A calm discussion turned into a heated exchange on Monday as Diana Reimer, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots spoke with students in the Quigley Hall auditorium. Reimer seemed determined to stay out of any engaging discussion regarding her organization’s views. It wasn’t until Reimer decided to field questions that Quigley Hall erupted in controversy.
Reimer met the questions of professors and students alike with a firestorm of hostility. The most contentious exchanges centered on the U.S. Constitution, which Reimer passed out to the audience, suggesting that they read it.
Despite her professed reverence for the document, she was unable to field a single question regarding her organization’s views regarding any provision within the Constitution.
After citing what she believed to be the clear unconstitutionality of labor unions, Reimer was asked if unions were protected under the Liberty of Contract section of the Constitution and the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly. She responded that she didn’t know. Upon citing a non-existent clause outlawing national debt, a political science professor asked her where the clause could be found. She merely suggested that the professor “try reading it.”
The scariest part of this lecture was the broader suspicions about the Tea Party movement that it confirmed. This was not just an extreme, uninformed member that misrepresented the movement’s views. It was a national coordinator, chosen to be a spokesperson for the group.
Her ignorance moved far beyond a poor grasp of the Constitution, though, as she elaborated on her anti-intellectual creed. Reimer proudly touted the fact that she had never pursued an education, but still had the influence to meet with national leaders regarding policy.
Americans of all political beliefs should be ashamed that such a politically extreme and frankly uniformed group as the Tea Party was able to influence our national elections in November. When explaining her decision making process, her stated philosophy was, “The way I get things done is I do them. I don’t sit there and think about it.”
She found it more important to sacrifice a basic level of understanding in order to create as strong of an opposition as possible. This attitude of uncompromising extremism coupled with a refusal to reconsider others’ beliefs says a lot about a movement that preferred to yell over members of Congress in town hall meetings instead of holding reasoned discussion on the issues.
The level of support that this method of noise-making has achieved under the Tea Party is appalling. American political culture proudly reveres individual rights within the Constitution. The backlash against movements to regulate handgun carrying permits emphatically demonstrates this, as these movements are always painted as “anti-second amendment.”
But with the expressive freedoms of the First Amendment, Americans throughout history have sought to stifle all speech with which they disagree. From McCarthyism to widespread opposition to allowing Muslims a place of worship in New York City, mindless populism morphs into a disregard for expressive rights. The Tea Party movement is but the next heir to this pattern.
The real danger of the movement stems not from its number of misinformed members, but the broader influence it has over legitimate representatives in our government. This tie is represented by the intimate relationship that exists between the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party.
The Tea Partiers claim to be an independent entity, but caucus with Republicans in Congress and support Republican candidates. The Republican Party prefers to “have its cake and eat it too,” as it rode Tea Party sentiments to victory in 2010, but is quick to dismiss it as a separate movement when it gets negative media attention. Now that the group is entrenched within the Republican base, however, only time will tell if the GOP establishment can control the monster it nurtured as a tool for victory.
As John F. Kennedy stated in his inaugural address, “remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”
While it is true that extreme and uninformed groups also exist within the Democratic Party, they have not been granted this unearned sense of legitimacy. Republicans were willing to gamble with the Tea Party. It is my hope that Americans do not “end up inside.”