Who Makes Up The Tea Party Movement?

A reader at The Daily Dish complains that Sullivan is painting with strokes that are too broad:
Quit classifying the whole tea party movement as people who stood by when Bush and his thugs shit on the Constitution. They say the tea parties actually grew out of the 2008 campaign of Ron Paul - someone who was very critical of Bush and his totalitarian ways. There is also a new show that many people are labeling as the tea parties' own TV show: Freedom Watch, hosted by Judge Andrew Napolitano. He is a guy who criticized Bush and his horrendous civil liberty and spending policies.

Not all the Tea Party people are only in it to be anti-Dem or anti-Obama. You and much of the media are trying to create a false narrative that groups the whole movement into a group of Bush-loving racists. Do not forget there is a libertarian wing, and it is the most honest group of people out there. They are principled, and the R or D in front of a politicians name means nothing to them. Please acknowledge this and quit stereotyping such a large and diverse group of people.
While I completely understand and sympathize with this reader's view, I think that the damage may already be done.

I remember waaaaay back in 2008, a then-mostly-unheard-of candidate by the name of Ron Paul was raising then-mostly-unheard-of amounts of money on the Internets. They were calling his campaign the "rEVOLution", and it was raising millions of campaign dollars for his presidential bid.

The major difference is that, in that ancient time, the rhetoric was similar, but had a very different tone to it.

In 2008, I never rarely ever heard a Ron Paul supporter (pronounced "libertarian" conservative) yelling about socialism, Marxism, communism, Stalinism, fascism or any other type of -ism. In short, the debate was about the issues, not about the person or their politics.

In the current incarnation of the Tea Party movement, the rhetoric has grown increasingly toxic. To those who would argue that 'a sleeping giant has been awakened', I say "maybe". But, this 'sleeping giant' must deal with a lot of fringy-racist extremities. To ignore that would be akin to suicide...

To me, a true Tea Party movement would have very little (if anything) to do with social issues such as abortion or gay marriage. Small 'l' libertarians just want to live their lives in peace without intrusion from the federal government. And yet, you see some of these Tea Party folks showing up to protest opposition to Prop 8 in California, or the construction of a mosque in New York City. Not because it is government intrusion (it's a private construction project), but because -- *GASP* -- some Muslims want to try to encourage peace and understanding with their neighbors in the Big Apple.

That doesn't sound like libertarianism to me.

More to my point, who comprises the Tea Party? If the loudest and most powerful voices in the movement are going to be relegated only to 'real' Americans like Sarah Palin, then I think that Sullivan and others have a legitimate gripe.

But, if people like Ron Paul can wrestle the reins back from social-conservatives-dressed-up-as-libertarians, then Sullivan's reader has won this argument.

If the Tea Party is more than just a movement for former Bush supporters, Evangelicals and idiots who think that the Joker was a socialist, then it can (and will?) continue to gain momentum. However, if conservatives with true libertarian leanings do not draw a very important line in the sand, the Tea Party movement could simply be assigned the unfortunate moniker, "Republican Party II".

Photo: Bill Bruss of Winfield, Illinois, gives away plastic bags in the vendor area at the first ever Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. (Ed Reinke/AP)