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April 27th, 2010

Nixon, Sacred Cows, and Tea Parties

teapartyBy James Johnson

Political columnists have the duty to shoot sacred cows when they roam onto the streets of public opinion and use taboo to starve people of the intellectual protein that they need to be politically healthy.

This is one of those times. And the sacred cow that I have in my sights is standing right in the middle of Tea Party Avenue, among many of my friends. So I will aim carefully.

It has been said, “Only Nixon could go to China.” True. The Thirty-Seventh President of the United States had spent his whole career fighting Communism, not only as a California Congressman during the Alger Hiss Trial, but also as a U.S. Senator and a Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower, when his car was savagely attacked by Communist thugs while he and his wife Pat toured Latin America.

He had established his anti-communist bona fides. So, when he announced in 1972 that he was making a bold move to open China to normal relations with the United States, he was able to do so without being called soft on communism or leaving Americans wondering whether America’s national interest would be secure while he talked with Chinese Premier Mao Zedong. It worked. So let me try it with my Tea Party friends.

I have been a part of the Tea Party Movement since it started. I have not only spoken at three Tea Parties, but have defended the movement from critics and cynics who neither understand it nor really want to. So let me speak plainly. The sacred cow that I see standing on Tea Party Avenue has a name. It is “UNENGAGED.”

A car’s engine can rev at a tremendous speed, but if it remains in neutral and never moves into first gear, it remains noisy and “revved up” but completely powerless to move the vehicle an inch.

There are many in the Tea Party movement who believe that since “career politicians” in Washington are ruining our country, it is time that we “threw the bums out” and replaced them with the common man.

Not only is this a disastrous idea, but it is pointless as long as Tea Party activists remain unengaged in party politics.

On this point, I could digress on how America’s Founding Fathers believed that God the Creator forges in each generation a “natural aristocracy,” who, through their intellectual and social gifts, are recognized by their fellow men as being apt to lead. But alas! I digress.

More importantly (and to the issue at hand), the fervor of the Tea Party movement is now whirling at such a high rate of speed and being heard at such a social decibel level, that it is in danger of being as powerless as the frenetic, revving engine of a muscle car with a transmission problem — whirring away with a loud, throaty roar, but completely powerless to go anywhere.

The fear in the Tea Party movement is that the greatest threat to the movement is that the Republican Party establishment will co-opt it, ride it back into power, and then return the nation to business-as-usual.

This fear, in one sense, is well founded. After all, from 2000-2006, the Republican Party had control of both the White House and both houses of Congress. And they spent money like drunken sailors, expanded the size of government, and betrayed its Conservative base, which entrusted it with power.

Okay. Noted. The Grand Old Party has had a “Republicans In Name Only” problem. But hunting season for RINOs is going on right now, and most Tea Party activists are completely clueless about it.

Activists have their chance to “engage” and elect Conservatives to positions of leadership within the Republican Party of Iowa right now at their District Conventions, three of which have already taken place (last weekend), and two of which will take place this Saturday. “District what?” Exactly.

Also, it is at primary elections, not general elections, that Conservative activists have the opportunity to “engage” and elect constitutionally minded candidates to be the party’s nominees for public office on the federal, state, and county level. And whatever political philosophy controls the elected officials and the members of the State Central Committee controls the Republican Party of Iowa.

But here is a question. How many Tea Party activists in the Second, Third, and Fifth Congressional Districts even attended their district conventions last Saturday? And how many Tea Party activists in the First and Fourth Congressional Districts will even attend their district conventions this coming Saturday?

Those who show up lead. Those who don’t won’t. The Republican Party is the natural home of the Tea Party movement. Its doors are wide open for anyone who wants to “engage” in the political process.

But to those who stand outside and just want to shout, let me ask, “How will constitutional principles ever return to our government if you, who say you care so much about them, stay outside the tent?”

Until my fellow activists in the Tea Party movement actually enter the GOP tent and engage in the political party process, the Tea Party movement will, to a large extent, personify Shakespeare’s line… “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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