Despite Jon Stewart’s attempt to restore sanity recently, Americans showed up at the polls and hopped on the crazy train, overwhelmingly supporting Republican candidates across the country. As a conservative leaning young professional, I couldn’t be happier with the new direction America chose.
However, like most people under the age of 30, my friends typically identify more closely with the crowd that gathered on the mall with Jon Stewart than the "tea partiers" who swarmed the polls. While the geniuses at Reason have done an excellent job satirically highlighting the reality that all crowds have their outliers, the truth of the matter is perception is reality. And as long as Tea Party remains a derogatory term in the Mainstream Media, I expect to spend a lot of time answering the question, "how can you support them?"
While your gut instinct, like mine, is probably to be annoyed with how narrow minded that question is, I’ve come to accept that this is a great question. It’s a question that allows Republicans to re-brand a movement that has become dominated by Anderson Coopers despicable “tea-bag” comment. And more importantly, it’s a question that many moderate Republicans will have to answer in 2012 when trying to win over a wider ideological spread of voters sure to turn out for the Presidential election.
For my answer, I’ve turned to a Hollywood analogy that every 20 something in America can appreciate – The Wedding Crashers. Defining the Tea Party as Christine O’Donnell or Glen Beck alone would be like describing The Wedding Crashers as the story of Will Ferrell’s character – a reclusive 30-year old that lives with his mom and crashes funerals to pick-up women. To those who dislike O’Donnell and Beck, that one, misleading image in isolation hides the broader picture.
In Crashers, Owen Wilson’s character almost loses the girl when he allows the truth about his wedding crashing to overshadow the man she’s fallen in love with. Likewise, Republicans must be proactive about defending, but not succumbing to the skewed perceptions painted by headline grabbing personalities like O’Donnell. Karl Rove set an example in this regard by criticizing questionable statements by O’Donnell early on in her campaign, while simultaneously defending her principles and place at the table as a candidate. Rove made it clear that mistakes and gaffes reflect poor campaign judgment, not inferior ideas or values.
At the end of the day, I believe whole heartedly that the values expressed by the Tea Party movement – greater personal autonomy and responsibility, more transparent governance, and fiscal restraint – appeal to the majority of this country. But I also respect and acknowledge that the personalities that play in Peoria are not always the best fit for Connecticut, or even the best fit for the younger folks in Peoria for that matter.
Republicans have got to stop defending the outrageous and start talking about the inspiration if we’re going to “get the girl.” From John Boehner’s tearful speech to the nation, drenched in the humble pride that defines middle-class Americans, to Marco Rubio’s stirring proclamation that this election was about future generations and about providing “a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago," there’s a lot to admire about the impact of the Tea Partiers.
So next time you hear about witches from Delaware around the water cooler, resist the temptation to take the bait. Instead, start talking about the child of Cuban exiles now representing Florida or the son of a bar owner who will preside over the Republican controlled House this January. If the tide is to continue in 2012, we need an Owen Wilson to our Will Ferrell.