Fast and Furious: The Rise of the Tea Party
Imagine this: one moment you’re cleaning homes for a living. Then, in a blink of an eye, you’re one of the top Tea Party leaders in the country. The story sounds remarkable, right? It’s also true.
Jenny Beth Martin was living the life. After marrying her college sweetheart in 1992, she eventually landed a job at home as a computer programmer. Her husband started a small-business temp agency. It seemed like the sweet life was just around the corner. Six years into their marriage, they purchased a beautiful five-bedroom home in Woodstock, Georgia, had a few nice cars in the garage, and in 2001, Jenny stopped working so they could raise a family. After going through the emotional ups and downs of fertility treatments, Jenny Beth gave birth to twins in 2003. All seemed well, right? Not quite.
After the 9/11 attacks, her husband’s business started to suffer. They took out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to keep the company afloat, but by the end of 2008, Lee Martin’s company went bankrupt. The Martins blame it on an ailing economy and a bad business deal. The result? The financial roof began to cave in. Their house of eleven years? Gone. They moved into a rental home. The vehicles in the garage? Sold. Jenny Beth and Lee began cleaning homes and repairing computers to make money. So much for the American dream … at least for now.
During this tumultuous time, Jenny Beth decided to get involved with a couple new online groups called Smart Girl Politics and Top Conservatives. Jenny Beth always loved politics. Back in 2004, she was a local county campaign chairwoman for George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. So as Jenny Beth spent her time wondering about her family’s future while cleaning homes, she managed to hear CNBC anchor Rick Santelli blow a gasket on live television, accusing the Obama administration of promoting “bad behavior” with all these government bailouts. That Santelli rant changed Jenny Beth’s life forever.
A light went on inside her head. What Santelli said that fateful day on February 19, 2009, resonated with her, and she began doing what she does best: organizing … and she did it fast! Just eight days later, Jenny Beth and a few other fellow patriots put together the first-ever Atlanta Tea Party rally at the Georgia state capitol. In April, just a month and a half later, came the big Tax Day rally in Atlanta. Jenny Beth led the effort there as well. Eventually, she became one of the national coordinators of the newly formed group Tea Party Patriots, an organization that is now home to more than three thousand local chapters and is considered one of the top Tea Party organizations in the country. In 2010, Time magazine named Jenny Beth Martin as one of America’s most influential people. Not bad for someone who was cleaning homes a year before.
The rapid rise of Jenny Beth Martin mirrors the ascent of the Tea Party movement itself.
Breaking Bread with the Tea Party
The rise and success of the Tea Party simply could not have occurred without socially conservative Christians in the ranks. So why did they sign up? After all, isn’t the Tea Party supposed to spout libertarian values focusing exclusively on economic matters? If you read the New York Times long enough, you’ll start to believe that evangelical Christians ride a two-trick policy pony: abortion andmarriage. Not even close. They ride more like a six- or seven-trick pony! So let’s take a closer look at the main issues that drove the fast-and-furious rise of the Tea Party. As you will see, the following five issues have become places where evangelicals and Tea Party libertarians have begun to break bread together.
Teavangelical Issue #1: Reclaiming the Country’s Judeo-Christian Heritage
The fire-breathing Tea Party libertarian will shout from the rooftops that true freedom comes from a rigorous interpretation of the United States Constitution. Any deviation from the Constitution infringes on the liberties set forth in the document….Thus, the Tea Party wants to return to a constitutionally limited government. In evangelical speak, this issue could be phrased another way: a return to Judeo-Christian principles….While Bible-believing Christians agree with the Tea Party on adherence to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, they tend to focus on a crucial additional layer: all of these founding documents are rooted in a belief in Almighty God.
Teavangelical Issue #2: Reducing the Size and Scope of Government
Tea Party libertarians and evangelicals are in agreement on this idea of limiting the size and scope of government but for slightly different reasons. Conservative Christians recognize that humans are sinful and fallible, thus centralized power can be dangerous. Additionally, if government gets too big, there’s an increased chance of dependency. That’s scary for evangelicals who believe that people should rely on God, not the government. President Obama’s liberal, expansive views of how government should be run became a moral threat to the way evangelicals view the world.
Teavangelical Iss ue #3: Returning to Fiscal Responsibility
We’ve already established that Tea Party members view the Constitution as a crucial document that limits the power of government. It only follows that if the federal government is limited in influence it would also be limited in how many programs it establishes. Fewer programs means less money spent, which theoretically, at least, would lead to fiscal responsibility…..
While libertarians see fiscal responsibility as a way to facilitate a more prosperous nation, evangelicals see the same issue through a biblical lens. The Bible is full of verses that can easily be interpreted as fiscally conservative advice. Evangelicals understand that being a good steward of money is an important biblical tenet.
Teavangelical Issue #4: Reducing Taxes and Opposing Tax Increases
We know that the Tea Party feels “Taxed Enough Already,” hence the acronym TEA. Libertarians believe that you can create more jobs by cutting taxes and relieving the tax burden on small business owners rather than spending loads more money. They also take the view that tax increases will just give the government more money to waste instead of Americans keeping more of what they make for a living…..The Tea Party truly believes that increasing taxes of any kind will send the wrong message to small business job creators in America, not to mention the fact that they believe deficits can decrease by cutting plenty of government programs rather than generating revenue through taxes (which they feel will just be subject to government inefficiency anyhow).
Teavangelical Iss ue #5: Restoring Free-Market Principles
If you’re discussing politics with Tea Party members, you can’t hang out for too long without hearing the phrase “free markets” invoked repeatedly. Libertarians link free markets directly back to the Constitution. In short, their view is that the Constitution provides for personal liberty. With that freedom comes an economic marketplace of goods and services where people have the right to buy and sell what they want. It’s about providing opportunities for people to attain economic success. In this economic venue, Tea Party members see the role of government as one that protects their property rights and makes sure nobody is breaking the law in the free-market system.
Christian economic thought on the subject of free markets concentrates greatly on the providential nature of the system. The idea advanced is that God created us free to make choices….Respected Christian economists Robin Klay and John Lunn argue that God is definitely at work within the free-market system….Adam Smith, a major, classic philosopher in the area of free markets, referred to this force as the “invisible hand” within the marketplace. While his view of the “invisible hand” is still debated today within economic circles, Smith’s writings do suggest that he believed in God’s providential role of establishing a moral sense within each individual.
So what is the bottom line here? Actually, it’s pretty simple. You cannot take an issue and attribute it solely to one group of people. The matters outlined in this chapter are not just Tea Party libertarian issues; they are evangelical issues as well.
The media loves to wrap everything neatly in a box and tie it in a bow. You’ll hear story after story about how you have your fiscal conservative Tea Party crowd fighting for fiscal responsibility while conservative evangelicals are engaged about the social issues. But that’s only part of the story. It’s not that simple, and quite frankly, it’s intellectually lazy. Evangelicals can actually walk and chew gum at the same time. They can be a hundred percent engaged on the issues of life and traditional marriage and at the same time be a hundred percent engaged in fiscal matters. It’s not an either/or proposition, and there is no conflict. Remember, conservative evangelicals see fiscal issues as moral issues.
Does that mean that abortion and traditional marriage issues are a thing of the past? Hardly. It just means the focus for the foreseeable future is on runaway spending. If evangelicals truly mobilize along with the Tea Party libertarians on the issues outlined above, they have a real shot to change the dynamics inside the GOP and make it much more of a constitutionally conservative party.
Taken from The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America by David Brody. Copyright ? 2012. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.