A popular view of the "tea party" movement is that it's concerned primarily with a crushing national debt and a federal government that has exceeded its narrow constitutional mandate. After a visit over the weekend to the 2010 Values Voter Summit in Washington, I'm not so sure.
The summit, sponsored by the legislative action arm of the Family Research Council, is a combination rally, revival meeting, political convention and bazaar. This year you could listen to potential Republican presidential candidates including Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the dark-horse winner of a straw poll. The star speaker, in Sarah Palin's absence, was Christine O'Donnell, the tea party-supported Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. An exhibit hall offered literature from the National Abstinence Education Assn., the Creation Museum and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays.
As the name suggests, the Values Voter Summit appeals to activists for whom the paramount issues include abortion, same-sex marriage and the supposed exclusion of religion from the public square — though there also were sessions on the "social and economic foundations of American liberty" and "why Christians should support Israel." But the buzz this year was about the tea party.
At one panel, three women active in the tea party movement spoke, and two of them made it clear that, for them, religious values were as important as smaller deficits or the repeal of Obamacare. Billie Tucker recalled that some people warned her: "Don't you put God in the tea party" — an entreaty she refused. "I'm putting my God back into the United States of America again," she said.
Another session unveiled a Zogby/O'Leary Report poll suggesting that tea partyers have a lot in common with so-called values voters. For example, only 28% of likely voters who attend church weekly believe that President Obama has "strong Christian values"; the figure for tea partyers was 2%. In another poll on a subject dear to conservative culture warriors, 82% of tea partyers strongly agreed that parents should have the legal option to give their child a "modest spanking," compared with 61% of weekly churchgoers.
Perhaps the slogan for the tea party shouldn't be "Don't Tread on Me" but "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child."