What is the Tea Party?

The Tea Party is a major voice in the current political debate, shaping campaigns, influencing politicians, and receiving large media coverage. Since 2009, the Tea Party has vigorously marched and demonstrated against universal healthcare, cap and trade legislation, and any tax increases in conjunction with the debt ceiling debate. Defiled by some as advocates of a certain path to the country’s doom, others extol the Tea Party as the answer to America’s ailments. What is the truth? An accurate representation of the Tea Party as an entity may be difficult to achieve because it is both decentralized and unstructured. Rather, it is a collection of independently operating tea parties existing in communities throughout the country. Without a unifying voice, the Tea Party has been characterized by the media primarily in terms what it stands against, not what it stands for. Considered conservative, the movement’s appeal extends even to Ithaca, a decidedly liberal college town in upstate New York. Since the Tea Party does not have an official platform of policy initiatives, we reached out locally to gain a better understanding of what tea parties seek to accomplish in terms of public policy. The following statement from Edward Weissman, the Ithaca Tea Party organizer, explains the movement and its political goals.

By Edward Weissman, Organizer of the Ithaca Tea Party

The Tea Party is a grassroots movement of loosely connected, autonomous groups without national leadership or central organization. Love of country and all America stands for explains the recent, rapid rise of the Tea Party. These are not flamboyant, empty words. They embody the passionately held convictions of a multitude of ordinary citizens. Tea partiers recognize that the American way of life, American pre-eminence and, most importantly, the freedoms guaranteed to each citizen coupled with personal responsibility are threatened and beginning to disappear. They realize that our freedoms have been gradually diminishing for decades. They further realize that the current administration in Washington is waging a full-scale assault against personal freedom and responsibility. Seeing this danger, individuals often with no previous connection to each other or without a history of political activism have banded together to restore America to its founding principles, the underlying basis of its greatness. Their impact is undeniable.

The Ithaca Tea Party membership includes men and women from diverse backgrounds and careers. There are registered Democrats, Republicans and Conservatives as well as independents. Yet, there is agreement among this diverse group, as well as across the movement as a whole, on the role of the government. It is nothing more and nothing less than to ensure the rights of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Scrupulous adherence to the U.S. Constitution, the contract between “we the people” and the federal government, is the only proven road to achieving those goals. Tea Partiers understand that the founding fathers designed our Constitution to protect citizens from an overreaching central government. The Tea Party is ordinary citizens standing up for their rights while assuming their responsibilities, always peacefully and legally. Clearly, the Tea Party is an ideological movement, not a partisan organization.

It is within this ideological framework that the Tea Party vehemently opposes The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Although presented merely as a health insurance plan, Obamacare essentially is about reforming the entire United States health care system. Among myriad other provisions, it encompasses plans to take over medical education, hospital administration and begin a civilian National Health Service Corps. The centrally controlled top-down approach that Obamacare embodies confers vast new powers on Washington bureaucrats. It creates more than one hundred new bureaucracies staffed by a veritable legion of new government hires and a plethora of new mandates, rules, regulations and taxes. It will not control the rise in health care costs. It will result in rationing and reduced quality of care. Furthermore, it is a plan for the government to take over 16% of the economy. There is no freedom here, no choice. While the Tea Party recognizes the need for managing health care costs, we favor market-based reforms. Obamacare is not about controlling costs; it is about controlling people. Czar-generated regulations, the fiscal reform legislation, out-of-control spending and the huge national debt raise similar concerns. Each entails increased restraints on individual choice and behavior. While sabotaging economic recovery and sustained growth, more intrusive government results in an assault on our guaranteed freedoms.

Additionally, the Tea Party favors a revamped and simplified tax system with lower rates for all. Favorable treatment for businesses, industries and unions as well as policies designed to manipulate social behavior are an abuse of government power. Crony capitalism, aptly defined by John Stossel as the cozy relationship among government, big business and big labor, bestowing privileges unattainable in the free market is insidious. The tax code should not be used as a reward or to pick winners and losers. It should have only one goal and that is to raise revenue in a fair and equitable way. The Tea Party supports responsible restructuring of entitlement programs, a balanced budget and vigilant support of federalism, the doctrine delegating to the individual states those powers not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. The Tea Party also favors a strong military and secure borders. There is no real freedom without security.

Finally, the Tea Party is often portrayed as a movement espousing only negative values. Accusations of anti-government, anti-tax, racist, compassionless beliefs are but a few of the baseless charges. The Tea Party rejects those accusations hurled at us by the opponents of freedom and responsibility. The Tea Party understands the need for both government and the taxes necessary to support constitutionally designated responsibilities. The accusation of racism has often been made, but never substantiated. Tea Partiers do not lack compassion. Compassion can be measured by the achievement of success in attaining independence. There is no compassion in the soul-stealing practice of engendering long-term dependence on government largess. A society structured to facilitate real change from needy to self-sustaining for the greatest number is the most compassionate. It is the America where anyone can achieve his dreams on his own terms that the Tea Party wants to preserve.

In summary, Tea Party members know that their liberty, the basis for unlimited individual opportunity, is being threatened by an overbearing federal government. Effecting the long weaning process from over-spending, over-regulation and over-dependence on government largess is the Tea Party agenda. The strong, opportunity-filled country Americans have cherished for more than two centuries must endure. The methodology the Tea Party is using is well within the purview of both the ordinary citizens who are the Tea Partiers and the laws of the United States. The Tea Party will educate, will mobilize and will vote. We’ll make the change the America way.


  1. Isabella Corina October 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Excellent explanation, Mr. Weissman. Thank you, and thank you Cornell jlpp for publishing this article.

  2. This is a remarkably straightforward, understandable encapsulation of the Tea Party, and it’s nice to get such from someone actually heavily involved with the movement. As someone currently working on a research paper involving the Tea Party and similar movements, I really appreciate this post!

  3. This is less an article and more a soapbox for the local tea party leader to regurgitate his talking points. The post doesn’t touch on any particular current event or specific issues, it’s little more than an asinine, one-sided rundown using meaningless buzzwords. I fail to see any substantive argument or discourse within this glorified piece of astroturf.

  4. Corey, ” the post doesn’t touch on any particular current event or specific issues” Obamacare , Taxes, Croney Capitalism. Did you actually read the post.

  5. Corey, your knee-jerk dismissal of Mr. Weissman’s essay is the reason the Tea Party values resonate so heavily with those of us in the middle class who have been paying the taxes that provide the grants and programs that Cornell is so dependent upon to thrive. I attended some of the very first Tea Parties and the overwhelming number of people who stated both “I took a day off of work to be here,” and “I have never been involved in anything political before” was the most remarkable aspect to the movement early on.

    This political tsunami is the kind of peaceful revolt that politicians have feared for decades as it undermines the political establishment. Tea Party folks have been arguing amongst ourselves whether the course forward revolves around forming a third party or taking over the GOP. For the Establishment in DC, their worst fear was realized when Tea Party folks started primarying longtime Republican office-holders and putting up our candidates for open seats. While results were mixed in 2010, Republicans took note and we’ve been hearing most of them espousing the same principles and values that the Ta Party stands for, a step in the right direction. Furthermore, Democrats like Gov. Cuomo are also surveying the political landscape and shifting to a more fiscally conversative platform, recognizing that any success for attaining a higher national office will have to include winning over a large number of self-proclaimed Tea Party voters.

    For myself, the Tea Party was the first time in my voting life that I felt I was able to vote for the principles and values that I hold dear as an American. Instead of voting against the lesser of two evils, I was voting for someone that I thought would take my values to DC and help foment the change. Heady stuff, that.

  6. I agree with Corey. How does this differ from an “About the Tea Party!” page on one of its own websites? Why is this on a law school blog?

    • This post is on a law school blog (a blog which is entirely student-run and does not represent the collective beliefs of the journal or the school) because one of the journal’s associates thought (a) that it was surprising that there is a Tea Party in Ithaca and (b) that it would be interesting and worthwhile to have the head of that organization contribute his ideological perspective. This is an ideology that is shaping political discourse and has had/will continue to have law and policy implications. If you have more ideas about what should and should not be on a law school blog, I am and have always been open to suggestions, and invite you to contact me and share those ideas with me.

  7. Mariloly Orozco October 30, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    As previous comments show, opinions abound on the Tea Party. The following documentary was created by students from Ithaca College and shows the local reaction to the Ithaca Tea Party: http://vimeo.com/17916422

Comments are closed.