Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Tea Party Protests--Pros and Cons

A lot of conservatives are very excited about the Tea Party movement. The idea behind the tea parties is that conservatives should take a page out of the liberal playbook, and stage sizeable demonstrations to protest high taxes and spending, while waving around tea bags to remind people of the Boston Tea Party. The Tea Party label was chosen, of course, in order that people would identify them with the historical tea party.

The Tea Parties have been reasonably successful, especially considering that the first one the brainchild of lone conservative blogger, and the idea snowballed from there. They’ve gotten decent turnout (though not what your average antiwar protest would get), and they’ve gotten a great deal of coverage in the conservative media, and a significant amount of attention in the media in general. There should be a lot more attention on April 15, on that day, there are over a thousand Tea Parties planned across the country, expected to involve hundreds of thousands of people.

Many, many conservatives consider the Tea Party movement a good thing. But it has some pretty significant weaknesses, which the conservative movement would do well to consider.

First, of course, there is the fact that the modern Tea Parties and the original Tea Party had very different goals. The original Tea Party protested taxation without representation, while the modern Tea Party generally stands against higher taxes. The modern Tea Parties are similar in name only to the original, and their label is merely an attempt to cash in on the Tea Party name. This disconnect makes the Tea Party organizers look calculating and misleading.

Another reason to be wary of such protests is the fact that such protests backfire as often as they succeed. There was a Tea Party in my hometown of Cincinnati. I didn’t go, but it did give me the chance to see local coverage of the protest. According to several local news sources, their reporters felt unsafe at the demonstration. That isn’t exactly the press conservatives need.

(The Tea Party organizer, in a Facebook message, didn’t deny that the reporters concerned might have been threatened, but complained that there wasn’t any proof outside of their unsupported testimony, which makes for a very feeble defense).

And any missteps by Tea Party participants will become known. Most of the mainstream media is hostile to conservatives, and anything negative about these demonstrations will certainly become widely disseminated. And protests tend to be votile places—it is easy to imagine a protest spiraling out of control.

A final reason that conservatives shouldn’t become too attached to the idea of mass protests. Protests are blatant appeals to emotion. During a protest, there is no other message involved other than “look, thousands of other people agree with me.” There is no logic, no reasoning, nothing other than an appeal to emotion.

The conservative movement has had more than enough appeals to emotion in the past months. Joe the Plumber was, initially, a useful archetype of the common man. But his effective shelf life was about a week, and the McCain campaign made him a centerpiece of their campaign far past his expiration date. And by the end of the presidential campaign, Sarah Palin had dropped almost all substance from her stump speech, instead emphasizing that she was a) a hockey mom, b) a maverick, and c) opposed to earmarks.

The Tea Party demonstrations are not without value. They inspire the base, and can serve as a first step into the world of conservative grassroots. And they do inspire media coverage, much of it positive.

But protests are no substitute for ideas and organization. The Tea Parties can be an effective gimmick—but they are only a gimmick. They should play only a very secondary role in the conservative arsenal.

21 Comments:

At April 11, 2009 at 5:49 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Why are they "gimmicks" when it is our side doing the protesting?

 
At April 11, 2009 at 7:12 AM , Blogger Daniel Ruwe said...

They are gimmicks when both sides protest. I think that it is just too pathetic for words when I see liberals yammering about "taking to the streets" like mindlessly shouting slogans is the essence of democracy. I don't want the conservative movement to start acting the same way. I've never much liked protests.

 
At April 12, 2009 at 6:21 PM , Blogger BB-Idaho said...

Will be interesting to see how it plays out...

 
At April 13, 2009 at 9:00 AM , Blogger Name: Soapboxgod said...

The problem with the Tea Party Protests is that their primary emphasis seems to be on taxation and subsequently lowering it.

Certainly I've not argument on that note.

However, said party's message becomes ineffectual if it does not extend to the real meat and potatoes which is without question Government spending.

Tax cuts aren't going to turn this economy around. You've got to have a concerted effort to make extensive cuts to government spending.

 
At April 14, 2009 at 8:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taxation without representation is exactly what it is! When our elected officials vote on measures they havent even read they have forfeited their "duly elected" status and, in effect, become the enemy of the constituency they were entrusted to protect. How is that any different?

 
At April 14, 2009 at 8:08 PM , Blogger Beth said...

The info I am reading about the Cleveland Tea Party is that it IS about the excessive spending, Soapie, I assume that all across the nation it is the same.

BB, I hope nothing gets ugly, I mentioned the info I am reading about the local gathering, and they are stressing to people to be respectful but also careful. It would be nice to have our voices actually heard.

Daniel, do you think the original Boston Tea Party was a gimmick? What's wrong with exercising our freedom to assemble and freedom is speech? I say it's about time we stop keeping to ourselves, let's unite for something greater than ourselves for a change.

 
At April 14, 2009 at 9:12 PM , Blogger Daniel Ruwe said...

I think that the best way to unite is through grassroots and organizations and trying to influence political parties. The original Boston Tea Party--well, it wasn't exactly a peaceful protest. It didn't have much in common with the modern protests. And they did have more than that--they also had some pretty significant minds doing some pretty impressive writing behind them. I'm afraid that the whole conservative response to Obama seems to be a) stupid email fowards, b) conspiracies theories, c) and Tea Parties. Unlike the first two, the Tea Parties have some value--but they aren't enough by themselves.

 
At April 16, 2009 at 7:50 PM , Blogger Beth said...

The Tea Parties are a grassroots effort, but we need to keep up the efforts to unite.

 
At March 24, 2013 at 4:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saying that protest have only an emotional appeal and no other useful aspect is completely wrong. Were Gandhi's and MLK's protests a useless tool? This article/blog post is weak

 
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