Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Clarence Page did something few mainstream columnists do—he actually attended a Tea Party event before he wrote about it. Page, who criticizes the movement as "a slogan in search of an agenda," nevertheless has effectively gauged and described its genesis: "Tea Parties lack much in the way of formal structure, leadership, or agendas because their movement is an orphan, unified by a shared sense of abandonment by Republicans and cluelessness by Democrats." Page is right. Most Tea Parties lack any formal structure, board of directors, etc. It truly is a spontaneous, grassroots movement for people to air grievances with their government. In this spirit of dissent, the Tea Party is quintessentially American, and I respect Page (even though he doesn't agree with the Tea Party message), simply because he doesn't attempt to vilify the movement with race baiting and name calling.
The vast majority of Tea Parties are held in public squares and public parks, not convention centers and ballrooms. They don't require tickets or pre-registration. They draw all kinds of people and there are always a few there to provoke and carry offensive signs. If you get 100,000 people together there are going to be a few outliers and, in a public square or park, event organizers can't stop people from standing around and holding stupid signs.
Still, the Tea Party's critics love to characterize the entire movement by the actions of a few. Ironically, when discussing the subject of welfare, liberals are always quick to defend welfare programs despite the many recipients who take advantage of the system. When discussing Islam, respectable journalists are always careful to note that terrorists and radicals do not define that religion. But the Tea Party is regularly held to an entirely different standard, where if a few people show up—out of a crowd of thousands—with signs comparing the president to a fascist or communist dictator it becomes enough to disparage and dismiss the entire movement.
The double standard doesn't stop there. My family and I attended the first inaugural parade for George W. Bush and some of the signs were so offensive and vulgar that I had to shield the eyes of my seven-year-old son. Throughout his presidency, Bush was routinely depicted as Hitler, Stalin, Satan, you name it. Protesters bumped up against us hurling the F bomb in front of our children. It comes with the job. Does this necessarily mean that every American who might be sympathetic to anti-war protesters or who might have been critical of Bush's foreign policy is some sort of crazy person? I certainly don't believe that and, given the bipartisan nature of the Tea Party, I don't think many of its members today would be so quick to cast the same aspersion.