Compared to the feeling in 2009, when enraged citizens swarmed to demonstrations in cities all across the country and showed up en masse to shout down their Congressmen during some town hall meetings, the Tea Party movement has seemed a little anemic lately. A new focus on outrage over the TSA, however, could put the wind right back in the Tea Party's sails.
Back in 2009, the issue was an unprecedented consolidation of federal and executive power and a corresponding explosion in federal spending. In just a few short months, President Obama had already nearly outdone his predecessor, George W. Bush, when it came to expanding federal programs and spending to levels that worry, frighten, and anger many Americans.
During the debate over the Democrats' controversial health care bill, the Tea Party took on an interest in transparency, criticizing Obama for breaking a campaign promise to televise the health care debate on CSPAN by allowing important negotiations to happen behind closed doors. Then, during the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Party even pushed for more civil liberties, with one of its most visible national candidates, Rand Paul, campaigning against the Patriot Act in Kentucky.
It became evident over time, that at least for some Tea Party supporters, the issue wasn't simply fiscal policy, but an entirely out-of-control central government overstepping its legally-appointed bounds. Just like America's Founding Fathers, who condemned the monarchy for quartering troops among the colonists, committing unreasonable searches and seizures, and policing Americans without any due process, these modern Tea Party protesters stand in opposition to the civil liberties violations and abuses of illegal police actions.
One of the modern Tea Party movement's primary complaints is with policies that appear to violate the U.S. Constitution. When I asked Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips if he believes that the Transportation Security Administration's airport searches violate the Fourth Amendment right of Americans to be secure "against unreasonable searches and seizures," he said:
"I think it does. I think we can do a much better job of security without abusing law abiding citizens. I am reasonably certain a 2 year old child is not a terrorist and a 90 year old grandmother in a wheel chair probably isn't either."
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Blanket, warrantless searches of law-abiding citizens who are doing nothing more suspicious than traveling by air or train would arguably violate the Fourth Amendment, and yet the TSA performs these searches routinely on an increasingly outraged public. Every week, new stories, videos, and images emerge of alleged TSA malfeasance and seeming abuse, angering nearly every special interest group there is, from women's groups, to parents, to patients, to people with disabilities, the elderly, and civil libertarians on both sides of the partisan divide.
By driving this wedge issue between the Washington establishment's current administration and a public whose outrage transcends partisan divisions, the Tea Party could capture the nation's attention once again, revitalize its lethargic base of supporters, and boost its lagging public opinion numbers. If Tea Party protesters would show up to demonstrate at airports in the same numbers that they turned out for sign-waving and speeches in 2009, they would inject some new life into the party. They might even change federal policy for the better.