When I registered as an Independent, I did so because I didn’t want to be affiliated with the Republican party anymore, but neither did I want to be a Democrat. I differ significantly enough with each party’s platform that I refused to let either one count me among their ranks.
I suppose I could have registered as a Libertarian — their platform seems to mirror my views most closely — but I’m hesitant to join forces with either Bob Barr or Ron Paul. On the other hand, a search for “Independent Party” returns a range of wildly varying results — not unlike the variation between views of candidates who’ve run as Independents.
When the Tea Party movement sprang up, I identified with their opposition to the bailouts of Wall Street and the Big 3 automakers. I understood the reasons for the banking bailout, but I was angry about it nonetheless (especially after the reports of post-bailout bonuses and retreats). Dissatisfaction with the fiscal policies of both the previous administration and the current administration is one viewpoint I share with all varieties of Tea Party adherents.
But that’s where my support of the Tea Party movement ends. The increasing social conservatism of the Republican Party appears to have translated to the Tea Party movement (and that’s what drove me away from the GOP). Where the Tea Party stands on social issues is “murky,” according to CBS News Political Hotsheet:
Some members of the movement, like the Tea Party Nation, believe social issues are a defining characteristic. Others, like the Tea Party Patriots, want to focus on economic and governance issues and not wade into the social policy debates.
Bottom line: If Tea Party adherents of either side support Governor Rick Perry and former Governor Sarah Palin, then count me out.
Now there’s the Coffee Party. Called “an alternative for frustrated left-leaning voters,” the Coffee Party is a fledgling movement that’s already attracted attention from CNN and the New York Times. While they haven’t published a platform, an excerpt from one of the notes on their Facebook fan page gives a clear picture of what they value in a political candidate:
We are looking for men and women who serve or wish to serve in government with these qualities: honesty, integrity, intelligence, truth-seeking, believes in democracy, loyal to constituents, a problem-solver, can work as part of a team, and productive. After we hire or rehire them in November, they must work hard to advance civil rights and fight like hell for working class and middle class interests.
He or she must support job creation, fiscal responsibility, health care reform, immigration reform, climate change legislation, & financial regulatory reform to protect consumers (and prevent another economic meltdown like the one we saw in 2008).
Republican or Democrat, coffee or tea — it’s clear that there’s great unrest among voters. Grassroots, bottom-up efforts are lauded, but eventually leaders must emerge. The Tea Party movement has been weakened in the eyes of moderates and Independents by the attention it’s attracted from GOP lawmakers and right-leaning media outlets. The Coffee Party has received similar criticisms already because its founder volunteered on the Obama campaign.
In spite of the enthusiasm behind them and the dissatisfaction that provoked them, I expect that neither the Tea Party nor the Coffee Party will evolve into a viable third party. But I do believe they serve a valuable purpose in spurring reform. From ThisNation.com:
One or both of the two major parties is bound to “steal” their issues, incorporate them into their platforms and absorb their supporters into their ranks…In American political history, third parties have served the important purpose of refocusing the two major political parties on issues they have ignored or dealt with ineffectively.
Fiscal responsibility figures prominently in the discussions led by both the Tea Party and the Coffee Party — not surprising in light of the vast government spending (which, by the way, didn’t begin with the current administration). Republicans and Democrats alike have been playing fast and loose with our money, even rich people’s money, for too long.
While Sarah Palin’s relationship with the Tea Party is enough to dissuade me from participating in that movement, I plan to attend a local Coffee Party meeting on March 13 – National Coffee Party Day – to learn more. To find a meeting near you, visit the Coffee Party website.