To Tea or Not to Tea
By Alan Rogan, 1st Vice President TMPA
Since the Civil War the U.S. has for the most part had a two-party system in place, but that is not to say that there has not been additional dissention within the parties. At various times subgroups have gone by names such as Bourbon Democrats, Jacobins, Copperheads, Redeemers, Mugwhumps, Liberals, etc. Other subgroups such as the Libertarians, Communists and Socialists went on to form separate parties.
Currently there are 39 different parties recognized across the country but only the Democrats and Republicans will appear on ballots in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Libertarian Party is currently recognized in 34 states, the Green Party 18 and the Constitution Party 12. Those are the only currently viable “third” parties.
Even the Reform Party, formed by H. Ross Perot in 1995 after he made a significant run as an independent in 1992, is only recognized in three states anymore and has pretty much disappeared.
Which brings us to the Tea Party, which is only recognized as a party in one state, and whose own website says that they are not a party at all. They routinely run against even incumbent Republicans who they do not consider to be “Republican enough.” (They often refer to those opponents as RINOS – Republicans in Name Only.)
The Tea Party’s most impressive victories in Texas have all been in Republican Primaries – Ted Cruz defeating David Dewhurst for U.S. Senate; Dan Patrick defeating the incumbent Dewhurst for Lieutenant Governor; Ken Paxton defeating Dan Branch for Attorney General.
The magnitude of those victories has not been lost on other Republicans around the state and has given the Tea Party first chair in setting the Republican Party agenda in Texas – if not nationwide. As law enforcement officers there is much for us to respect and admire in that agenda: the Tea Party is strong on national defense, tough on crime, fiscally and socially conservative, and pro-gun while pushing patriotism and traditional family values. Throw in some apple pie and Blue Bell ice cream and it is easy to see why three-fourths of our members identify with the Tea Party.
History has proven repeatedly that there is a point where, as Tom Daschle put it, “the campaign is over. It’s time for governing to begin.” The ideology of the campaign must give way to the harsh realities of living in a democratic republic – where differing points of view are to be given equal consideration.
When it comes right down to it, there is a point where politics and governing are diametrically opposed to one another. It seems that we are at that point now. No less an authority than Leon Panetta, who served at various times as a congressman, Director of the OMB, Presidential Chief of Staff, Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, said, “Today, I think the attitude is that governing is not necessarily good politics, and the result is that it's much more partisan and much more divided.”
That is the same point where some of the Tea Party ideals begin to conflict with the realistic and intrinsic interests of the hard-working men and women of law enforcement. Consider four of the 15 core beliefs listed on the Tea Party website:
1. Special interests must be eliminated – when we are in front of city councils, commissioners courts, school boards, or the Texas Legislature fighting for better pay, better working conditions and stronger laws, are we a special interest group? Are law enforcement officer organizations among those to be eliminated?
2. Gun ownership is sacred – Sacred? Really? As in only God can take it away? What about convicted felons, persons with mental disabilities, toddlers? And while we are at it, are we talking about all guns? Tech 9’s and Mac 10’s? I repeat: REALLY??? As law enforcement officers, we need the ability to disarm individuals in a myriad of different circumstances. Making gun ownership “sacred” is counterintuitive to officer safety.
3. Government must be downsized – All government? Law enforcement part of government. Is it a default position of the Tea Party that we have too much law enforcement? And don’t forget about your pensions. The biggest push to do away with pensions for public-sector employees (that includes public safety) is coming from the Tea Party.
4. Intrusive government must be stopped – I am sure that has to do with Big Brother and too many IRS regulations and the Affordable Care Act and so on, but isn’t intrusive government exactly what law enforcement is all about? Preventing crimes, regulating the flow of traffic, arresting offenders, investigating crimes, even if they were committed by our own bosses? In order to live together in a civilized society, we have to agree on certain rules and someone – meaning the PoPo – has to enforce those rules. And in order to enforce those rules we often have to intrude on peoples’ lives.
My point is this: the basic rhetorical mantra of the Tea Party is very easy to agree with, especially for those of us in law enforcement. But when they are put into practice, the lines become blurred as to whether or not they conflict with our best interests. To this point it does not appear that there has been anyone championing the interests of law enforcement in the Tea Party platform. We need to find out who those champions are going to be and have some serious conversations with them before the 2017 Texas Legislature rolls around.