Feb. 23, 2011 -- Rand Paul, the newly elected senator from Kentucky, discusses the history of theTea Party and why they must now take a stand and not compromise in his new book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington." A Tea Party member and Republican, Paul has been vocal in advocating for a balanced budget, a plan for which he explains in his new book.
Read a chapter from the book below.
November 2, 2010, was an historic night. I had been elected to the US Senate campaigning on a traditional, constitutional platform, rooted in the founding of our nation and reelecting the values of individual freedom that have always made America great. With the Obama administration barreling in the opposite direction at breakneck speed, enacting legislation that would have astounded George Washington and incurring debt that would have outraged Thomas Jefferson, my message found an eager audience not only in Kentucky but across the country. On that night, I restated my promise to voters:
They say that the US Senate is the world's most deliberative body. Well, I'm going to ask them to deliberate upon this. The American people are unhappy with what's going on in Washington. Eleven percent of the people approve of what's going on in Congress. But tonight there's a Tea Party tidal wave and we're sending a message to them. It's a message that I'll carry with me on Day One. It's a message of fiscal sanity. It's a message of limited constitutional government and balanced budgets. When I arrive in Washington I will ask them, respectfully, to deliberate upon this—we are in the midst of a debt crisis and the American people want to know why we have to balance our budget and they don't? I will ask them, respectfully, to deliberate upon this: Government does not create jobs. Individual entrepreneurs, businessmen and -women create jobs but not the government. I will ask the Senate, respectfully, to deliberate upon this—do we wish to live free or be enslaved by debt? Do we believe in the individual or do we believe in the state?
I had defeated my Democratic opponent by a 12-point margin; he had been soundly rejected precisely for representing and symbolizing Obama and his vision. Americans were not happy with the direction of the country, and voters wanted their voices heard. This was a chorus I had heard throughout the campaign, growing louder each day and more defiant with each new debt. Washington wasn't listening, but on election night, they heard loud and clear. In any other election cycle, my becoming a US Senator would likely not have been possible. I had never run for any elected office, had entered the race against not only a state¬wide elected official, but the hand-picked candidate of the most powerful Republican in America. My campaign started at 15 percent in the polls. The national Republican Party, the Kentucky establishment, K Street and virtually every power broker in Washington, DC, had all lined up to oppose me like no other candidate running in 2010. The entire political establishment had my primary opponent's back.
Luckily, the Tea Party had mine.
The Tea Party Brews
The original Tea Party took place in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773, over a mere three-cent tax. Today we don't consider those who took part in the protests "extremists" but patriots, who in resisting the British Crown helped kick-start a necessary and just revolution.
Today's Tea Partiers are typically not accorded the same respect by our mainstream political and media establishment, even as they protest a government arguably more arrogant than that of eighteenth-century England. A tax on tea was an outrage to our ancestors. A $2 trillion deficit and $13 trillion debt has now become an outrage to their descendants. It wasn't unusual for British officials and the press to view colonists who resisted the ruling regime in less-than-flattering terms. (Similarly, as representatives of the current ruling establishment today's political and media elite have little good to say about the Tea Party.) But even in their denial and dismissive attitudes, at some point King George III and his loyalists had to sense that a change of some sort was in the air. Today, whether they like it or not, our government and its loyalists know there's something big happening at the grassroots of American politics.
I first began to sense this when I attended what many consider to be the first modern Tea Party event held on the anniversary of the original, where on December 16, 2007, over a thousand people crammed into the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston for an event in support of my father's 2008 presidential campaign. It took place during one of the worst blizzards the city had experienced in quite some time. The event featured an array of constitutional scholars and limited government advocates, and we shocked the establishment on that date by helping Ron Paul set an all-time record for online fundraising by collecting over $6 million in one day.
Something was definitely brewing.
At that time, the same political establishment that now keeps the Tea Party at arm's length had about the same tolerance for my dad and his growing movement. Ron Paul's political platform of balancing budgets, eliminating debt and championing constitutional government simply didn't fit into a presidential campaign in which the eventual nominees of both parties— both US Senators—had spent their careers exploding budgets, expanding debt and governing outside the Constitution. Fed up with a big government Republican Party and president, Americans were understandably hungry for "change" and in 2008 ended up voting for a Democratic president who promised just that. Today, many Americans have come to regret that vote, as President Obama not only continues to offer the same big government his predecessor did, but a lot more of it.
Early on, most of my father's supporters in 2007–2008 already didn't trust the establishment in either party, and it's no coincidence that the Tea Party today is ingrained with the same bipartisan distrust. So many politicians and pundits now think the Tea Partiers are being unreasonable in this distrust and mock them at every turn. Yet the Tea Party really can't find any tangible reasons to trust most politicians or pundits and continue to mock them accordingly at many events and rallies. Thankfully, the Tea Party continues to be resilient and courageous enough not to allow the establishment to laugh or lampoon them out of existence. As the keynote speaker at the grassroots event held in support of my father's campaign three years ago—dubbed the "second Boston Tea Party"—I told the audience something that remains just as true now for today's larger movement:
I'd like to welcome you, the sons and daughters of liberty, to the revolution. They say the British scoffed at the American rabble and laughed at the Americans, their imperfect uniforms, their imperfect tactics. They laughed at retreat after retreat of the American army. They laughed right up until Yorktown. Today, you are that American rabble and that struggle—the disillusioned, the cynical, the bereaved, bereaved at the loss of liberty. The establishment in their high rise penthouse laughs at you, they laugh at us...But you know what? They're not laughing today.
The establishment probably began to quit laughing in about 2007 when grassroots conservatives became so upset over Comprehensive Immigration Reform—more accurately described as "amnesty" for some 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens—that they shut down the congressional switchboard with an avalanche of phone calls. When Obama and John McCain joined President George W. Bush in 2008 to bail out troubled banks, automakers, and even the housing market with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), grassroots conservatives vowed that the politicians who voted for these financial schemes—Republicans included—would pay a political price. Let's just say there were a number of politicians in the GOP state primaries in the spring and summer before the 2010 midterm elections that today aren't laughing one bit and will forever regret voting for TARP.
From the protest rumblings of my father's presidential campaign to the grassroots backlash against amnesty and bailouts, the different coalitions within the Tea Party came together to put their best foot forward on Tax Day, April 15, 2009, holding massive rallies nationwide that the establishment still predictably scorned but could no longer ignore. Many more events followed in the weeks and months afterward, and now, two years later, the Tea Party is not only still in full force but has proved itself an enduring movement with the potential to change American politics forever and for the better. Despite accusations to the contrary, the Tea Party is organized from the bottom up, decentralized and independent. No matter how much the establishment would love to control and manipulate this movement, its political narrative is dictated by the grass roots, not the other way around. The "rabble" has spoken and the establishment must now listen—whether they like it or not.
Taxed Enough Already
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.
In the beginning, the Left tried to argue that the Tea Party was little more than top-down organized publicity stunts fomented by FOX News. The reality was actually quite different and much more amazing. In Kentucky, each Tea Party started spontaneously and independent of others. To this day, statewide communication between the different Tea Parties in each city is spotty at best, and yet in city after city thousands of folks gather at local events. This has been the dynamic of the movement nationwide. When a so-called "national" Tea Party convention was held last year, state and local organizers throughout the country issued statements to make it known that there was no national organization that spoke for them.
The Tea Party sprang in each state de novo. It wasn't created by a network. It wasn't created by a billionaire. It came from the people. It has no single leader, is often adamantly against leadership and threatens the power structure of both political parties. It threatens the perquisites and privileges of the establishment and, therefore, many on both sides of the aisle think it must be destroyed. That the Tea Party has so many enemies in the establishment media and government should tell its members they're doing something right.
Open Mic Night
On the campaign trail, I always described the Tea Party as an "open mic night," or a forum to redress our grievances. It came into being to fill a niche that neither party allows—dissent. Americans who normally put in their day's work, arrive home to their spouses and kids, and go to school events and soccer games are largely ignored by Washington, but they are now worried enough to march in the streets. As much as the Left wants to depict the Tea Party as an angry mob, it is better described as a multitude of concerned and worried average citizens who have spontaneously banded together because they fear the consequences of massive overspending and debt. I've traveled thousands of miles across Kentucky over the past year, and I've met the Tea Party, one person at a time, one city at a time. They often come from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds but unite to address head-on the daunting problems facing our nation. And although they come together, they never really come together too much. There really is no Kentucky Tea Party—simply independent groups, organized by city, inspired by patriotism and informed by common sense.
Has there been a movement in the last hundred years where in many cities across the country people just spontaneously show up for a protest? This happened on April 15, 2009 in about ten cities in Kentucky but probably over a thousand cities nationwide. This is quite amazing when you consider that not only do the Tea Parties not communicate with one another, but they don't really communicate with anyone nationally. Each group values its own autonomy. In my experience, the Tea Party doesn't have aspirations to coalesce as a national organization in large part because they so dislike rules and authority. Tea Partiers often don't like to have politicians speak at their events because they don't want to be too attached to the political machine, unlike Republican or Democratic gatherings where the politicians do all the talking and citizens are rarely given a forum to express their opinion. Such party meetings are typically made up of a small clique of partisan insiders who jealously guard their own political turf.
The Tea Party is the opposite: a large group of unabashed, nonpartisan outsiders who want everyone to have their say yet doggedly reject letting a single individual or a handful of individuals speak for them or the movement. I said time and again throughout my campaign that the Tea Party movement equally chastises both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, this has always fit me to a tee, since my constant criticism of my own party's job performance is one of the reasons that I was not endorsed by establishment Republicans during the 2010 primary. Many conservatives were outraged over Bush's deficits and spending. They felt betrayed, and rightfully so. The dominant message of the Tea Party is fear that our national debt and budget deficit—the fault of both parties—will destroy our nation. Though the movement is heavily decentralized—and what some might call disorganized - advocating for a much smaller, leaner federal government continues to be its one unifying principle.
The extent to which the movement's critics not only dismiss grassroots voters' grievances but the Tea Party's very legitimacy is amusing. Commenting on the April 15, 2009 rallies, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "This [Tea Party] initiative is funded by the high end—we call it 'AstroTurf,' it's not really a grassroots movement. It's AstroTurf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class."
There's no question that some in the political establishment have tried to latch on to the Tea Party or manipulate the movement for their own benefit. Any Tea Partier could tell you this, and they all are aware of it precisely because maintaining their independence is so important. The movement is keenly aware of possible establishment-type interlopers and, if anything, is probably overly suspicious—in fact Tea Partiers are quite the opposite of being dupes, as critics such as Pelosi love to portray them.
Pelosi's view of the Tea Party is typical of elitists. Or as pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas E. Schoen, authors of the book Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, explained at Politico.com:
(T)he political class's assault on the tea parties has been continuing and systematic. Indeed, Rasmussen Reports has shown that 87 percent of the political class views "tea party member" as a negative description, while almost half—or 48 percent—of ordinary mainstream voters see it as a positive.
The reason for this broad-based support is simple: Voters in our survey said that they believe that the current leadership in both parties has failed to achieve policies that address their most pressing concerns—creating jobs and ?xing the economy. Furthermore, respondents were clear that they want a pro-growth agenda, ? scal discipline, limited government, de?cit reduction, a free market and a change from politics as usual. They view the tea party movement as having a unique contribution in achieving these goals.
Given today's anti-Washington, anti-incumbent sentiment, it is hardly surprising that voters have largely rejected the efforts of political, academic and media elites—on both right and left—to ignore or marginalize the tea party. Many among these elitists have now branded the tea party movement as AstroTurf, an inauthentic political movement funded by wealthy and influential businessmen.
If the Tea Party was indeed "AstroTurf" and somehow completely manufactured by the Republican Party or FOX News, then it would be a deception of epic proportions. Republicans have been promising limited government for years and have delivered nothing. Conservatives simply don't believe the Republican establishment anymore and support the Tea Party precisely because it is both outside of and in opposition to both major parties—not simply an auxiliary of the GOP. Political elites have attempted to dismiss the movement because to recognize its power and influence is a direct threat to both parties. This notion that the movement was somehow created by the Republican Party is particularly laughable when it was painfully clear in my own primary that the entire GOP establishment wished that my campaign and the Tea Party would just go away. Rasmussen and Schoen outline the movement's independence, power and popularity:
The Tea Party movement has become one of the most powerful and extraordinary movements in recent American political history. It is as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties. It is potentially strong enough to elect senators, governors and congressmen. It may even be strong enough to elect the next president of the United States—time will tell. But the Tea Party movement has been one of the most derided and minimized and, frankly, most disrespected movements in American history. Yet, despite being systematically ignored, belittled, marginalized, and ostracized by political, academic, and media elites, the Tea Party movement has grown stronger and stronger...demonstrating a level of activism and enthusiasm that is both unprecedented and arguably unique in recent American political history.
The Tea Party continues to endure and grow whether the establishment likes it or not. The slanders and lies political elites have directed toward the Tea Party not only have had little effect, but simply make it more attractive to countless Americans fed up with the condescending attitudes of those elites.
And not surprisingly, questioning the Tea Party's legitimacy has been only one of many attack tactics.
Left-Wing Prejudice on Full Display
As I mentioned, the Tea Party is perhaps described as an open mic night, something anyone who attends a party event would immediately understand. But it seems some who would never dare attend a Tea Party rally also see a sort of nightclub dynamic, though not in the positive manner I do. Said MSNBC's Keith Olbermann of Tea Party events: "It is as if a group of moderately talented performers has walked on stage at a comedy club on improv night. Each hears a shout from the audience, consisting of a bizarre but just barely plausible fear or hatred or neurosis or prejudice." Hatred? Neurosis? Prejudice? Each of these words better describes Olbermann and his network, and no event I've attended even remotely resembles the left-wing pundit's characterization of Tea Partiers.
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.
Most of the Tea Party's liberal critics are not so generous, attributing sinister motives to grassroots conservatives that are virtually non-existent. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote of a town hall protest in 2009, in which Tea Party folks were letting their voices be heard: "Instead of a multicultural tableau of beaming young idealists on screen, we see ugly scenes of mostly older and white malcontents." Is Dowd serious? Who's bringing up race here and what does it have to do with anything? Her fellow Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote of the same protesters that "they're probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they've heard about what he's doing, than to who he is," adding that Tea Party anger re?ects "cultural and racial anxiety." Obviously, Krugman has never attended any of the events on which he seems to consider himself an expert, and his and Dowd's opinions of the Tea Party reveal more about their own left-wing prejudices than that of the Tea Party movement.
Last summer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sponsored a resolution demand¬ing that the Tea Party repudiate its "racist elements." The resolution defied all logic. Should, or would, the NAACP repudiate the "racist elements" in their midst, given the extreme rhetoric of figures like Rev. Jeremiah Wright or the voter intimidation of groups like the New Black Panther Party? Of course not. The NAACP has no control over these individuals or groups. The decentralized nature of the Tea Party means no one really controls the movement, much less possesses the ability to rein in or prevent the occasional, random extremist. An organization like the NAACP, which is structured, would be more capable of denouncing undesirable elements in its ranks than the Tea Party, given its lack of structure—though I won't be holding my breath for the organization to be doing any such denouncing anytime soon.
At a campaign event during the election a liberal reporter approached a member of my staff and asked him how it felt to be the only African American in the room. He was offended. So was I. So were most of my staff, including other African Americans. It was another case of liberals' own prejudices against the Tea Party dictating their perception of the movement as opposed to the reality at hand.
My experience with the Tea Party is that it's actually quite diverse, more so than the Republican Party. Almost every Tea Party I've been to has featured African-American speakers. At an event in Louisville there were ten speakers, and two were black. A black minister from the west of Louisville, who is a supporter of mine, approached me after the Rachel Maddow controversy in which the MSNBC host tried to paint me as somehow being against the civil rights movement due to my support of property rights (more on that later). The minister wanted to let me know that he believed the civil rights issue of our era was education. He was concerned about the high numbers of minority kids dropping out of school and that the education establishment seemed more worried about pandering to the unions than actually fixing our schools.
It is worth pointing out that my political philosophy, which values the importance of the individual over the collective, is the antithesis of the mind-set of not only bona fide racists but race-obsessed liberals, both of whom always see people as belonging to a group. A left-wing columnist like Maureen Dowd sees in the Tea Party "white malcontents," implying that somehow their race disqualifies their outrage - while never noticing that not all of these people are white, and they have plenty of reasons for their malcontent. The Tea Party sees only big government. It is the movement's critics who continue to see only race.
My father is fond of saying that "freedom brings people together," and this has been my experience with the Tea Party, where people of all races, backgrounds and walks of life have come together to address the pressing problems of astronomical spending and debt. The Tea Party doesn't see politics in black and white, but black and red—even as its critics continue to see racism where it simply does not exist.
The Tea Party Is Shaping the National Debate
Some have compared the Tea Party to the Ross Perot phenomenon during the 1992 presidential election, but the difference is the Perot movement actually took votes from Republicans and the Tea Party brings more votes. Both movements represent a backlash against the party establishments, but differ significantly in their results. The question has been posed as to what the Republican establishment will do with Tea Party candidates who aren't willing to toe the party line? What will Tea Party candidates do if the GOP doesn't trend more toward the movement's agenda of balanced budgets and constitutional government? Good questions both, yet it must be said that regardless of what the future holds, the Tea Party is already shaping the national debate and directing the political narrative. The Republican caucus is already talking about our debt more than they used to. Republicans are already beginning to understand that something must be done about spending. You now hear repeatedly from candidates across the country—some sincere, some not—that it is a "spending problem, not a revenue problem." I've had Republican politicians from Kentucky and across the country come up to me and say, "We're not going to mess things up again!" They claim that if the GOP gains control again, they're not going to waste their electoral victory this time. Do they mean it? It would be easy to say "time will tell," but right now time is not a luxury. Before the midterm election, the Wall Street Journal published a report claiming that many establishment Republicans were cheering the Tea Party for political expediency during the elections but were prepared to compromise with the Democrats once in of?ce. This will not do. We've been down this road before and every Republican who has claimed in the past that their particular spending bill or surrender of conservative principles was done with good intentions, must be sharply reminded how the path to hell was paved. My approach to politics is that you simply stand up for what you believe in. This should be any serious conservative's starting point. If your first impulse is to compromise, and Obama and the Democrats are far to the Left, but you start in the middle, then you'll end up somewhere between the middle and the Left. Hasn't this been the Republican Party's problem for too long and precisely the reason we now have a Tea Party?
Speaking at a Tea Party event in Paducah, Kentucky, during the campaign, I asked the crowd, "Is anyone here from the Tea Party?" The thunderous applause could have come from any number of Tea Parties, on any given day, held regularly across the country. I told the crowd, "I think we're going to have a Tea Party tidal wave...There is a day of reckoning coming, we must grab hold of our government again, and not let them spend us into oblivion." The crowd cheered and as I looked out across the audience, I could see what the establishment politicians and mainstream pundits still can't see or simply don't care to—everyday Americans, busy working jobs just to pay the bills and put food on the table, who are genuinely worried about their country's future. A Rasmussen poll released that same day showed that 81 percent of Americans thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Such numbers are not insignificant and reflect the mood that empowers and gives influence to the Tea Party, no matter how much the mainstream media tries to downplay it.
In the weeks and months to come after announcing my candidacy for US Senate, the Tea Party's strength would be tested, stringently, strategically and on multiple levels. Would the millions of Americans clamoring for substantive "change" - not of the Obama variety and certainly not of the recent Republican brand of George W. Bush - have voices loud enough and enduring enough to carry an election with national implications?