Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: A New American Tea Party

A New American Tea Party by John M. O’Hara, John Wiley & Sons, 307 pages.

In his preface O’Hara lays out the three things he hopes to accomplish with this book:

One, that it will set the historic record straight on what is a critically important grassroots movement…

Second, that it will serve to define and articulate the principles of that movement…

Finally, that it will help to fortify, inspire and guide counter-revolutionaries in the policy battles ahead…

I’m pleased to report that in this well-written, thoroughly researched volume O’Hara accomplishes all three and then some.

I‘ll approach this book by asking how the author answers three questions: Who are these Tea Party folks? What events caused this phenomenon? Where do we go from here?

Let’s see what O’Hara has to say.

He describes and defines Tea Party folks in different places throughout the book. Here are some examples:

They represent the collective wisdom of the people – not populism, not the rule that might makes right – but the collective desire to be true to founding principles – a union of individualism, if you will. (p.35)

While fighting excessive taxation is certainly a noble crusade, this was not the only tenant of the tea parties. Rather, they sought to protest the expansion of government as a whole and reinforce the larger idea that government works for the people, not for itself, not for specific interest groups, not for specific organizations. (p.80)

Tea party participants, like most Americans, reject the idea that individuals are more likely to prosper in a highly controlled nanny state. They instead embrace a state where the government acts a referee, stepping in only when absolutely necessary. (p.207)

They reject the idea that big government – at the hands of liberals or conservatives – should be used to solve problems. They see it as unrealistic and they resent the encroachment on their ability to exercise their intellect and free will. (p.208)

These individuals, on the whole, subscribe to a live and let live philosophy. They believe in free markets and small government. (p.208)

They are hardworking taxpayers who were driven by nothing more than the principles at stake: the protection of a representative democracy that supports the individual right to the pursuit of happiness against egregious, if not unlawful, government intervention. (p.208)

Protestors such as those at the tea parties merely ask to be left alone – whether it is their tax dollars, the cars they drive, the food they eat, their guns, how they educate their children, or their relationship with their doctors. (p. 208).

All are excellent descriptions of the Tea Party folks I know and also explain my involvement with the group. I also emphasize this because of all the distortions by the media and political pundits.

Let’s move on to what caused the Tea Party eruption.

O’Hara walks through the litany, starting with the Community Reinvestment Act. You’ll then be reintroduced to the 1994 “Revolution That Wasn’t”, the “Quasi-Conservative” presidency of George W. Bush, taxes, Federal Reserve policy, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, universal health care and the whole list of “Bailouts, Handouts and Corporate Welfare.” He even provides a nine-page timeline, listing the date and a summary of each event.

I found this part of the book tough to read. We all knew these things had happened, but I have never seen it all laid out in one place like this. An unpleasant but necessary reminder for those of us who watched these events unfold, but an eye opener for any newbies and documentation for future historians.

Looking to the future, the author instructs us on winning arguments, honing the message, conducting rallies, publicity, pressuring politicians and utilizing coalitions and social networks. He also recommends looking beyond rallies and offers useful suggestions on taking consistent and principled action. O’Hara further suggests the Tea Parties look to their own state, writing “to enact and sustain real change, pressure needs to be kept at state and local government.” Each state has a conservative or free market think tank, and the author suggests they are an excellent resource for state level activities (In NM, it would be the Rio Grande Foundation).

There is much more to this book than I am reporting here. I thoroughly enjoyed, for instance, how he rips the political class and the media for their reaction to the Tea Party movement, devoting two full chapters to the skewering. You should also enjoy his description of the early days of the movement and his personal involvement in the first D.C. rallies. Also of interest is his presentation of a Tea Party Manifesto.

O’Hara also writes with a wonderful sense of humor which he sprinkles throughout the book. For instance, he refers to McCain’s suspending his campaign as pulling “a political Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” and he says bailouts “are like lays potato chips – you can’t just have one.”

Hope there is enough here to stir your interest because this old cowboy thinks this one is worth your time and money.

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