Yesterday I wrote about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I was asked, reasonably, by an anonymous reader to offer an equally even-handed treatment of the Tea Party.
The Tea Party movement, like Occupy Wall Street, began as street theater. I don't care for political street theater, but I am glad that in a free country the people who like to do that sort of thing can do so.
The main thing the Tea Partiers are mad about is the government telling them what to do and taxing them to do things they did not approve of. I read the core of the tea party movement as libertarian, rather than social conservative, though there is clearly overlap. This is not a movement to limit abortion, for example. Nor is it a movement that is against large government expenditures or even deficits as such.
The "tea baggers," as they originally called themselves, did not mobilize when the federal government ran up giant deficits to pay for the wars of the 2000s. Instead, they mobilized against the expenditures to cover the costs of poor-risk mortgage holders and people with no health insurance - people the tea party regards as feckless, irresponsible, and not their problem.
Some of my liberal friends regard the tea partiers as simply selfish. I think this view is mistaken. Of course there are some people who are opposed to social responsibility as a whole, and naturally some of them will be drawn to an anti-government protest. I do not think, though, that social irresponsibility is the core of what the protest is about.
The Tea Party wants the government to take less and tell citizens what to do less on behalf of irresponsible people. I think this position is not sufficient to make a good social order. But the Tea Party position is a legitimate part of the argument about how to make a better society.