Is the Tea Party a “Social Justice” Movement, as Timothy Dalrymple claimed recently? He has two more blogs to post on the “Evangelical Portal” at Patheos.com before we’ll know his final answer. But the question is so prime that I really shouldn’t wait a fortnight to respond.
The rhetorical set-up for Dalrymple’s blog is classic. Leaving Harvard Yard for a “Tea Party Express” meeting on the Boston Commons, he reflects on William F. Buckley’s famous quip that “he would rather be governed by the first two thousand people listed in the Boston phone directory than the two thousand who comprise the faculty at Harvard University.” Liberals and progressives, by contrast, are like the elitists at Harvard. We are the ones who “are apt to swoon not over intelligence … but over the appearance of intelligence, advanced degrees and faculty appointments, the trappings of an elite education” (emphasis added).
To our worship of external trappings — we only care for the “fashions of the illuminati” — Dalrymple opposes the good “common sense” of the Tea Party members, who, as if to prove the point, march on Boston Commons. The logic is clear: Good guys, bad guys. “Liberal aristocracy” versus the genuinely intelligent. And by implication, the real movement for social justice versus the selfish, self-serving liberals.
But maybe things aren’t as “white” and “black” as they seem.
● Tim trains down to the Party from … Harvard. “He still teaches at Harvard,” his Patheos bio tells us. Harvard lists a brainy sounding dissertation by Professor Dalrymple deposited in their library last year, devoted to the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Maybe those who teach in glass houses should be careful about throwing stones.
● Dalrymple argues that the Tea Party is a “social justice movement” because “Tea Partiers are perfectly willing to accept the need for moderate taxation and social services.” This is certainly not the message that is being broadcast, nor the one that we hear from Tea Party supporters. It is a backlash movement against the federal government. Its supporters want to pay lower taxes out of their pockets. Little is said on behalf of the oppressed and dispossessed — central themes in biblical texts about social justice.
● In fact, Tea Party rhetoric is decidedly hostile to those who are cast-outs in our society. A Gallup poll conducted in late March showed that 87% of Tea Party supporters think that the healthcare reform bill is a “bad thing.” Sarah Palin presumably spoke for much of the movement when she defended Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration on May 15th with the words, “We’re all Arizonans now.” That, by the way, was the same Sarah Palin who exhorted the Boston “Tea Party Express” rally with the words, “we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution, our guns and our religion and you can keep the change!”
Mr. Dalymple, the standards for passing as a social justice movement are far higher than what we see among the Tea Partyers. And rightly so.