Thursday night I attended a Tea Party Panel at Arcadia University. The panel was organized to give equal time to those opposing the health care reform after Arcadia hosted Obama's health care speech in March. When I attended that speech, health care reform seemed unlikely to pass. Little did we know Democrats would willingly walk the plank to pass health care legislation in the crudest partisan vote witnessed in my life time. While the panel may have seemed to at least one audience member too little too late, the forum was an excellent opportunity to introduce tea party values to a student population without the frequently-biased presentation we see in the media portrayals. The result was a lively and occasionally heated discussion of the tea party movement and our current political environment.
Moderated by Kelly Stavrides, Secretary to the Young Republicans at Arcadia and contributor to this blog, the panel of tea party leaders discussed their roles in the movement and answered questions from a mixed audience of students and community guests. Members of the panel included Diana Reimer, National Coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, JennyBeth Martin, National Coordinator for Tea Party Patriots recently chosen by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 leaders in the country, Jamal Green Journalist and graduate student in Philadelphia, Nate Whigham grassroots activist, Dr. Andrew Foy, MD, and Mike Gaske Tea Party Patriots Fund Raising Director.
The panel entertained a number of questions from the audience. Students asked a few questions of the panel related to their positions on The Patriot Act. Showing the diversity of ideological opinion that comprises the tea party movement, Jamal Green and NateWhigham differed in their opinions on The Patriot Act. A student from Alaska asked about the role of Sarah Palin in the movement noting that she believed Palin misrepresented her role in "the bridge to nowhere" and that she didn't like her policies as Governor. JennyBeth Martin emphasized that Sarah Palin had been engaged to speak at several events though not directly by Tea Party Patriots. Martin reiterated the point the tea party movement was a grass-roots inspired organization and it had no political leader.
One heated moment came when a foreign exchange student asked a question of the panel on their opinions on outsourcing. The student also asked about whether the panel supported defense cuts to the budget, the student suggested that defense constituted one-half of the Federal budget. This prompted a member of the audience to challenge the student's facts. Defense constitutes about 20% of the Federal Budget but it is frequently misrepresented as much higher as justification for growth in entitlement programs. After a brief exchange on this point, the panel addressed the student's questions on outsourcing. The answers, again reflected a diversity of opinion found in the movement. Jamal Green believed outsourcing to be a function of free markets while Gaske and Foy believed there needed to be a greater emphasis on returning manufacturing to the United States. Foy, incidentally co-authored The Young Conservative's Field Guide with economist Brent Stransky. Stransky assisted Kelly in taking questions from the audience. He declined to offer additional thoughts on the subject hoping to get more questions from the audience.
The next question taken by Stransky was less a question than a statement from a man who was angered that he was unable to protest the President's appearance on campus and questioned whether the panel was too little too late. The gentleman did not stay to hear the response from the panel which was unfortunate. Reimer explained that the panel presentation was organized by the school immediately following the speech in March. She expressed gratitude to have the opportunity to present the Tea Party Patriots opinions directly to students. Gaske suggested there may have been little difference whether the protest took place on school property or outside as the Democrats ignored all evidence the country opposed the legislation and passed it anyway.
Several community members took the opportunity to address the students directly telling them they were concerned for their futures. One woman challenged students to educate themselves about the coming crisis with entitlements as I mentioned in a previous post. Reactions from students varied depending on the issue discussed. While some students seemed to take a liberal approach to questioning, their reactions to several conservative points were quite enthusiastic. I found this striking, as it seemed to underscore the importance of holding such events in a college setting. The evening concluded with a presentation by Jamal Green of his YouTube speech "Why I am a Conservative." For those who haven't seen it, be sure to take a look.
Many thanks to Janet Stavrides who took way better pictures of the event than I did. You can see her pictures as well as some links I included to some of the panelists' writings on the topics of health care and conservatism in the slide show below.