British journalist Andrew Neil assesses the Tea Party movement with some sorely needed perspective. Here he writes an essay about it for the Guardian. Also shown is a trailer for a documentary film he made this past summer for the BBC, Tea Party America.
It’s 2am on a balmy August morning in Lexington, Kentucky, and the hotel car park is a flurry of activity as people arrive in cars and scurry on board two hired coaches, which rev up their engines in expectation of a long drive through the night. There is excitement in the air but also some apprehension: these are ordinary folk from the American heartland on a mission that will take them into the heart of enemy territory – Washington DC. America’s Tea Party is on the move.
Soon we’re gliding in the dark through bluegrass country. On the coach, the talk is of retaking the country from those who currently run it, taking an axe to big government and returning to constitutional basics, when federal government was limited and power resided largely with the states. It’s all said with an evangelical fervour.
“America needs a spiritual renewal,” says a genial man everybody calls Mario because of his spectacular handlebar moustache. “Amen to that,” says an elegant, middle-aged woman sitting next to me. Cutting government down to size will clearly be God’s work.
Like almost everyone else on the bus, both are political novices. Never much thought about politics or even much cared. Now they’re riled up and fully signed up to the Tea Party. They’ve been summoned to the nation’s capital by, of all people, a TV presenter called Glenn Beck who hosts a daily show on Fox News, which has become, in effect, the broadcasting arm of the Tea Party.
He has urged them to flock to a rally to “Restore Honour” to America and my fellow passengers are committed enough to oblige, even if they have to lose a night’s sleep and pay their own way. It’s been billed as a non-political gathering, just a tribute to patriotism and Christianity. Nobody’s much fooled by that.
On the coach, everybody seems an expert on the US constitution. One man, a blue-collar worker, points me to the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to [the federal government] … are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Another takes me to Article 1, Section 8, which delineates the powers of the federal government. On a strict interpretation, they are pretty limited: largely tax, defence and foreign affairs, though it also tasks the federal government with providing for the “general welfare”, which would seem a get-out-of-jail card for those who think the constitution does sanction big government.
Tea Party activists approach the constitution the same fundamentalist way they approach the Bible: literally…
[continues in the Guardian]