read more: Boston Herald Article

[password]If there’s one thing we can agree on about the tea party movement, it’s that it has become the political Rorschach test of the year. Those who are sympathetic to the movement see it as a grass-roots groundswell against a wasteful and ever-encroaching government. Its opponents see it as a group of crazy extemists who are, as Janeane Garafolo famously opined on MSNBC, just angry that there is a “black man in the White House.“

Until recently, I found it easy to dismiss negative portrayals such as Garafolo’s as mere hysterical rants. Last week, however, I was dealt a dose of reality when a neighbor spoke disparagingly of “those tea party people” – as in, “you’re not one of those crazy tea party people, are you?”

In Massachusetts, of all places, you would think that being associated with a movement that claims ideological roots in the Boston Tea Party would be a good thing – especially for independent voters like my neighbor. Apparently not.

Due to a relentless drumbeat of media criticism, my neighbor has come to associate the phrase “tea party” with the lunatic fringe. Call him “Exhibit A” in support of the proposition that if you scream loudly enough, your views eventually become conventional wisdom.

So what exactly is the tea party? A quick Google search turns up numerous web-sites claiming to speak for the movement — Teapartypatriots.org; Jointheteaparty.org; Teaparty.org; and Teapartynation.com, to name just a few. The movement, in fact, is an amalgamation. It includes anti-tax activists, deficit hawks, crusaders for regulatory reform, and, yes, even some who make immigration their political touchstone. What tea party activists have in common is widespread discontent with the political status quo. Most are well-meaning citizens who simply have had enough. But, like any large movement, it inevitably includes some on the political extreme.

The unfavorable stereotype of tea party activists as ignorant extremists has made some Republicans – particularly in Massachusetts – nervous about the label, while galvanizing others to the movement’s defense. When Eric Dahlberg, a Republican candidate for the state Senate from the 3d Middlesex district, dropped out of a tea party rally scheduled to take place in Lexington in late July, his Republican primary opponent Sandra Martinez chastised Dahlberg for “running away.”

Republicans wouldn’t have to run from the tea party moniker if the press gave supporters a fair shake. Compare, for example, the media’s treatment of environmentalists. The environmentalist movement encompasses a smorgasboard of policy initiatives and includes many reasonable people as well as folks on the political extreme. Yet “going green” is hyped by the media unquestioningly; no serious journalist would think of tarnishing the reputation of earnest recyclers by lumping them in with EARTH FIRST! terrorists.

Organizers of the 1773 Boston Tea Party were far more radical than those of the modern day movement. Assembling violent mobs to deliberately assault others and destroy personal property was the modus operandi of Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty. By contrast, today’s tea party activists are a peaceful bunch. Yet, ironically, the media condemns today’s tea party as “extreme.”

Sam Adams understood well that in order to rally the discontented masses to his cause (independence), he needed to unify a politically diverse group around a common theme.  And so, “No Taxation Without Representation” became the clarion call.

Certainly, today’s tea party movement should not emulate the violent tactics of Sam Adams and the Boston Tea Party ruffians.  But they might learn a few p.r. tricks from their more extreme namesake, and stick to a simple, unifying slogan.  As the bumper sticker says, American’s today are: “Taxed Enough Already.”

If activists can stay on message, perhaps the press will give today’s tea party the respect it deserves. Or does the press only respect grassroots, community organizing when the organizer is a Democrat running for president? [/password]

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