The Cultural Importance of the Tea Party

by David French


As rumors swirl of a possible Obama/Boehner deal, it’s worth remembering that any agreement is but one skirmish in a long cultural war. Budget agreements made this year are renegotiated the next, and we have to settle in for a sustained conflict. At stake is nothing less than the relationship between citizen and state and the future of the American experiment. As the government has careened toward the model of a giant “pension plan with an army,” it’s not just Washington that’s broken. Entitlement programs have bred an entitlement mentality in our citizens, the creation of dependent classes of Americans who primarily view the government as providing benefits rather than protecting liberty and preserving economic opportunity. Forty years of Great Society entitlements have had a negligible effect on poverty but a maximum impact on our budget.

At every Tea Party event I’ve attended or addressed, the atmosphere reminds me of nothing less than a old-style southern tent revival, a revival of the American spirit. Pocket constitutions are handed out like Gospel tracts and attendees talk about the Founders like revivalists talk about Peter and Paul. This enthusiasm and evangelistic zeal is a prerequisite to political change. Simply put, politicians will not risk their careers to cut or fundamentally reform entitlements if their constituents aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of cultural fortitude and fiscal sanity.

If the polls are any indication, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. There are many people — including some conservatives — who get irritated at the Tea Party’s alleged inflexibility or with its constant nagging about debt. But for generations the Left has been in our face seeking to redefine government, redefine citizenship, and redefine even liberty itself. It’s been in our face so loud and so long that it’s become the background noise of our lives, and the Tea Party’s abrupt call to change the culture strikes some like the grating of fingernails on a chalkboard.

I don’t follow all the twists and turns of the budget debate, and the cynic in me says that the deal that’s finally reached won’t come close to making the changes we need to make, but I do know two things: First, the deal will be better than it could have been because of the Tea Party’s voice. Second, to echo John Paul Jones, when it comes to the long cultural struggle before us, our American revivalists have not yet begun to fight.

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