly an exceptional country. Political parties are free to pursue any ideological or policy agenda they desires without fear of banishment or violence. The Tea Party demonstrates this point. While it developed as a response to profligate government spending, many see the Tea Party as a radical fringe organization fueled by the hatred of those who are different. This is largely an inaccurate description. The Tea Party has a dedicated and loyal base with an uncompromising commitment to the protection of our civil liberties by restricting the unfettered power of the government. These principles are enshrined in our Constitution and supported by many, as proven by the Tea Party’s electoral success.
Many see the political polarization created by the Tea Party as a threat to our democratic values and are demanding civility and compromise. They believe the political polarization created by the Tea Party is a threat to our democratic values. The appeal for civility ignores that democracy is about more than dialogue and deliberation. Eric Liu, President Clinton’s speechwriter and policy adviser, argues that it is about “blood and guts.” He concludes that it is about our fears, love, hate and desire to belong. Democracy is emotional and visceral. The Tea Party understands that politics separated from anger is denatured and unresponsive.
The Tea Party provides Democrats with a blueprint for making politics more functional and responsive to the needs of their constituents. Anger and vitriolic hate for inequality can provide a foundation for a more effective Progressive movement.
The recent debate about the government shutdown proves that politicians will quickly respond to a dedicated group that is willing to make their demands with an uncompromising emotional zeal. Instead of castigating the Tea Party for their dedication, progressives should see them as means to their more progressive ends.
The rise of the Tea Party has forced the Democrats to strengthen their coalitions and more aggressively defend their positions on the deficit and health care. The Tea Party’s unflinching attacks on President Obama’s agenda have forced Democrats to engage in a far more principled defense of leftist politics.
While Obama is a pragmatist at heart, the lofty demands of the Tea Party make it impossible for him to make programmatic compromises without simultaneously compromising his core values and risking the backlash of his base. The rise of the Tea Party has energized the Democratic base. They have found their will to fight. Democrats now more than ever are willing to actively defend their core principles and programmatic success.
The Tea Party serves an extremely important function in our democratic system by encouraging both the left and right to get politically engaged.
Additionally, some aspects of the Tea Party’s platform have the potential to substantially benefit the country. They have brought much needed attention to America’s ever expanding deficit. A trillion-dollar deficit has become the norm and even the most devout Democrat candidates can’t deny that it poses one of the gravest long-term risks to the country. The United States borrows one of every three dollars it spends and the interest rates on those borrowed funds are getting worse. The United States’ ability to educate its citizenry, economically innovate and fund a defense is in jeopardy.
Tea Party-affiliated politicians campaign on a platform of cutting the federal deficit. They are willing to touch the third rail of American politics – entitlement spending. Even if they are unsuccessful in forcing a reduction in entitlement spending, they have forced Democrats to concede that something must be done. The importance of dealing with the deficit is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement and long-term spending is now on a more sustainable trajectory after the budget sequestration.
The Tea Party is forcing a political conversation that will save us from a political catastrophe.
It is easy to dismiss the Tea Party as a collection of racist bigots who are out to destroy American politics. This fear ignores that every Tea Party rally plants the seeds for a countermovement that will be a sufficient check for the few rogue legislators that managed to maintain their seats in gerrymandered districts in the South and Midwest. The Tea Party is a testament to the resiliency of our democracy and should be celebrated as such.
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Illustration by Mariana Hernandez