With all the racket about the Tea Party and the rally just before the passage of the health care reform bill, joined by the new kid on the block, the Coffee Party, I thought it might be time to take a look at these respective groups. The catalyst was a post on Facebook by Tom Mannis of an article and video by William Kelly at The Washington Times.
The cornerstone of the post is that the Tea Party is founded on love of country and the Constitution, fueled by anger at the alleged abuse of same by the Democrats. Kelly starts out suggesting this is a non-partisan battle, but in the end concedes that it isn't, and it's all the Democrats fault;
This love that I speak of is not dependent on being for or against Barack Obama. It is not rooted in opposition to the Democrats' control of Congress. It is not political. It isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican or - more truthfully - it didn’t have to be. However, it is President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress that have now raised the stakes and threatened all the things that we, as Americans, love about our country. They have threatened America’s very essence. It’s core. That is the true reason that the Tea Party movement exists.
Curiosity propelled me to the sites of the respective movements in an effort to see if I can feel the love. Over at the Tea Party Patriots (yep that's their name, don't wear it out!) you can view the home page, the mission statement and THAT.IS.ALL. Sign up if you want to read anything else or view any of the videos on the home page. What is particularly irksome about this is that I read the mission statement and I feel some affinity for the appeal to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However the site design, which is clearly a Members Only environment does not suggest a welcoming, inclusive organization eager to show itself in the best light possible. As I write this I feel the appeal of the snark and wonder what the Sooper-Secrit handshake and password might be. Not fair of me I suppose, especially after having seen a video of an older couple drawn into political activism via the Tea Party. There are definitely good, and frustrated, people in the Tea Party.
The story is vastly different at the Coffee Party site. You don't need to be a member to read stuff, although only members can initiate or reply to blog and forum posts. This is consistent with the practice at many sites. You can click on any link you like and see what is behind it although replies to posts and forums appear to be hidden. They also have a nifty little item called the Coffee Sphere. You have to register to use the sphere, which is totally separate from the Party itself. On the sphere you can see how your views on a plethora of topics from Education to Health Care to Political Reform stack up against the totality of those who have taken the 'reflectment'. Gaps are duly noted and offered up as opportunities for discussion and finding common ground. There is also a Civility Pledge, also separate from the Coffee Party. What comes across from all this is the notion of a nascent movement primarily focused on reforming the political process and finding common ground in reaching solutions.
The Tea Party Patriots hold that their core principles are derived from the founding documents. Their primary beef appears to be that those principles are being violated and that doing so is a direct contravention of natural law, and individual rights. For the Tea Party Patriots it is all about the outcomes.
The Coffee Party holds that the political process is broken because "we the people" are no longer in control. Their view is that this must change for democracy to be restored. Fix the process to return the power to people and the outcomes will sort themselves out.
When you look closely at both groups it becomes apparent that they share the same disappointment with the political spectacle that currently passes for leadership, but have different approaches. The Tea Party Patriots want to return to the (perceived) halycon days when the federal government stayed out of people's lives. The truth is somewhat different, check your history. Federal override of the states in some form or fashion has been the rule since the days of Andrew Jackson. The Civil War was about state's rights, with slavery as the catalyst. The Coffee Party wants to restore civility to the process and replace hyperbole with facts. Given the profusion of spinmeisters and pundits over the airwaves this may be an uphill battle. I give them props for trying since that is an issue near and dear to me.
I wish the Tea Party Patriots were more open to the casual drive by visitor. The fact that they aren't raises a legitimate concern that perhaps they are not interested in reaching out to others. The Coffee Party seems more like a group of young, eager, activists who believe we can have a hopeful future if only we would play nice. I think both have legs. It will be interesting to see how much impact either has on the public sphere, and the voters at large.