I’m temporarily living in a small Alabama town that’s still safe enough to allow my children to ride their bikes down the street unattended and to leave your door unlocked while you run to the store. It’s quaint and seems untouched by the goings on in Washington, DC… and sometimes even Montgomery. But of course, it’s not. And conversations with the people you meet at the grocery store or the park reveal that. People are angry. Very angry. Thankfully, they’re also becoming organized and that is starting to make a difference.
I’m not a whole-hearted Tea Partier. I have my doubts about its long-term effectiveness, especially at a federal level if they continue to put all their efforts behind big-ticket races. But I think their potential is almost unlimited when it comes to smaller, local offices.
Recently, our town had a street festival featuring music, crafts, vendors and of course, politicians running for office, busy greeting people and kissing babies. I stopped to talk to one of the candidates who is running for a state house seat as he stood in the middle of the street handing out balloons. Though my questions were asked with cynicism, the answers returned were thoughtful, sincere and refreshing. Before too long, I realized I was talking to a real Tea Party candidate. This guy was a true believer in the need to shrink government and his mannerisms were about as un-politician like as you can get.
But it got better. As he told his story, it become clear that he had been the underdog in the primary, battling against a better-funded, establishment-picked candidate who hardly qualified to even be called a Republican. But he’d won. By a very large margin.
Then he pointed back to the booth behind him where several other candidates or their representatives were standing, and he told me that none of those candidates had been the “chosen ones”. They’d all waged war against the establishment, and they’d all won.
“A mini-revolution?” I asked. ”Yes! That’s exactly what it was,” he answered.
And when asked for the secret to their success, he was very quick to give a lot of credit to the local Tea Party group, and encouraged us to go sign up, pointing towards the table the Tea Party organization manned just a few booths down. Ironic really, since he’d told me to not waste my time when I had inquired earlier about becoming involved with the local Republican Party county committee.
If his polling numbers are accurate, this fella will win. And when he heads down to Montgomery, he’ll hopefully remain true to his principles. Because a local Tea Party group helped elect a candidate to a local office, the person chosen is a viable and palatable choice, who will represent his district well. Would this guy have been the right Republican candidate for another area of the state? Possibly not. Would he have been a good GOP candidate for a state such as New York or California? Almost definitely not.
And this is where I see the Tea Party movement truly having an impact on this country. When they cross state lines and try to influence the outcome of primary elections in regions that don’t necessarily have the same value sets they hold, they may do more harm than good. The candidates elected may reflect beliefs maintained by the Tea Party movement as a whole, but if they don’t also represent the values of their potential constituents, they’re unlikely to win. Hopefully, the Republican Party and the Tea Party groups will learn to work together and elect candidates such as Marco Rubio- valued by the establishment for his electability and by the Tea Party for his adherence to principle.
The focus on influencing every candidate who gets sent to DC is understandable, as every vote in Congress can have negative affects across the nation. But it’s important to keep in mind that many Congressmen held office at a lower level before advancing to DC. If the Tea Party is busy filling those local seats with Constitutionally-minded, small-government candidates, those office-holders will be the future vanguard in the coming elections.
I know that there’s a sense of urgency that is pushing the Tea Party agenda. Things are happening so fast in DC, there’s a legitimate concern that we’ve advanced too far down this road to serfdom. But as Dr. Paul pointed out to me after I expressed my frustration at the lack of progress during his ‘08 presidential campaign, “Shana, we’ve been headed down the wrong road for over 100 years. We’re not going to turn things around overnight.”
We should be willing to work for good, electable candidates at any level, but local Tea Party groups could have a profound impact on our country, both now and in the future, by putting their time and resources behind their own hometown heroes. Mini-revolutions, like the one experienced in this small Alabama town, could very well lead to a major revolution that ushers in the liberty we’re all fighting for.