Just before the November elections of 2010 I received a phone call from a young journalist who worked at an inside-the-beltway web-based publication. He was writing a story on leaders in the Tea Party movement and wanted to interview me. Only a few years out of a prestigious university, he had a difficult time in hiding his disdain for the movement.
He asked me a series of questions that he had asked other Tea Party leaders across the country. I could tell he was becoming increasingly frustrated with my answers. Finally, he could contain himself no more.
“You Tea Party people are like ANTS! I ask you all the same questions and you give me almost exactly the same answer!” he exclaimed. “How do you people do that?”
His outburst took me aback. My experience in dealing with my compatriots was hardly ever one of complete agreement. But the questions he was asking were about fundamental beliefs, and that made me think.
“When people share similar beliefs and love the same things,” I told him, “they will generally come up with the same answer.”
What struck me about this exchange, as I reflected on it, is how our common answers reflected the leadership style of the Tea Party movement. That in turn caused me to consider how much this style is derived from the example of the Founding Fathers. Tracing this heritage, it seems to me, is an excellent topic for a future e-book in the Voices of the Tea Party series.
The decentralized, leaderless, common mind of the Tea Party movement has sometimes been compared to a headless starfish who can survive the removal of one of its “arms.” Other natural analogies may seem equally appropriate. But to my mind, the young journalist was wrong in comparing us to an army of ants. We can be better understood as a school of fish.
Like a school of fish that changes direction instantaneosuly, the Tea Party movement has a central nervous system, common thoughts and emotions, but no head. It does not fit any modern model or template. But from within the movement influential individuals do emerge, and they are true leaders. This is not the invention of a new style of leadership. Rather it is a “restoration” of the type of leadership practiced by our Founding Fathers, and the seed of what has come to be know as “American exceptionalism.”
Our founders knew that a free people guided by the right moral principles would not need to be led, but merely guided periodically. They therefore gave us a representative republic and expected us to lead ourselves. A restoration of their form of leadership is currently underway in the Tea Party movement. An e-book identifying and describing this unique type of leadership would aid those emerging as leaders, and help others to step up and play their roles more effectively.
Mark Kevin Lloyd is the President of the Lynchburg, Virginia Tea Party and Chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation. He is also the author of “The Battle for Virginia’s Fifth District.” He can be reached on Twitter at @mklloydva .