Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alexis de Tocqueville

Why Tea Partiers Should Drink Coffee, Too

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “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.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “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.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

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