February 21, 2012; Source: Lodi News

With all the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the intrepid supporters of the Tea Party movement have been relatively quiescent. Some Tea Partiers are out to make sure that they define themselves and their movement as they see it, not through the lens of the mainstream media.

In Lodi, Calif., Ed Miller and Kim Parigoris of Lodi Citizens in Action have launched a regular newspaper column to address topics “important to Lodians and the American way of life.” Their inaugural column describes their local group as affiliated with the national Tea Party Patriots (TPP), a 501(c)(4) that they say is “prohibited by federal law from affiliation with or funding from any political party of Political Action Committee,” in contrast to the Tea Party Express, which is a PAC that supports the Republican Party.

In “The Patriot Corner,” Kim and Ed engage in a faux dialogue to reveal that they and the TPP are not (and do not aspire to become) a third party either, despite Kim’s assertion that “neither political party has been honest or inclusive with their constituents, and has kept us in the dark when it comes to the political process.”

Kim goes on to contrast the Tea Party with the Occupy movement. “[W]e are not interested in adding to the problems by disrupting other people’s lives, politicizing issues or promoting the political agendas of any political party,” she writes. “Our goal is to be a part of the solution by first identifying issues, then contributing possible solutions while educating the public. Just complaining does not cut it.”

Emphasizing Tea Party Patriots’ support for limited government and free markets, Kim makes a particular point of eschewing the social conservatism associated in the Republican presidential race with Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, and now Rick Santorum: “As a group, the Patriots avoid social issues because they are divisive,” she writes. “[S]ocial issues drive wedges between people and distract from the issues that unite Americans. As individuals, there is no problem promoting social issues, just not under the banner of the TPPs.” You see the same absence of social issues in other restatements of Tea Party credos—for example, in a recently published letter from the 501(c)(4) Amarillo Tea Party.

There have been several recent efforts to show that the Tea Party is still alive and kicking. For instance, American Majority president Ned Ryun suggested that Partiers have eschewed “street theater” to instead focus “on the long haul for fundamental, generational change for this great nation.” And we’ve also seen articles about the successes of Tea Party-affiliated candidates in state legislative and local government elections. But it does seem that the Occupy Wall Streeters have captured the public imagination that was once focused on Tea Party rallies.

Kim and Ed might have put their finger on the problem. Elvin Lim, a political science professor at Wesleyan University, suggests that many conservatives’ focus on social issues diminishes the Tea Partiers’ main concern about government and fiscal issues. In this way, it seems the Tea Partiers’ movement has been hijacked. –Rick Cohen