Flavor added Tea Party

Grassroots goes beyond fiscal pitch

by

3 comments

Local Tea Partier Steve Rapchick, speaking just as a citizen, had a message for the Charleston County School Board last week: Cut that budget.

"You're spending our money," he warned them.

But before he got to his concerns about limiting taxing and spending, the pillars of the Tea Party movement, he advocated for the preservation of an abstinence-only program provided by nonprofit Heritage Community Services. It's about providing information to students, he said.

"The Heritage program fills in some of the gaps that these other programs don't," he said.

An e-mail blast from CharlestonTeaParty.org warned that other programs "believe in teaching children about sexual orientation (and) gender identity under the guise of health education."

I guess we shouldn't expect RuPaul to speak at the next Tea Party rally.

Joshua Gross, a leader of the state Tea Party movement, stood in support of Heritage, offering an argument that's likely to surprise some.

"Abstinence-only education has worked, and it doesn't cost you a dime," he said.

True, it doesn't cost the Charleston County School District any money — because the program has been funded primarily through state and federal grants.

At a little more than a year old, the Tea Party is still in its infancy. And it's not exactly a shocker that they'd align with social conservatives considering the Tea Party's praise for conservatives like anti-gay Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

But the movement's initial momentum came from a national financial crisis, not a defense of traditional marriage or the imperiled virtue of high school cheerleaders everywhere.

The new administration in Washington was rolling up its sleeves to take on the housing meltdown, rising healthcare costs, and lax environmental regulations — all promises that President Barack Obama made on the campaign trail. Conservative opponents were haunted nightly by the thought of cash registers ringing in Washington. So, just four months into his administration, they ran out to the streets on Tax Day and marched for ... well, tax reform, capitalism, traditional values, improved borders, gun rights, and the return of Melrose Place (one down, several to go).

In a Rasmussen poll of likely voters in South Carolina last month, 27 percent considered themselves members of the movement, an impressive number, but 17 percent of the voters polled weren't sure whether they were members or not. Why? Likely because it's hard to say what the Tea Party stands for.

"I'm not sure that all tea partiers are the same," says David Mann, a recently retired College of Charleston political science professor.

There's certainly a staunch fiscal wing that follows the principles of politicians like Ron Paul, but there's a much more broadly conservative wing that can stand behind traditional GOP candidates like Sarah Palin. And Mann notes that a lot of these self-proclaimed tea partiers aren't really standing behind anyone, thus leading to the diluted message.

"It's going from the ground up," he says. "They're all there, but they're there for different reasons."

In a New York Times Magazine feature last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham had a harsh prognosis for the movement, meeting

"The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country," he said. "It will die out."

That would likely be good news for Graham — he and the tea partiers aren't close. But the movement has certainly gained the attention of Republican leaders desperate for a return to the majority. As the Tea Party hashes out its priorities, the GOP will likely be interested in tagging along.

"It could conceivably be the Republicans and the Tea Party will be the exact same people," Mann says.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment
 

Add a comment