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Weeding Out Extremism from the Tea Party

Matt Drudge links to a story in which, according to the Dallas Morning News, Republican congressional candidate Stephen Broden, a first-time candidate who is supported by the Tea Party Express and is challenging Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson in Texas’s 30th Congressional District, said he would not rule out a violent overthrow of the government if elections did not produce a change in leadership.

According to the report, in an exchange during a TV interview, Broden, a South Dallas pastor, was asked if violence would be an option in 2010, if the composition of the government remained unchanged by the elections. “The option is on the table,” Broden said. “I don’t think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms. However, it is not the first option.”

Now, like almost every other person in America, I have never before heard of Stephen Broden. But you can bet that MSNBC, other media outlets, and the Democratic Party are going to do everything they can to turn Mr. Broden into a household name, to make him a symbol of the Tea Party movement.

Jonathan Neerman, head of the Dallas County Republican Party, said he’s never heard Broden advocate violence against the government.

“It is a disappointing, isolated incident,” Neerman said. He said he plans to discuss the matter with Broden’s campaign. And Ken Emanuelson, a Broden supporter and leading Tea Party organizer in Dallas, said he did not disagree with the “philosophical point” that people had the right to resist a tyrannical government. But, he said, “Do I see our government today anywhere close to that point? No, I don’t.”

I have news for Messrs. Neerman and Emanuelson: what Broden said is far worse than “disappointing” — and in this context, conceding him a “philosophical point” is quite unwise.

To say that a violent uprising is “on the table” is reckless. These remarks deserve to be condemned on their own terms. And it’s also important not to play into the caricature of the Tea Party movement created by its opponents — that the movement, at its core, is fringy, irresponsible, and has some latent sympathy with calls to revolution and political violence.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Nevada’s GOP Senate candidate (and Tea Party choice) Sharron Angle has said this:

Our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.

The Tea Party movement is a powerful, energetic, spontaneous, and widespread civic response to Obamaism. It will be seen, I believe, as a positive force in American politics, one that can help to limit the size, scope, and reach of government in our lives – and, more specifically, one that can help us deal with our entitlement crisis. But movements like these almost inevitably draw in supporters and candidates who take a justifiable impulse and channel it in exactly the wrong direction. That can’t always be helped. But what leaders and allies of the Tea Party movement can do is make it clear that incendiary rhetoric and misplaced historical analogies don’t have a place or a part in a responsible political movement.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said, and we may thank heaven that, for Americans, this choice has long since been made. Those who wish to revisit this choice are temerarious and possibly pernicious. Those who care for and about the Tea Party movement might consider saying so.

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