Those looking to dabble in a little Tea Party patriotism should take caution before assuming the pontificating stops at the economy. The right-wing populist phenomenon, which recently elected a slew of candidates into the House of Representatives and even a few into the U.S. Senate, supposedly grew from the overwhelming public disapproval of Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility. The movement has since pushed for a return to constitutional governing and fiscal discipline on the federal level.
But now, in a departure from their former financial focus, prominent Tea Partiers are tacking religiously driven social positions onto the party platform. The philosophical add-on begs the question: How is the Tea Party any different from the Republican Party? And is this really all that surprising?
Iowa is the epicenter of this pairing of fiscal and religious social conservatism, according to this recent piece by The Washington Post. As you all may know, the Iowa caucuses are the first major test for presidential candidates in pursuit of their party’s nomination. Iowa Tea Partiers, which account for 40% of all Iowans, are letting it be known early on that they will not vote for a fiscal conservative if they don’t have a pair of worn-in rosary beads handy.
“We have a very different tea party,” said Ryan Rhodes, founder of the Iowa Tea Party, which has organized rallies on the steps of the state Capitol in Des Moines. “We’re not necessarily actively going out on certain things, but we have teamed up with like-minded people.”
Freshman member of the Iowa House and Tea Partier Kim Pearson explained that putting social issues on the backburner is the last thing Tea Partiers want in her state. The state representative, who is advocating for abortion restrictions and a ban on same-sex marriage through the Iowa state legislature, broke with the Tea Party mantra in not focusing on fiscal issues since getting elected to office.
People told her that “the only thing people are interested in is spending,” Pearson said. “And it wasn’t true. I did not focus on fiscal issues. I think there’s a misperception that you can only do one thing at a time.”
In addition to Tea Partiers tackling social issues, many organizations dedicated to things like the pro-life movement and a ban on same-sex marriage are hijacking Tea Party language to advance their own agendas.
Last fall, The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Iowa Family Policy Center spearheaded efforts to oust three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to block a state law banning same-sex marriage using Tea Party justifications. The justices, according to the conservative organizations, had overreached their constitutional authority.
Rick Poole, 60, a retired postal worker from Madison County and Tea Party supporter explained the secret to winning office in the American Heartland. “It’s all about Christian values,” he said. “If you’re an honest person and have some accountability to God, you’d be a good candidate for public office.”
This newfound religious tinge is all well and good for Iowa Tea Partiers, in a state whose 2010 exit polling results indicated that well over a third of all Iowans identify with conservative Evangelical Protestantism. But seeing as Iowa sets the stage for presidential primary voting, will this alienate Tea Partiers from other states whose fiscal conservatism was the impetus for their party adherence?
We’d be lying if we said we were shocked by this sudden focus on social backwardness. The insistence that the Tea Party isn’t a group of repackaged Republicans whose reason for being is fiscal recklessness after largely ignoring rampant overspending by the Bush administration was, and is, a complete fantasy.