Understanding the Tea Party

Tax Day Tea Party: Friday, April 15, 2011, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Outside the Legislature Building, Carson City NV. Free. For more information www.reno-tea-party.com.

Few things in modern American politics elicit more emotion than the Tea Party movement. The very mention of it draws passionate support and virulent opposition almost simultaneously. When pressed for specific reasons behind their opinions, both sides quickly resort to irritating banalities. Everybody from candidates to armchair pundits are quick to paint the Tea Party movement with whatever brush they see fit to further their own cause.

“The Tea Party movement is exactly what you make of it,” says Gia Gallegos, organizer of the Reno Tea Party movement and the promoter of the 2011 tax day Tea Party. “The Tea Party movement’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness—there is no anointed leader and no cohesive voice. You are your own Tea Party leader. This movement arose out of ordinary American’s frustration with the actions of our government. We are moms pushing strollers, seniors sweating in the heat looking for a restroom and concerned voters who care and who are just trying to do the right thing by getting more involved in our government.”

Shaun Gray, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party also has a thing or three to say about the Tea Party movement. “The Tea Party movement compromises compromise,” says Gray. “They are perfectly fine keeping everything at a standstill, which isn’t good for the country. They have too much of a focus on cutting, and not enough of a focus on making government more efficient.”

Gallegos, who has attended, organized and participated in over 150 Tea Party rallies in 44 states, has a different perspective. “As Tea Partiers, we aren’t opposed to all government spending and taxes. We understand the need for government and taxes, but we are for cutting, if necessary, whatever isn’t constitutionally mandated.”

To the casual observer it would appear this is the classic left vs. right debate, just rebranded. It isn’t some fiercely guarded government secret that most Tea Partiers are conservatives, but Gallegos was proud to point out a burgeoning group of Democratic Tea Partiers, and Gray also acknowledged that Democratic Tea Partiers indeed exist and are welcomed in his office.

The Tea Party movement has plenty of heartburn with the Republican Party, as well.

“Republicans have a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea that defense spending can be wasteful,” Gallegos states. “Nobody wants our troops to not be adequately armed, but waste is still waste.” Gallegos, in the middle of the interview, literally applauded the several Tea Party Republicans who helped Congress derail a fighter jet engine that the Pentagon didn’t want to spend money on but that was supported by GOP House Speaker John Boehner. “This is an example of why the Tea Party movement exists. We stood up to Boehner and his special interest donors, and saved the taxpayers millions in the process.”

I asked about the newly formed Congressional Tea Party Caucus.

“The phrase ‘Tea Party candidate’ is a misnomer,” Gallegos told me. “There is no such thing. Many Tea Partiers are highly offended that people like [Rand] Paul and [Michele] Bachmann purport to speak for the Tea Party. This is not a political party, and this is why I am opposed to candidates or officials using rallies as a platform to enhance their campaigns.”

After the interview I walked out of Bibo Coffee with my organic green tea in tow and a pensive smile on my unshaven face. The Tea Party movement finally made sense, and I was strangely OK with that. Although not totally clear on their priorities and why they choose the battles they choose, I can appreciate what they do. As a kindergartner with a Reagan campaign button on my backpack, my parents instilled in me the value of taking an interest in this great country, regardless of what someone else thinks. The Tea Party movement, no matter how rough around the edges, demonstrates that deep down, patriotism occurs in many forms, and we are a better and more diverse America because of it.