I was scheduled to coach my youngest son's little league game on April 15, 2009, when I received a call to speak at a local Tea Party event. I told the assistant coach that I wouldn't be away long, anticipating that I would arrive to a handful of folks, give a brief speech and leave twenty minutes later. But when I arrived, there were seven hundred sign-waving Tea Partiers filling Fountain Square Park in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was the largest political gathering I had ever witnessed in my town and, at that moment, it was hard to deny that something big was indeed happening. Soaking in the enthusiastic crowd and the electricity in the air, I said to the people that day:
Two hundred years ago Sam Adams and his rabble- rousers threw tea in Boston's harbor. Sam Adams famously said, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people's minds." That's right—an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires. Looks like we've got one hell of a brushfire to me.
And from that day forward the Tea Party has been keen on fanning the flames, not simply as a tireless minority but as a potential majority, with some polls showing that more Americans identify with the Tea Party than either the Republican or Democratic parties. But what could Tea Partiers, to borrow from Adams, be so "irate" about? On that great, historic Tea Party day, I stated it in plain English:
We now pay more in taxes than we spend on food, clothes and housing combined. Taxes are high because spending is out of control. We are spending ourselves into oblivion. The Republicans doubled the deficit from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. The Republicans and Democrats together spent a trillion dollars bailing out the banks and then the Democrats alone spent another trillion dollars on pork barrel spending. This year we will add $1.75 trillion to the deficit. Our deficit, as a percentage of gross national product, is greater than at any time in our history. We are bankrupting this country, and the bottom line is that the politicians don't get it. The only message they will understand is a one-way ticket home. Instead of bringing home the bacon, let's bring home the politicians. Bring them home to live with the mess they've created.
I ended my speech that day with one simple line: "I'm Rand Paul and I approve this message."
The movement had certainly grown beyond just Ron Paul adherents. The Tea Party began to gather forces from every direction, from Sarah Palin fans to supporters of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. They all came with one grievance foremost on their mind— the national debt. This problem had become so pressing and overwhelming that it had set off brushfires in the minds of millions of Americans across the country. The "tea" in Tea Party is often said to stand for "taxed enough already" and, while the Tea Partiers in each city tended to be social conservatives for a strong national defense, unquestionably their primary motivation was driven by a sincere concern over the size and scope of the national debt.