I am of course a quite conservative person, and tend to surround myself with like-minded people. However, I'm sure we've all had the experience of running into people who are good-natured but fundamentally disagree with us. Last night I had such an experience.
I was discussing with my Taekwondo instructor how irate I was that the Feds are trying to acquire access to each citizen's private medical records. It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment, I said. I didn't say so, but earlier that day I almost cried, I was so mad. I found that he recognized many of the same problems I did with our nation's current state. But, when I mentioned in passing that I was a Tea Partier, he said, "I'm sorry-- did you just say you're with the Tea Party?" and literally took a step back.
I was baffled, and a bit unnerved. A third-degree black belt had just recoiled in fear from a lowly white-belt! I listened for several minutes as he explained some of his ideas. I don't remember everything, but a few main points stuck in my mind. He mentioned the "Occupy Wall Street" marches, which I hadn't yet heard of, and said, "of course you haven't, because the mainstream media won't cover it" (the idea being that the big corporations don't like them-- also, I believe he mentioned this before I stated my Tea affiliations). He pointed out that, while Americans abhor genocide, this nation was itself responsible for effectively wiping out an entire race-- the Native Americans. He stated accurately that people in the Middle East hate us, likely on account of our occupancy there, and referred to America as "the Evil Empire." He also asked if it bothered me that the Tea Party recieved extensive funding from some of the wealthiest people on earth. I diplomatically replied that the Tea Party wasn't one group; it was in reality a collection of people and dispersed entities.
I was struck by two things. Firstly, I didn't understand why this man was so appalled by the Tea Party. I haven't seen anything in my interactions with other Tea Partiers to suggest that this crowd is one to be afraid of. Secondly, he clearly knew some things I didn't. I was too much a coward to admit it, but I hadn't researched where the Tea Party groups get their funding, or the personal histories of its supporters. I simply supported the group because I agree with common Tea Party principles of small government and personal freedom. Personally, my impression of my instructor was that he was intelligent and well-educated, and of an amiable disposition. So, I was desperate to find out why he genuinely feared this group.
After getting home from taekwondo, I looked up the Occupy Wall St. movement. I found there was very little information about it. On their website, vague ideas of a distaste for corporate power and influence in politics (which I understand and, as regards political corruption, completely share, though I hope less vaguely), and the statement that they were occupying other cities as well was to be found. A Wikipedia page about them also mentioned that the group had categorized local police into "white-collar" and "blue-collar" groups, which raised a red flag in my mind. Police had corralled demonstrators into small groups behind orange mesh, and apparently one had pepper sprayed some women, though whether this was unprovoked or not was disputed. To me, it sounded like that particular officer was probably a jerk who was incited to anger by something not mentioned by the protesters and crossed a line. Interviews of a few demonstrators were mentioned; all seemed to be in their early 20s. My impression of the group was that they were probably college graduates who are fed up with being unable to find a job for the past couple years, and so when they see people in New York wearing expensive clothes and driving European cars, they feel jealous and blame them. I don't think this is the right reaction, but it's understandable. I'm a recent college graduate myself. I know the crowd.
But, I wondered, what separated this group-- which I would describe as a fringe movement-- from the Tea Party, which the NY Times describes as a fringe movement? Both groups see what they percieve as injustice, and want it to stop. And, let's face it, though I love the Tea Party it's true that we get a lot of funding and support from people whose limos cost as much as many people's houses, and whose motives may or may not be admirable. So it is with all people. The difference, I've decided, is that we have a plan-- i.e., we want the government simply to follow the Constitution and our Founders' intents-- whereas the Occupy Wall St. movement have stated clearly that they have no plan and no agreed-upon solution to the corruption they see as the source of their problems. Such a movement is ultimately doomed to fail. I would like to add, on a less diplomatic note, that one of the speakers at this gathering accused corporate leaders of causing "all the world's problems." Such an attitude towards "the rich", beyond being offensive and illogical, is ultimately counterproductive; because, just as with racial categorizations, it separates real people into simply those who are "like me" versus those who are "different," and "different," when applied to other human beings, tends to foment prejudice.
I went on to research Tea Party funding. I found that, as my instructor had said, the Koch brothers among others had clear financial affinities for the Tea Party. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some political posturing and racketeering going on. However, I wasn't alarmed by these reports, because I recognize two facts. Firstly, all powerful groups have corruption. It happens because these groups are made up of human beings, and because people aren't perfect they will tend to try and manipulate others into giving them what they want. It happens in the Church, in labor unions, in the Democratic and Republican parties, and it happening here in the Tea Party shouldn't be any surprise. People don't gravitate to these groups because they like corruption; they gravitate to them because they agree with the organizations' stated principles, and so it is with me. However, we should of course try to keep corruption to a minimum. We should not only be watchdogs for problems in the establishment, but within our own group as well. This is an honorable duty.
The realization I've come to after this incident is that, firstly, we must have the same deep respect for liberals that we have for any other human. The reason for this is that, because they listen to different news sources than we do, and operate in a different sphere of thought, they may think of things-- very reasonable things-- that we would never think of. I am not suggesting that we try to rectify differences in our ideology (on the contrary, I believe those differences are what prevents the tyranny of the many), but that we pay attention when they point out true problems in society and the world, because the majority of them are good-natured if misguided people who will act as whistleblowers where we might not think to do so. It is just unfortunate that media like the NY Times portray the Tea Party in such a negative light, that those who agree with that portrayal are left shouting angrily at us rather than calmly explaining to our faces what they think is wrong with our group. (perhaps they are afraid they'll be tempted to join us!)
Secondly, I realized that the fundamental distance between the Tea Party and the left is this: we believe America is fundamentally good, whereas they see America as a nation with a checkered history at best. An analogy would be if you discovered that, before you were born, your mother was a prostitute for a number of years. For awhile, you'd surely go around thinking of her strictly in that light; but with maturity, you'd realize that this was the wrong attitude. This is the woman that raised you, diapered and fed you, put up with your tantrums, and did her best to make you better than her. Yes, she has some horrible faults, but in the end she has a good spirit and it is your duty to be loyal to her as your mother and a member of your family. That is my attitude towards America-- I believe she has done some bad things, and continues to have faults, but I owe her my allegiance and love her dearly. I fear the left has yet to reach the realization that, if we the people do not uphold such an attitude, we will not give our nation our allegiance and, ultimately, she will die. This attitude, I believe, is what the Tea Party is meant to fight against.