The following has never been verified by me. Too many good stories are ruined by over-verification. Just call it “Southern folk-biology.”
We were taught that the magnolia blossom, probably the most beautiful in the plant kingdom, stays beautiful only as long as you do nothing but look at it. If you touch it, it blackens and dies! I think tea parties do, too.
Born strong a year ago and now reportedly stronger than either of the two major parties, the tea-party movement defies coherent journalistic attempts to sum it all up. Writing about the tea-party movement is like trying to nail a custard pie to the side of a barn. Like the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome, the power of the tea parties is bound up with their untouchability. Pollsters tell us the tea parties are more admired than the major parties. But if the tea partiers ever start behaving like a major party, they’ll go the way of the magnolia blossom.
The standard political movement starts with a leader and a message and then outreach; once upon a time, letters, then doorbells, then telephones, now computers and eventually rallies; small and then, the founders hope, larger and larger. That’s called “top down.” This tea-party phenomenon came upon us like Iceland’s cloud of volcanic ash. It’s strictly from the bottom up, from deep down inside the boiling American soul; up, up and away.
Complicating the task of the journalist is that fact that, like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two tea parties are alike. My daughter Celia Farber, a writer whose work has reached the front cover of magazines like Esquire and Harper’s, attended the New York Tea Party on April 15. Here’s part of her report.
“I wanted to go see for myself rather than rely on quasi-hysterical media depictions. I was moved. Everybody was smiling, and there was a very uplifting feeling in the crowd. I felt no hate at all, nothing extremist or menacing. I felt uplifted and hopeful. I went with no preconceptions. Everybody was warm and welcoming. The left is making a big mistake disparaging these people.”
When asked if minority Americans were there, Celia saved a lot of words by stating simply, “Yes. It was the same mix of people you see on the New York subway.” Was it a hate-Obama rally? “No way,” insists Celia. “That’s a red herring. It was much more a protest against the countless violations of liberty in recent years, culminating with the banking bailout and the health-care-reform bill.”
There may have been tea parties in which President Obama undoubtedly was the big target. There’s no “tea party-line.” If the question is, “Who’s in charge here?” the tea party’s present strength lies in the answer, “Nobody!” Or, at least, different unfamiliar names in different places. It’s so long since we’ve seen a real grass root we’ve forgotten what it looks like. Sure, the tea-party movement now has a list of candidates they endorse, but those endorsements are based strictly on principles – not backroom deals with a union. And they’ve got a “Contract From America” broadcaster Larry Kudlow analyzed as mostly a defense of the Constitution. Can anything this great really be happening to us?
My plea to the tea parties, one of which I was privileged to address last July 4, is, “Please, fellows. Keep it up, but don’t ever try to get organized. Let it all flow like a student riot in Ecuador; or, better, a patriots’ gathering in old Lexington and Concord.” (I’d favor granting every illegal alien who could explain that last sentence instant citizenship. And I’ll bet you we could tote the lot of them down to the courthouse in a normal-sized van!)
Last attempt to explain the force and fragility of the tea parties: the Rudyard Kipling tale of “The Man Who Would Be King.” A ne’er-do-well from the Queen’s Army in Imperial India and his buddy slip across into Afghanistan and convince the local primitives they were there to rule over them. They do a good job at first; infrastructure, farming, bridge-building. They persuade their subjects they are more than rulers; they are gods! They amass a fortune. They talk of declaring nationhood and negotiating with the queen herself as fellow royalty.
One day, big slip-up. The locals believe that gods don’t do anything as human as bleed. And one of them gets bitten by a woman and bleeds a little. Gods aren’t supposed to bleed at all! The enraged mob falls upon the phony gods tossing one to his death in the bottom of a canyon and crucifying the other, who manages to free himself and crawl back to India to tell the tale.
Got it? Gods don’t bleed. And the movement Americans crave right now doesn’t deal, double-deal, dirty-deal, lie, manipulate, cheat, prevaricate, exaggerate, overspend, steal, live it up or act like gods or even kings. And they’re nonviolent!
So, tea-folk, tea-patriots: make sure your rallies are bloodless. Don’t feature angry women with sharp teeth. Or spears. Or swords.
In fact, don’t even go anywhere near the briars.