Irish playwright and socialist George Bernard Shaw warned, “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Accepting his thesis requires an assessment of our individual and collective effort to deserve better; or, at least better than we currently endure. Historian and editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, echoed these sentiments recently when he argued the “broad indictment of the capital and its culture too often fails to include government’s co-conspirators: We the People.” Two responses to this challenge have formed over the last year, both populist but otherwise diametric opposites: the Tea Party (teapartypatriots.org, teaparty.org) and the Coffee Party (coffeepartyusa.com).
Most of us have heard about the Tea Party, although a little research suggests we have to be careful to ask, which tea party? Teaparty.org requires strict compliance with their “non-negotiable core beliefs” that include to “honor God” while condemning illegal aliens, belief in a strong military and the sanctity of gun ownership, together with strict fiscal limits on a government that “must be downsized.” Tea Party ‘Patriots’ appear to be a bit more benign—frankly less threatening and more populist. Their mission is “to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” While differences certainly exist in those who adopt the Tea Party flag, their ideology and cultural profile are not. They are right, white, Christian, and armed. They believe in American exceptionalism-cum-triumphalism and prefer walls to bridges where free markets are where only American products are available for sale. They are angry and ready to fight anyone who differs in either appearance or ideology.
More recently, another movement has formed, equally populist and committed to saving America, but their approach is collaborative rather than combative. The Coffee Party was formed by Anabelle Park, a Korean immigrant and documentary filmmaker from Washington D.C. Their mission is:
To give voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.
They don’t want to throw all the rascals out, just bring them to heel. Unlike their tea party counterparts, they include all ethnicities, religions, and age groups, and most probably don’t even know how to load a gun. They are the ‘brains over brawn’ bunch. And, curiously, they smile in their photographs. No growling here.
Both parties seem to acknowledge Shaw’s warning; they just have very different ideas about getting the government they deserve. Both are emblematic of American’s growing disdain for all-things-Washington. One conservative, interested in re-establishing the mythic of a muscular Norman Rockwell America, while the other aims to reinvent America in the image of an Obama election night party. It is unclear which will have the largest, if any, impact. Tea has the early lead and loudest presence, but Coffee might attract more with a more inclusive and less angry platform. Coffee appears to have a greater grasp of organic networks and the nuance of political progress. Whichever group proves more effective, one thing is for sure: Americans are no longer willing to sit back and take it. Hooray for caffeine.