How the Tea Party Could Help All of Us

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

Five hundred and fifty miles and two days apart, two political rituals with deep roots in American life unfolded last week: the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and the tea-party convention in Nashville. It is tempting to contrast the two affairs as emblems of a divided nation: the Washington Hilton vs. the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the establishment vs. the outsiders, the elitists vs. the populists. In Washington they were gathering for an event that first began under Dwight Eisenhower, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama offering their broad views of faith and public life. In Nashville, the conservatives were hosting their first major event, with Sarah Palin and Roy Moore, but it was an experiment in an old and problematic political undertaking: the organization of anger.

But what if the two moments are more than a study in contrasts? What if they can be seen as complementing, rather than clashing with, each other? If we take both sides at their word--a leap, I admit--then the point of the prayer breakfast was the promotion of civility and grace, and the goal of the tea-party convention was, at least in part, the recovery of the spirit of the American Founding. These things are not mutually exclusive, and, assuming for the sake of argument that both sides are being honest, the two themes might even mix rather well.

True, voices at both events spoke out--some subtly, many not so subtly--against the other. "From the town halls last summer to the protests and marches in the fall to the game-changing recent elections, it has been inspiring to see real people--not politicos or inside-the-Beltway professionals--speak out for common-sense conservative policies and values," Palin wrote in a USA Today piece about the convention. Among those politicos and inside-the-Beltway professionals presumably stands the president, who sternly noted in Washington that "surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship."

Both have a point. Even the White House agrees with the thrust of Palin's argument: "real people"--especially real voters in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts--are speaking out and casting Republican ballots. For conservatives, the reason for this is that the country has at last realized Obama is a Bolshevik. …