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Monday, March 1, 2010

Letter to Annabel Park, Coffee Party Founder

Dear Ms. Park,

Please accept my congratulations regarding the establishment of your citizen activist group. I understand the Coffee Party is “very grass-roots, [with] no official organization.” These are characteristics shared with its elder counterpart, the Tea Party movement.

As an active participant in the latter, I would like to extend an olive branch to pursue your stated goal of “[promoting] civility and inclusiveness in political discourse.” Based on the article chronicling your group’s formation in Friday’s Washington Post, I believe you may hold a couple big misconceptions regarding the Tea Party movement and the philosophy which drives it. I would like to address these with the objective of promoting understanding, not necessarily agreement. I am under no delusion we will see eye-to-eye on specific issues, but hope you agree there is value in accurately understanding that with which you disagree.

First, a disclaimer is required. I do not speak for the Tea Party movement, as I imagine you cannot claim to speak for your cohort. I share my perspective with the caveat other Tea Partiers may disagree. Similarly, I do not expect you to answer for the claims of others, but feel compelled to address those reported in the Washington Post.

Let us begin with a point of consensus. I agree wholeheartedly with the statement of your colleague in the “LA Speaks” YouTube video. “There is a great divisive culture between the two [major political] parties now. The healthy environment of a conversation has almost completely evaporated.” I believe healthy conversation is possible. However, a crucial prerequisite is a common goal. If, by conversation, your cohort means an avenue toward clear understanding, that is achievable. If, however, the objective is consensus on specific issues, that may not be achievable. As we shall explore here, there are fundamental principles underlying the Tea Party movement which cannot be compromised.

The greatest misconception your side seems to have of the Tea Party is its “obstructionist” nature. The Washington Post describes a goal to “obstruct reform and discourage thoughtful deliberation.” One of the speakers in your video claims the Tea Party “[wants] the status quo” or “wants things to stay the same.” Another states she is “fatigued by the obstruction of the progress of the Obama government.” This idea that the Tea Party is against progress is untrue, if by “progress” we are referring to positive change in the conduct and quality of life. We simply disagree regarding the origin of progress. The Coffee Party seems to think it comes from government. The Tea Party believes progress can only derive from people, and too much government obstructs it.

Dave Henderson is quoted in the Washington Post article as saying, “The political mood right now is ‘blame Obama for everything.’” This is also untrue. The president is not the sole focus of the movement’s ire. Republicans are also highly criticized for the failure of many to adhere to their articulated principles. As you may have noted in recent weeks, the collective response among the Tea Party to claims staked by the GOP has been a cry of foul. While individual Tea Partiers such as myself may opt to participate in the Republican Party, the emergent consensus among the movement is a desire to remain non-partisan, decentralized, and inclusive of disparate activist groups unified by a few core principles. As Robert Gaudet relates in the Post article, those principles include “fiscal responsibility, free markets, [and constitutionally] limited government.”

Here we return to the point about obstruction. Presumably, when your cohort bemoans an obstruction of progress, they refer predominately to the health care reform debated in Washington over the past year. On this issue and others, Republicans have been characterized as “the party of ‘no.’” Conservatives and libertarians as a whole, represented in overlapping parts by the GOP, the Tea Party movement, independents, and even some Democrats, have been accused of being unwilling to negotiate. We can negotiate. We are willing to achieve consensus. There is, however, a clear framework within which such consensus must be bound – the Constitution of the United States.

It has become popular in the culture to advocate “thinking outside the box.” Indeed, there are many opportunities in life where unconstrained thinking may lead to innovative solutions. However, there are certain contexts in which innovation must always be constrained. If, for instance, you entertain the hypothetical question of what you might do with a million dollars, the answer, while perhaps enlightening in some existential way, is of limited practical use without actually having the million dollars. In America, government is similarly constrained. It must operate within the “box” of constitutional limitations. When proposals venture beyond those constraints, consensus is not possible. One team cannot blame the other for refusing to play outside the bounds.

I hope you found something of value here, and invite further correspondence if you fill it could be productive. One issue where our movements appear to agree is term limits and the need for citizen legislators. There may be other points of commonality which can be discovered through the civil political discourse you crave.


Walter Scott Hudson

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