Until recently I had never quite clicked with the Tea Party. In virtually every Republican primary featuring the media-constructed narrative of an “establishment” candidate versus a Tea Party insurgent, my allegiances had rested with the former.
I backed Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sue Lowden over Sharron Angle in Nevada, Jane Norton over Ken Buck in Colorado, Lisa Murkowski over Joe Miller in Alaska and Mike Castle over Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Every one of my favored candidates lost their primaries, and frankly, my first reaction was forlornness over my perception of the GOP’s resulting diminished electoral prospects. Who were these Tea Partiers and why were they “weakening” the Republican Party? I fumed and sulked until an experience I had opened my eyes.
H.R. 4213, the Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010, should have passed through Congress effortlessly. At its core, it was a re-extension of the safety net that many American families have been forced to fall back on in their times of critical need. Both parties, in Congress and in the White House, had strongly stood behind this insurance program for years, with only a small minority protesting the presence of this appropriation altogether. As long as there is accountability, oversight and an expiration date on unemployment insurance, I too count myself among its supporters. So reauthorization this summer should have been a walk in the park.
But there was a catch: The bill would have cost $34 billion. Congressional Republicans concluded that this was no small chunk of change, and that in order to fulfill their obligation to be fastidious custodians of every taxpayer penny, the appropriation should be offset by commensurate belt-tightening in other areas. Surely some earmarks could be eliminated. The furthest thing from fiscal responsibility would be piling these billions on our already swollen deficit without heed to the budgetary repercussions. Yet that is precisely what Democrats proposed.
Not only that, but congressional Democrats and the president perverted the GOP’s plea for keeping the budget even-keeled, preferring to cast Republicans as sociopath Dickensian villains intent on gouging hardworking Americans for no other purpose than sadism. A grosser example of Washington being out of touch, I could not imagine.
Fueled by confusion and anger over these events, I did something that I had never done before: I wrote my members of Congress. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) all received measured, inquisitive input from me, their constituent. I then waited, eager for them to convince me.
After a deal of time, all three (obviously I’m aware that in reality it’s interns or staffers) responded to me with the same sentiment: “Thank you for standing with me on this important issue!” The form letters I received were so off base and inane that they were downright disrespectful. My opposition was treated as support, and my questions were left unanswered. Upon calling each office, I received vague apologies and promises to follow up and answer my question properly. I have continued to wait since early August.
So what’s my point? All of this made me mad, but it also made me think. Career politicians who supposedly are my voice in Washington are ludicrously out of touch both when it comes to handling my money and serving me, the constituent. After this experience, I felt an instant kinship with the patriots who call themselves the Tea Party.
Let me be clear: So-called Tea Partiers who thrive on outlandish rumors and racial or religious innuendos directed at President Obama are pathetic and not worth my time. But the vast majority of the movement is average citizens who have never participated in politics before, and are now taking a principled stand in favor of common-sense issues like lower taxes and balanced budgets. Their treatment by the media and the political left has been inaccurate and demeaning. Whenever citizens earnestly engage in civic life, America wins.
As for my fears about electoral viability, it is still true that some “Tea Party” candidates have dimmed (Angle) or doomed (O’Donnell) GOP chances in some key races. That is a small price to pay for the boundless passion and energy the Republican Party gains from this broad citizen activist coalition. The Tea Party must obviously prove itself as a mature governing force, though. If it can deliver on its rhetoric once its choice candidates take Washington by storm, then perhaps we can reclaim the discipline and responsibility the big spenders have been sorely lacking.
The Tea Party is about restoring faith in the individual citizen in the face of bloated and ineffective government. That’s truly change we can believe in.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at sdulikthehoya.com. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.”