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A Definition of Tea Party

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Kay Herrmann sings the National Anthem at the start of a Tea Party rally which was held to protest President Barack Obama's proposed 'Buffett rule' tax plan
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Definition: In American political discourse, "Tea Party" is a term that has become synonymous with "protest." The name is derived from the protest in 1773, in which Boston colonists protested the British government's Tea Act by boarding a ship bound for England and pitching crates of its taxed tea cargo into Boston Harbor. The colonists' complaint was that they were being unduly taxed without any representation in British parliament.

Origins of the Modern Movement
In 2009, the modern Tea Party movement got underway shortly after President Barack Obama took office and he and House Democrats subsequently passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 without a single Republican vote. The stimulus act became law in February after three Senate Republicans -- Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (who has since become a Democrat) and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- crossed party lines and voted in favor of it.

The lack of bipartisanship outraged many conservatives and even a few moderates who saw the $787 billion "emergency" expenditure as a demonstration of wasteful spending and an egregious growth of government. As word began to spread the following month that the Democrats planned to increase capital gains taxes, estate taxes, federal income taxes, and cigarettes taxes, conservatives began to organize a massive national protest for April 15 -- when local, state and federal taxes are due.

Advance Media Coverage
Despite a wide effort to publicize the protests, which were happening simultaneously in 300 cities across the country, there was remarkably little press coverage, which only served to validate many conservatives' suspicions that most media outlets were operated by liberals who had fully embraced President Obama's agenda. The lone network news channel willing to cover the organization of the upcoming protests was FOX News Channel.

Event Coverage
When the Tax Day Tea Party protest actually occurred, it was derided and mocked by the very same news organizations that had ignored it to begin with. In one famous case, Susan Roesgen, a correspondent for CNN who was "covering" the protests, actually began to argue with a few people she was interviewing, calling them "anti-government" and, when subsequent catcalls and boos were directed at her, "anti-CNN." She also accused the protests of being "backed" by FOX. Conservative media outlets blasted Roesgen, while many of the liberal media organizations that had previously ignored the protest preparation defended her actions. None of them, however, were willing to admit that the kind of coverage she provided was similar in any way to coverage of other liberal-themed protests like anti-war demonstrations or anti-Bush demonstrations. In most cases, the reporter simply asks protesters their reasons for attending and what they hope to achieve.

Studio coverage of the tea parties was even worse. Many previously respected journalists lost credibility with a wide swath of the American public when they made sexual innuendos regarding the protests during prime-time viewing hours. Since the coverage of those initial protests, networks whose anchors made or encouraged these crude and juvenile comments have seen a steep decline in ratings.

Formation
David H. Koch, head of the conservative grassroots advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, has taken credit for launching the Tea Party protest idea, in coordination with FreedomWorks, another conservative advocacy group. This led some in the liberal media to marginalize the entire Tea Party phenomenon as an "astroturfing" sham. Pundit Glenn Reynolds told the New York Times, however, that regardless of who actually organized the tea parties, the people who showed up to them weren't the kind of professional protesters found at liberally-themed demonstrations like gay rights and anti-war protests. The people who showed up on Tax Day were hard-working Americans with real jobs.

Other Tea Parties
Subsequent Tea Party protests followed on Independence Day and on Sept. 12, which is a significant date to conservatives because it is the day after the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and represents the "9 principles and 12 values" advocated by commentator Glenn Beck in his "9/12 Project."

Tea Party Express
Over the summer, an organization called the "Tea Party Express" began to plan a cross country protest tour, which lasted from Aug. 28 to Sept. 12, making stops in a number of American cities. In October, it sponsored another tour from Oct. 28 to Nov. 12. As the debate over health care began to heat up, the protests took on a new and added dimension. In addition to protesting government waste and excessive government spending, Tea Party organizers added government-owned and -operated health care to its long list of desired reforms. The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, co-founded by former White House speech writer and Heritage Foundation policy analyst Michael Johns, began taking a lead role in the demonstrations and helped give the movement a reasonable legitimacy.

The Tea Party movement has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, conservative organizers, greatly encouraged by the results of the Nov. 4 general election in 2009, have started planning hundreds more for 2010. A Rasmussen Reports poll published in early December 2009 showed that politicians affiliated with the Tea Party movement (assuming it were to become a political party) would draw more votes than a politician affiliated with the Republican Party. While this poll can be seen as a statement on the decline of the Republican Party, it can also be seen as validating the Tea Party movement as an emerging fixture in American politics.

Pronunciation: tee paartee

Also Known As: Tax Day Tea Parties, Tea Party Express, Tax Day Protests, Health Care Protests, Big Government Protests

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