The Big Idea
Inside the tea party's new magazine
Friday, February 11, 2011; 6:00 PM
Inside the tea party's new magazine - glossy, monthly and full of American flags
Great political movements have great political magazines. Whatever you might think of, say, the Nation or National Review or the Public Interest or Commentary, they have been forums where American liberalism, conservatism and neoconservatism hashed out their battles, defined their principles and developed their orthodoxies.
And now comes Tea Party Review, claiming to speak for, to and with America's latest political movement. The inaugural issue, released Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, explicitly invokes the legacy of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and says it will be a place where the movement's members can "express their opinions, work out disagreements on policy and strategy, and participate in the development of the movement's philosophy and platform."
So, does it succeed? Well, TPR doesn't quite "stand athwart history, yelling stop," as Buckley's first issue promised. Although it shows some glimmers of launching a real conversation, TPR primarily yells two things very clearly: Liberals and the news media are invariably wrong and often evil, and the tea party simply rocks.
The articles in the 64-page glossy publication tend to be short, generously illustrated with stars and stripes and peppered with somewhat standard tea party talking points. About the left and its disdain for the movement:
"This magazine will speak for working class and small business class Americans . . . for the Mama Grizzlies and Joe the Plumbers and 'bitter clingers' . . . and for all those who have no place in the arrogant elitists' vision for this country," declares the introductory letter from editor Steve J. Allen.
"The major media and the 'experts' simply do not see things as they are," writes Mark Lloyd, chairman of Virginia Tea Party Patriots, in an article about why lefties will never understand the movement. "They are like children with inflated self-esteem, who see themselves as much smarter than they really are."
"For liberal Democrats," writes Tea Party Express spokesman (and self-described "unhyphenated American") Lloyd Marcus, "reading the Constitution is like showing Dracula the cross."
As for the tea party itself, readers learn that it has strengthened American democracy, bolstered the Republican Party and empowered black conservatives. In terms of policy, the magazine features copious criticisms of the health-care overhaul (always referred to as "ObamaCare"), calls for a balanced-budget amendment and celebrates legal immigration, holding up the example of Vietnamese who came to America after the war and quickly assimilated.
Two of the most peculiar features: a "Couples in the movement" column, in which TPR promises to spotlight "patriotic couples" who have "not only embraced the movement, but have intertwined it with their daily lives." (Not just any couples, though - they have to be married.) And an essay by Colombian-born U.S. citizen Tito Munoz, founder of the Conservative Hispanic Coalition, in which he describes himself as a "freedom-loving American Tea Party member with a Ricky Ricardo accent looking for others to turn La-TEA-Nos into La-TEA-yeses!" Dios mio.
The essay "A foreign policy for the Tea Party," by Jon Basil Utley, associate publisher of the American Conservative magazine, comes closest to engaging in intellectual and political debate. Utley stakes out a worldview for a movement that has remained relatively quiet on foreign policy. He decries waste in intelligence spending, the lack of Arabic-speaking diplomats and excessive military budgets. "Tea Party supporters are solidly pro-defense," he writes. "They need not be awed by the Defense establishment which is bloated beyond imagination and bankrupting our nation." Utley calls for treating all nations fairly, not wasting money on unnecessary military adventures, working with allies and other nations and maintaining our moral bearings in the world.
Perhaps more essays like Utley's can spawn a true debate within a movement that until now has seemed defined more by dogmatism than introspection. Allen, the editor, writes that "without a national newspaper or magazine, a movement just isn't taken seriously." We may have to wait until issue No. 2 to see if TPR can be taken seriously itself.
Carlos Lozada is the editor of Outlook.