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Memphis Tea: Mark Skoda Speaks His Mind

Following is my hour-long interview with Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis Tea Party and co-founder of the National Tea Party Federation. We spoke at the Madison Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee during the last week of June.
Mark, if I understood some of your emails correctly, you were at the health care protest in D.C. at the end of March where John Lewis claims that he was dissed by Tea Partiers.
Yes, that’s right. In fact I was one of the organizers of the Code Red Rally during the week and also took the town halls to Washington and of course joined in the major rally, which was held on the Capitol Steps—actually was there when they [members of the Congressional Black Caucus] sort of walked the walk—and observed that. Was a bit confounded by it, because clearly it was an attempt to create a situation. I had been to the National Capitol Building often times from the House and obviously you always do that underground, with a high level of security. So there was a clear sense there that there was an attempt to create an event. Yeah.
So exactly what happened?
As you probably know, I’m also one of the co-founders of the National Tea Party Federation. And we actually did some investigation, along with BigGovernment.com. And Andrew Breitbart’s organization produced a number of videos, which refute not only the allegations but call into question the veracity of the charges being made, and not by Congressman Lewis per se, although I think he was sort of used, in particular. We subsequently sent a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus calling for any evidentiary documents and or videos.
I saw that letter.
And what we got was, as the Christian Science Monitor reported on that, and actually called the Congressional Black Caucus. What they [the Monitor} found is not only were they [the Caucus] angered by the letter and their inability to produce any documentation but also they began to question some of the videos. And as it subsequently came out there was no evidence of any—
You mean the Christian Science Monitor questioned the veracity of the videos—
Correct. Yes. The videos of the charges. Because they also saw the videos, and it was also clear that there was at least two political staff who were actually filming during the entirety of that event, walking in line with Congressman Lewis actually. And so it was clear that it simply did not happen.
And they never released those videos that the staff made.
No. They did not.
We understood very clearly what was attempted there. And as was presented by a number of videos on BigGovernment site and other Breitbart sites in particular, which had been submitted not only by people who were there but [from] numerous angles and [with] very good audio and in one case high-def video—there was simply no indication of any altercations whatsoever. And particularly of any suggestion that anyone used the N-word.
So that brings me to racism in the Tea Party in general. I notice at the convention in Las Vegas there is going to be a session on how to deal with charges of racism.
You know I think—I would tell you that there is an attempt I mean after the Washington event there was a whole flurry of activity by various people including our own District 9 Congressman Steve Cohen to raise the racism charge, and to raise, quote unquote, the militia charge. But the racism charge is particularly problematic because there was no objective evidence of that, and I think there was an attempt albeit now feebly to project that. I think the truth of the matter is that when you look at what’s happened, the only racial hate crime that’s occurred was with SEIU representatives who beat a black conservative in the St. Louis rally that took place earlier this year.
So my sense right now is that, to be sure, there were voice mails that we heard and suggestions that quote unquote people made these allegations and used slanderous terms for various nationalities, ethnicities—but I think the ability to associate those to the Tea Party people just wasn’t obvious to me. One of the things we’ve done, and particularly in formation of the National Tea Party Federation, was specifically to require that for membership the various groups have to refute any racism and any acts of violence, any charges of birtherism and or truthers, because quite frankly this is a responsible, patriotic movement.
Can we eradicate anybody who has any feelings perhaps against a particular culture or ethnicity? No. But the truth of the matter is America is bound by its racial diversity and is also encumbered by that racial diversity, inasmuch as people’s differences sometimes are inappropriately associated with various hate crimes and/or simply derogatory comments. Which frankly have no place in my view in the public dialogue. We have been very clear about this.
You bring up the birthers. And I notice that Joseph Farah’s coming to Las Vegas.
That’s right. And he’s going to speak strictly on the issue of unity. I think Judson Phillips has done a good job in talking to him about that. We don’t really want to have any discussions around the legitimacy of this birthright, etc. Frankly it’s irrelevant to the discussion. He’s our President. I can find plenty to disagree with him on, on his administrative actions and his policies—
You’re talking about President Obama.
That’s correct. Which obviously—look, one has to get beyond that at this point, to have a serious dialogue. There is so much to challenge in this administration’s policies that we really don’t need to go back to that question.
I was surprised that Joseph Farah is coming to the Tea Party Convention in Las Vegas, because I remember that you in particular were dismayed by his birther comments at the convention in Nashville.
Yeah. I made my voice known to Judson. He’s actually a friend of Judson’s, and Judson Phillips, who is the organizer, has made his point to Joseph Farah, as well. I think, practically speaking, you’re going to hear a very reasoned dialogue from Joseph Farah.
Okay. We’ll see how that works out.
Indeed.
So changing the topic a little bit, how do you square—there was a New York Times poll in April that got a huge amount of secondary press showing that members of the Tea Party are wealthier and more educated than average Americans.
It’s interesting—when you look at the Tea Party demographics 55% are women, and as we know there is a great deal of wealth in the female population of America. I think that the sort of cartoonish association of Tea Partiers as being old white males, Southern, illiterate—
Which you still read—
Which we still read, is simply untrue first of all. I think the obvious nature of the activism in such a short period of time speaks to, I think, the organizational skills of the Tea Party movement and the leadership and indeed the ability to embrace technology, to embrace organization, which are obviously skills that don’t come out of lack of education, lack of intelligence. The reality is that the Tea Party is making a major change. We are seeing that in election after election—not a hundred percent—but as Reagan said, “If you are with me 80% of the time, I’m with you.”
And I think that—the experience I’ve had certainly—is that there are people that are involved in this movement came out of—not what I call a disaffected population but a group of people who heretofore worked every day, paid their taxes, sent their kids to school, went to church and did it all over again the next week. And now they recognize that it’s no longer sufficient to expect their legislative representatives to act on their behalf. In fact, they are antagonistic to them. So as a result, they are now in the streets, if you will, organized and making a difference on a local level, statewide and then nationally.
Why do you think in the press, even this week, you still read most Tea Party members are male?
Yeah, I think it’s again, the narrative doesn’t fit the reality. Right? And if you want to have an antagonistic approach, you cannot have it against women, right? It’s the idea you don’t hit a woman. And the reality is that the Tea Party movement is so overwhelmingly led by women, and so positioned as a majority by women that if they recognized that, then all these antagonistic and derogatory comments are essentially focused on those women. And it will in fact diminish their own credibility. They cannot admit the truth—this is the problem with so many liberal policies—if you look at the facts, and the facts don’t align with your narrative, then you simply ignore the facts. And—look–the Tea Party doesn’t commission these studies—we don’t commission the fact that 13% of the Tea Party is Democratic, roughly 37% are independents, the rest are Republicans. That fact also doesn’t get out in the news. And 55% of them are women doesn’t get out in the news. And the fact that they’re wealthier and smarter on average, more educated I should say, on average doesn’t get out in the news, ‘cause it doesn’t fit with the narrative of the derogatory, dumb Southern hick mentality racist—which is essential to their ability to disparage the movement, and diminish its effectiveness–which is obviously not happening because we’re seeing too many successes.

I think what I would say is that politicos don’t know what to make of the Tea Party movement. So at first you heard mostly they were uneducated hicks, then you heard they’re wealthier and more educated, and it seems to swing back and forth.
Yeah, I think maybe there are news elements that have not caught up with the reality perhaps. My own view is I would rather just get the vote out and win elections.
You mentioned “Reagan and the 80%.” About the failures that the Tea Party has had, there has been a recent Washington Post poll showing that the Tea Party is losing support.
That’s a very cheap poll. Actually, I worked with Michael Leahy on analyzing that poll, and it was disproportionately Democrat sampling. I forget the exact number, but it was almost 60% Democrat sampling. So you had a skewing of the data once again, and the Washington Post, which has been no friend of the Tea Party I believe, was not clear about that skewing. I think, I’ve read other polls which still see a very strong support. I think what is happening, it will agree, is that those who are typically independent perhaps may see—may see—that the non-partisan nature of the Tea Party, which frankly is a conservative movement, is trending Republican largely because you’re not going to vote for a third party. This is not a third party movement. So as that evidence becomes apparent, those who were perhaps left-of-center leaning may feel that way. But in general I think it is frankly a testament to the use of statistics, as I say, “figures lie and liars figure.”
I remember you were supporting Angela McGlowan in the 1st Mississippi congressional district. And she lost–
She lost, regrettably—
She was an outstanding candidate, it seems to me. Educated, personable, knowledgeable.
The big thing we could never get past on her candidacy and I worked very hard on was to get over the fact that she was seen as anti-gun. She had been interviewed a year earlier, slightly less than a year earlier, and had been—engaged in a dialogue on—the young man who was shot on the bus in Chicago—it escapes me at the moment—
I can’t think of his name, too, but I know who you are talking about—
It became an amendment, and she was seen as supporting this gun control issue. And in Mississippi you just don’t get past that. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get past that. And ultimately I think, frankly, when you look at the candidacy, we had eight different people running—that included the independents and the third party and the three candidates for the Republican Party. It was a very large number of candidates who were splitting up the vote. And so Angela, you know—she campaigned well. She is very articulate, a very capable woman, but at the end of the day the mainstream Republican Party backed Nunnelly he did a very good job, ran a very good campaign. Angela could also not get over the fact that she couldn’t get past the gun issue. And in Mississippi, particularly in that district, it’s a problem! And I heard from many Tea Party people, from many 9/12 groups, because I was soliciting and working with those groups, and we tried to change the narrative, but it was just problematic.
The last thing I would suggest about Angela’s candidacy is that she, perhaps, wasn’t seen as from Mississippi anymore. You know, she had been in New York, she had been a Fox News pundit for so long, and author, and so her sort of bona fides of a Mississippian while she may have been there and seen as a Mississippian at one point in her life she was now “the big city girl.”
It makes a difference—
It makes a difference, and in a rural county, in a rural district I should say, it counts on its people from being from there and in there, it makes a difference. That’s just local politics.
You mentioned the huge group of people running in the primary. That’s also been seen as an issue with Dan Burton winning against so many Tea Party candidates in Indiana.
Yeah, I think, and to your point. One of the things we’re trying to do here in Tennessee is we have begun to back a single candidate. Today, in our case in our gubernatorial election Ron Ramsey has gotten the backing from about 40 different Tea Party leaders from around the state. On the 27th we’re having a meeting with fifteen of the largest Tea Party leaders and a number of their membership to vote on a particular candidate, after a candidate symposium which we are holding, in Smyrna, Tennessee, so that we can get behind a single candidate.
I think what’s happening is that more and more Tea Parties are—and Tea Party leadership—are beginning to recognize that in order to wield power you have to be willing to compromise to some degree and to endorse. And this is “real time learning.” For many of these people, they’ve been running these Tea Parties from the beginning as sort of an education & rally mode, right? Signs, rallies, parties, and antagonism. But then at some point you have to be for something and for someone. And it takes a little bit more of the art of compromise. And that’s beginning to happen. Here in Tennessee, as I said, we have very objective evidence of that in our own races, and one could also look at Las Vegas, as you are aware, the Nevada race with Sharron Angle, Tea Party Express backed her versus Tea Party Nation backing Tarkanian. As it turns out, Tea Party Express was a very successful model, and their candidate won. That does not to say there was anything wrong with backing Tarkanian. I think the point is the Tea Party does not have to be a monolith backing a single candidate. However, where they can agree, I think that’s a good idea. Where they can compromise and make that decision, I think that makes the Tea Party voting bloc more substantial. I refer to it as “Tea Party caucus,” if you will.
Because you may have lost an opportunity to get Harry Reid out of office in Nevada.
Although I think Sharron Angle is going to be a tremendous—I will tell you that—it’s interesting—I heard through a friend that they’re gonna use Bill Clinton to try to get Harry Reid back in office, and the focus is—they’ve picked the “sort of weak sister” quote unquote in the Tea Party in Sharron Angle. And are going to try to defeat her because it looks like she is so far ahead of Harry at this moment in time. So they’re gonna pull out all the sort of stops to win again and then sort of diminish the Tea Party. Having said that, we’re forewarned and forearmed, and I think we’ll be very focused on that race coming forward.
I remember when I talked to you in Nashville your strategy was “let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re a nascent organization, or group of organizations. We need to focus on the small, local races, like getting people on county boards, getting people on school boards.” So are you surprised that the Tea Party movement nationwide is having such an effect on larger races?
Well, no, if you look at all these races, it’s not the general at this point. If you think about it, they’re all local, right? I think it’s interesting—they’ve either been special elections, primaries and/or primary run-offs. I think that’s good, because at the end of the day it has not been statewide. In other words–the House is all up for election in one fell swoop, and what we’re seeing is, I think, organizations state-to-state where that’s occurring. Having said that, we’re also seeing a lot of local work, and the national races are more interesting to the news cycle, right? So you’re hearing much more about that. But in our own experience here I was very heavily invested in getting out the vote for the Shelby County primaries and now the general, which occurs in August, focusing on five key candidates, our fifth candidate will be contending here August 5th. Four of our candidates did win that we supported for County Commission. Our candidate for [county] mayor obviously was uncontested so we’ll support him in the general. We also had supported a trustee candidate who lost. We will support the Republican nominee now. So it isn’t that you have to win every one.
We’re focused on winning as many as we can, and supporting and analyzing the candidates effectively. So in the case coming back to the gubernatorial election here, which is statewide, we have produced the associated questionnaire of the candidates to include the Democratic and the independents running. We’ve produced that and published that. And as I said, the Tea Party will be making a decision on backing a particular candidate in the state of Tennessee.
So would it have to be a Republican?
I think in general it’s going to be a Republican. It does not have to be. Look, practically, and I think I shared this with you in Nashville, I am not non-partisan. I am conservative in my views. And in that sense one would see with all the actions of this administration and all the Democrats there is no longer the notion of a Blue Dog, there is no longer the notion, evidence to me of a pro-life Democrat. And therefore in that context their conservative values and bona fides are just not there. So I’m not wasting my time trying to figure out, to find that one needle in the haystack of a conservative Democrat. I’m going to go and try to change the party that I still embrace because of its conservative platform, the Republican Party, and so in that case we’ve got three people who are running for Shelby Election Commission, state committee positions. Three Tea Party members. All who are for the first time running. And a fourth who is actually a good friend of mine who is not quote unquote a Tea Party guy per se, but he embraces the Tea Party values. So we’re supporting them in the election commission.
In a strange way that brings me around to another question. The relationship of Sarah Palin to the Tea Party movement.
It’s interesting, I had a long interview with AP on this very issue. AP Alaska was talking to me just this Monday, and I think that when we look at Sarah Palin, she’ sorta been called the Queen of the Tea Party, I think that Sarah Palin is a good voice which resonates with the Tea Party. I don’t think that she is a representative politician of the Tea Party. I think that at the end of the day she is a practical conservative. She’s pragmatic. She has judiciously used her skills to endorse certain candidates—
Not all Tea Party candidates—not in California, not in Texas–
That is correct. Which is perfectly fine. Again, I actually believe in democracy. A democratic republic. Therefore, 80% with me is with me. So I think that what she does—the interesting thing about Sarah Palin now I think, with Haley, is that we’re beginning to see some extraordinary conservative women. I mean Meg Whitman, of course. And Carly Fiorina. And Sharron Angle. And we’re seeing these extraordinary conservative women—what I’m excited about—and quite frankly incensed that the MEN in our Senate and Congress have shown little to no leadership skills—save for perhaps a Jim DeMint. And yet these conservative women are coming forward, who are extraordinary, who are charismatic, who have their skills and their background. And interestingly, they are coming forward at a time when the Tea Party itself is maturing, in terms of its political clout, to a degree. And one almost sees that this 55% number that I spoke about earlier is being reflected in the general election demographic as well, because women are seeing the necessity to step up and to lead where they have gotten tired of men who have longed played the “old boy” game.
So I must say that’s what I find encouraging. And Sarah Palin, to a large degree I believe, broke that barrier, and created that opportunity for conservative women to step forward. That’s where I think she has been a true change agent in the political environment.
So you would say she had the moment, the charisma that, say, a longtime politico like Kay Bailey Hutchison didn’t.
It was Grandma versus the girl next door. That’s right. She is the next generation. I think, having been able to sit with her at the convention,–
Palin–
There was this great—as I observed her—there was this great sense of fragility in her demeanor. She is so, how do I want to say this, seems so vulnerable, but yet she is so very strong. And she has a spiritual element about her—her conviction is evident—and when she gets up, she is extraordinary in her absolute certainty about who and what she believes. And therefore, I think that, as we said, the moment of her selection, her having campaigned and what I think now is a continuing crafting of her skills which we’re seeing, not as far as she needs to go, but she’s got plenty of time if she wants to run for president. But she’s crafting those skills and getting better at sort of addressing the issues. Her experience on a national level is improving. I think it’s a very positive result. But that is why I believe it has opened the door for so many people to run in this particular cycle—so many women I should say.
One of the things I thought was interesting at the Tea Party convention in Nashville was—I observed a nuanced relationship between the conventioneers who were there and Sarah Palin. Like so many of the conventioneers left before the night she appeared and spoke. Partly for financial reasons—not everybody wanted to spend the money. But also when I interviewed people, not everybody who came to the convention and wanted to learn better ways of running their local tea party—not all of them were huge Palin supporters.
I even pointed out to the AP interviewer, I said, you know, from my own view I would like to see Sarah Palin get into the secondary and the tertiary levels of discussion. She tends to run a risk of becoming too clichÈd. She’s on these what I call “quick hits”—whether it ‘s a pundit on Fox or her interviews. I would like to see her more on a “Meet the Press.” I would like to see her get into those secondary and tertiary levels of discussion on policies, whether it’s the Gulf oil spill, which she should have great insights into, given her relationship with the oil industry, and be able to discuss what was problematic. Not that Obama screwed up, but here is what I would have done had I been president. You know, those are the things I think that if she is to be a credible presidential candidate, she is not by any stretch of the imagination a lightweight intellectual, but she is in my opinion put in positions that do not allow her to generate the kind of, what I call, weighty analysis—
Gravitas—
Gravitas, yes. I think that’s so important for the next president, because we are not going to trust hopey and changey things anymore. We’re gonna ask for the bona fides. And you better be able to back it up.
Well, if you see Sarah Palin again, Mark, you can tell her that Jake Tapper wants her on his Sunday morning talk show. He tweeted her supporters to ask her to come be on. Just for that reason.
I think she would do herself a great—she should be on those, what I call you know scholarly almost, challenging Sunday morning shows that tend to be more about issues and more detailed discussions, because I think definitely she could show her gravitas, should she so choose.
But she may not just be ready to do that, or want to do that. She is being very careful in managing, I think, to her own beat, if you will, her candidacy or her possible candidacy. And to that extent I’ll defer to her team and to her strategy, because she ain’t goin back to that you know—what was it called—not street fights—what was that old movie—gosh—Fight Club. She’s not goin back into the fight club. She doesn’t need to that. Now she can pick and choose. She’s got enough money. And she can manage her image and her approach to coincide with her political objectives, should she so desire to run.
What I thought was so interesting about Sarah Palin’s appearance in Nashville was it was clear she got the Tea Party Movement, she understood what it was about, without being a part of it herself.
Yeah.
And being able to bridge those two worlds and be in both worlds at the same time. I thought it was fascinating.
I think that speaks to the pragmatic element of the Tea Party movement. Which is pragmatic conservatism. It is not this rabid move to the right. It is fiscal responsibility. What does that mean? It means if we are going to pay our money to you and you are going to use our taxes, use them responsibly, don’t spend it to increase your power, don’t spend it to promise things you can’t deliver, and don’t spend it on things that are unnecessary to govern. Within the context of the second element, constitutionally limited government.
Constitutionally limited government believes in the fact that the Constitution enables the government to do what it should do, and those things that are not specifically enumerated should be dealt with by the States. And finally free markets.
And she embraces all of those. She was fiscally responsible in Alaska, no matter how you want to talk about it, the Bridge to Nowhere she refused—granted that cycle process took some time. She was about reducing the size of government. She effectively did. And she was about free markets. She was very effective. On the other hand she wasn’t rampant. She changed the old boy network, she challenged the oil industry and she regulated where it was necessary for the people of Alaska. So she was a good balance I think to that pragmatic conservatism that most Tea Party people I think embrace.
Just to change the topic again a little bit. Recently, I was talking with some workers, some leaders with MoveOn.org, and with Act Blue. And they tried to write off to me the Tea Party movement as a “shill of corporate interests.”
Boy, I wish that were the case, because then I wouldn’t have to work so hard just to raise a few thousand dollars here and there. Look, this is just nonsense, in the sense that, first of all, the myriad number of quote unquote pacs, including my own, the Tea Party Pac, file FEC reports every quarter. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t huge dollars coming in from anywhere. In fact, the reason I formed my own pac was so that I could endorse candidates because as a 51C3 I am limited as to what I can do. Through the affiliated pac, I can endorse candidates (not a specific candidate), I can promote various aspects of their get-out-the-vote strategies, etcetera.
I think the guys that have it right, frankly, are Tea Party Express. They’ve raised a lot of money. They’ve used that money to back certain candidates and issues and they’ve been successful at it. MoveOn.org itself is the beneficiary of a lot of George Soros’s money. I would say they are not subjected to corporate interests, they are subjected to one man’s interest. So in that sense there is no evidence, whatsoever, whatsoever, in any of the associated pacs that are run by various Tea Party leaders or the Tea Parties themselves that show bank accounts that could even substantiate those allegations.
You bring up Tea Party Express. A common take now on Tea Party Express is that it is Astroturf. That the Republican Party has co-opted it. It was started by a couple of lobbyists out of Sacramento.
Yeah, but here’s a good point. You know Sharron Angle was not the Republican pick, okay? She was not the machine pick. She was the Tea Party Express pick. I would tell you that I think they have been—they came out of Republican consulting, yes, but believe me they are not—I know a number of the leaders there—they are not run at all by the Republican Party. They are free agents.
As far as you know, has the Republican Party, the national Republican Party, tried to co-opt them?
Not to my knowledge. Amy Kramer is a good friend of mine, who is one of their board members and does a lot of work, and Amy—
I was going to ask you about her—
She is just a terrific lady. She runs her own grassroots organization, and does do get-out-the-vote strategies in Atlanta. Very active in assembling rallies. She’s done Code Red rallies in D.C. So that’s hardly Astroturf.
But I think what Tea Party Express has done is balance an element of what I call “the old-time minstrel shows” to the Bus. Nothing wrong with that, by the way. That’s shtick, if you will. Plays well in Searchlight, Nevada and many other locations. Nothing wrong with that. You get the crowd in, you get them motivated. Then you get them out to vote.
They have used their money judiciously, not paying themselves exorbitant fees—nothing to suggest that—and they’re putting lots of the money into races. And those races are winning. So I would like to have another thousand Tea Party Expresses, frankly, in the Tea Party movement, that is that successful, that focused. And that effective on raising and using money.
So do you think they are doing a good job? I particularly remember the Searchlight Rally. The national take on that was that it was a Republican top-down run event.
Not at all. Oh my gosh. I know so many of the folks that were involved in that from Tea Party Nation, and Judson Phillips was out there, and Amy Kramer, and many of the other leaders, and the St. Louis Tea Party and Dallas. I mean everyone was blogging and pushing people there, including our own Memphis Tea Party had several people go out. I couldn’t be there because I was in Washington three weeks straight.
I would like to have corporate sponsors because I ran out of dollars. So, no, that simply wasn’t true. And I think it was interesting of course because Harry Reid himself is just a guy that you love to hate. I mean, he is the sad sack of the Senate. And you know frankly those people turned out by their own desire to be there and to evidence they were against what Harry Reid was doing.
So what do you think will be the best way for Sharron Angle to prevail over Harry Reid?
I think she needs to clearly express her positions more firmly, more at the level of detail. You know she’s been criticized because she said we should eliminate Social Security, the Department of Energy, etcetera, etcetera. Well, first of all, I agree we shouldn’t have a department of energy, I agree the department of education, the national health, the arts—these are unnecessary and frankly not constitutionally authorized. The Commerce Department, etc. So tell me WHY you should eliminate those.
What she is going to be in trouble over is Social Security.
Her comments—and I read a little bit more about what her views are—is really about not eliminating but moving towards more privatization of that because the truth of the matter is it is bankrupt. We are now cashing those IOUs by printing money and paying it off. So she has a very practical awareness—it’s truth to power, the Social Security Administration and the Social Security fund are in trouble. Now you have to do something.
Either we’re gonna raise your retirement age or means test Social Security or raise the contribution levels to “unlimited.” There are only several ways you can solve it. It’s either more money or reduction of benefits, or both. She recognizes that. And she said so. First thing they said, oh my God, you’re gonna throw all the Seniors out! Like yourself, I’m a little old, too. I’ll be 65 in nine years, and I’m not going to see any of my Social Security. It’s not there. So you know what? If you want to raise the age to 70, it’s okay with me, because it’s not there for me now at 65. So let’s get over this nonsense, and stop lying to ourselves about the problems that we’re facing and let us really fully deal with that.
Means testing is important. But not in the context of disallowing. I think that wealthy people should be looked at in the context of paying their fair share in an unlimited fashion—at the same time, it should be invested in a private account. For all of us. And we should be able to take our money out through that private account. And there are ways in which to do that. And what we should do—where Bush had it right—the move to a public/private approach, was, I think, the right way to go. We could have forestalled some of these problems we are facing now.
But if we had gone that route, with the implosion of the stock market, we would be having problems.
We may have been. But I think the truth of the matter is there could be vehicles by which you could craft—I have a good friend here who does nothing but manage annuities—all of his clients are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, they lost no money. There are ways in which you leverage and use various annuity structures to mitigate against that. You don’t get paid as much on the upside, but you don’t have any downside limit as well. And today I was reading—the millionaires are back to where they were before the crash. They have been able to re-accumulate their wealth.
Glenn Beck. Another person who is yoked to the Tea Party movement. What is your take on that.
I don’t think he’s yoked to the tea party—I think he loves the tea party movement because of his interest in constitutional limited government platform. I think he embraces activism in America, for patriots, right? He came out with his 9/12 principles and values. And I think, in the context, the 9/12 groups have not been as evident as have the tea parties. Right? The Tea Party movement is comprised of a lot of 9/12 groups, and I think he is seeing the opportunity to support that level of activism because it’s a way in which you can educate and begin to associate activism with actions, and in that sense I think Glenn Beck is well-regarded.
I love Glenn Beck, I love listening to him, sometimes he’s a bit more gloom n doom than I like to hear. But I think his Founders’ Fridays are extraordinarily informative. He has some great speakers on. And the things that he says are quite true and quite valuable if you are willing to listen and get beyond sort of “there is no hope”—people have accused him of suggesting that—I don’t believe that at all—I think what he’s saying is, look, ‘Get off our behinds and take some actions.’ And he has the pulpit of radio and TV as a way to do that.
I’m grateful for having that kind of voice. He’s also one that’s been very antagonistic to this charge of racism, charge of violence, association with the Nazis, etcetera. He has been able to refute that very effectively on his show.
So it doesn’t bother you that pundits typically say Tea Party, Palin, Beck?
No. Because at the end of the day those pundits can’t come to Memphis, Tennessee and vote. They can’t do anything at all to me or to our movement. And as long as people like myself continue to lead, and suggest to people look it is not in the names you are called but in the actions of your efforts and the results of those same efforts, it is irrelevant what they say.
And by the way, you know, I think one has to recognize is that this is hardball. Not Chris Mathews Hardball—although he’s a guy who tried to disparage the Tea Party movement heavily, with “The Rising Right,” or whatever it was called. I think people have to recognize that there is going to be a challenge to any political movement that seems to be effective and particularly that movement which is so antagonistic to the progressive, liberal agenda. As the Tea Party movement is. And in that sense, it is a threat to all of their efforts.
And I would suggest to you that this president would have long and away been done with much of what he wanted to do if the Tea Party wasn’t here. I think it forestalled health care. 62% of the people still want to see a repeal of that law. Because they understand how detrimental it is to America. I think that the awareness on spending has now had an impact on the Democratic agenda because they are now no longer willing to extend more and more stimulus dollars to favored status groups—
Unemployment benefits—
Unemployment benefits. And frankly at some point you gotta get back and go to work. Take a job. There are jobs to be had.
The other interesting thing that I have observed, with respect to some of the punditry, calling out the Tea Party, is as many times as they try to do that, we’re now seeing evidence time and again through election cycles, that are occuring over and over again, where those words are ringing more and more hollow. At some point in time, it’s sort of like, you guys can shout all you want, but we’re down on the ground getting votes out, getting people elected, and maybe 80% of the time, 50%, I mean–all I have to be is effective 51 out of 100 times and I win every time.
You’re a hundred percent electing Republicans—so the current meme is: “let’s get real here, practically speaking, the Tea Party movement is a branch of the Republican Party.”
No. The question is: are we a branch of the Republican Party? Or are we using the Republican Party to insure that we get responsive servants elected? Look, in our own state of Tennessee Bob Corker tried initially to side with Chris Dodd to get a financial re-regulation bill passed. Earlier this year. I sent out a memo, as did other tea parties, we protested at his offices, we sent notes to his office, we had his phone—
Ringing off the hook?
Ringing off the hook. Because I was antagonistic to his RINO philosophies, because Marsha Blackburn, as she understood, this regulation, which by the way is 1900 pages long, is going to hurt small business. In fact, it had regulations and the authority of the regulations that would suggest that if a dentist gave you credit, he would be covered by this new regulation, as such.
So Corker backed down and moved away from working with Chris Dodd. It was a disgrace a Senator from Connecticut who used his position of power to get self-dealing opportunities through his mortgage, what was it—the big mortgage company–
Countrywide—
Thank you. I have senior moments like that. But seriously at the end of the day, the Tea Party holds people like Corker and Alexander accountable for their actions. And so in that sense I think what we’re saying is that the movement says, ‘Look, Republican Party, we have no illusions about trying to create a third party. That is basically a stupid idea.” On the other hand, we’re not going to take over the Democratic Party because it’s too ingrained in this liberalism. In fact, it’s been co-opted by the Marxists, okay? And the far left progressives. So, if we look at the Republican Party, it is, as I referred to, the infrastructure and the associated power positions to help that and to support, to promote various candidates. So you might as well do a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, by getting people into these seats. Utah did it. Where a large majority of the Utah Republican Party representatives are now Tea Party members. We are beginning to do that here in Tennessee. You are going to see more and more of that, where the Tea Party people are coming in to contend for these seats. So that we can vet candidates, support candidates that are more aligned with those three key goals that we have as a movement.
You can say I’m aligned with the Republicans. I agree. The Tea Party movement must be aligned with the party in order to win—that’s how you win elections. So are you gonna align with the Republicans or with the Democrats? Nothing over there in the Democrat Party that I embrace, so I’m gonna align with the Republicans. But it’s gonna be aligned with responsible Republican leadership that actually insures it is responsive to the people which we have not seen thus far, on either side of the House, and the Senate. And it’s gonna be aligned with core values: smaller government, less taxation, less spending, free markets.
When we see people like Corker and others, even Richard Shelby, trying to figure out compromise on this financial re-regulation, which we know is going to be detrimental. Which we see the kinds of efforts that are being undertaken with respect to accommodating through cap and trade as South Carolina Senator, um—
Lindsey Graham—
Lindsey Graham. I mean these people! Right now this party should not have been the “Party of No,” it should have been the “Party of Hell, No!” In fact, pass nothing until after 2010 elections, and then let’s see where we’re at. Let’s see what the ballots look like and then begin to work a compromise. Because today there is no compromise in the House and Senate. There is no compromise from the left. This is the most partisan White House and administration ever. They do not include the Republicans in any form or fashion of governance. In that sense, you have to object to everything then, hold your ground, let the cavalry come in and then figure out what you have to have a more balanced compromise possible. Compromise takes both sides. Right now the Left sees this as their progressive nirvana. My view is it’s build a firewall and hold them off.
You are talking about progressives on the Left.
That’s the problem with the Left. They’re hateful. They use words like you’ve never heard. For women. For this movement. That use of “teabaggers,” a pejorative. The kind of names they’ve called people—rolled out and trotted out allegations of infidelity on every woman, including Sarah Palin. That this wasn’t her baby. And so you see how they attack. They attack in ways that are so ugly, because they are incapable—let me be very clear—liberals are incapable of generating ideas which resolve problems because their entire DNA is made up of a simple idea: more government is better, and let’s take your money and give it to somebody else who doesn’t earn it. That’s their whole mantra.
After you say those two things, there are no solutions. And then you have to turn to what they do today—which is to suggest that Haley is a two-timer, a three-time screwing around—
Mentioning Haley, Republican politics in South Carolina is not too nice either.
It’s never too nice. But that’s Republicans generally. I should say politics generally. Pardon me. It’s never nice, right? It’s war. And if you’re not willing to get into that—I mean, I don’t read the blogs about me, because—unless I read your blog, because you’re always nice—but seriously, I don’t read the blogs because there’s no reason to get myself caught up in the pejoratives and the commentary.
I don’t read the blogs about me either for the same reason.
The truth of the matter is it wouldn’t change my attitudes about what I’m trying to do. There’s a conviction, I can make the case. I’m not going to attack you as a person. That was why I was so against the “birther” notion. I’m not attacking Obama as a human being. On my radio show, I’ll do sarcastic commentary, you know, but that’s sort of entertainment. But I will not attack him in terms of my role as a Tea Party leader. I will attack his policies, because I think they’re wrong for America. And they are wrong because they increase debt. And they restrict my freedoms. Or they err, in my view at least up until the Supreme Court reviews [them as] constitutional. And I think things like abrogating bondholder and shareholder rights in the takeover of Chrysler and General Motors was problematic.
I think that may cost us a lot down the road.
He’s bailing out all the unions. He doesn’t reject, suspend the Jones Act, which requires that union workers on the Gulf, because he doesn’t want to take a dozen international countries that want to help. This is the guy who said all the world is going to love us—we’re America. And they tried to jump in, and he wouldn’t let them. His ideology is so wrong for America. And so in that sense there are so many things that I can attack that I don’t have to attack you.
Let’s bring it back to Corker and the Dodds bill for a minute. Another thing that struck me in Nashville was how many conventioneers, men and women, were small businesspeople. So do you think the influence of the Tea Party is going to bring the Republican Party away from [being] the party of big business?
Anybody who is in government today and doesn’t recognize that jobs get created through small business and not through big business is going to fail in the future.
Well, everybody pays lip service to that. Obama pays lip service to small businessmen all the time.
Yes, but they never do anything about it. The reason we are not getting any growth right now in jobs is that small businessmen can’t get loans. The government—first of all, is taking up all our capital through its financing requirements. The big corporations have the balance sheets to sustain the loans that are wanted to be granted by banks. And the small guy isn’t able to get any funding. So we know from statistics—Heritage has produced a study–60% of all new jobs are created in companies five years or younger. And on an attrition basis going forward the comparison between those five-year or younger companies and big corporations is about the same. In other words, young companies lose about as many jobs on average as a percentage as do large corporations on a mature, longterm level. But large corporations don’t create as many new jobs by comparison to the small businesses.
In a way, doesn’t this refute something you’ve just been saying? Because so many new businesses, small businesses fail. With that failure rate, you can see the banks are now burned. Local banks don’t want to lend. So don’t you need the government to come in and make a program that encourages banks to lend to small businesses?
No, oh no, I think, banks will find loans to make when cash is available. Two things happened right now. One is we have never had the financing requirements at the federal government that we have today. Never in the history. Not even under the Bush terms. Secondly, the changes in the reserve requirements for all banks has substantially occurred. And third, you have this re-regulation bill, which is still out there. So if you are a bank, or a lending institution—
Well, the uncertainty is killing right now–
It’s killing everything. That’s my point exactly. And that just happens to be one of many points of uncertainty. So small business doesn’t need the help. It doesn’t need government to come in and do anything. What small business needs is for government to get out of the way.
Think about this. The reason we have so many problems right now is because there is so much perturbation in the system. There is so much sort of violent impact of regulation and lack of clarity in regulation on a go-forward basis. Banks, business people, they don’t—
Health care regulations. No business knows exactly what they are going to be hit for.
Exactly. And no one has come around and said ‘boy, this is good for us.’ You’ve heard no one say ‘what a good deal this is.’ And so what you’re having actually happen already is they are beginning to drop their care, saying I’m not gonna buy it for you.’ So, if you are a big corporation, it is easy for you to go to China or India or a developing nation where there’s no regulations, no litigation and no liabilities, no workplace rules, and put up a new business, sourcing itself somewhere else. Or do you come to the United States, with all this indecision, lack of clarity on regulation, re-regulation and current regulation, and say, “Gosh, I want to come here and do business.”
The answer should be obvious to any business person. I mean I spent–
Well, if Whitman wins in California, it will be because she was able to make that case to California voters with a great deal of clarity. Which is a hard thing to do actually on the campaign trail. It’s a complicated subject.
There is no soundbite. That’s why when we were talking about Palin, it does take that level of—unfortunately—discussion, which does not translate well into soundbites. I mean, after you get past the point where you got to cut our budget, cut spending, make us more efficient—well then the reality sets in. What does that mean? Well the first thing progressives say it’s less cops, less teachers, less firemen. Well, how about this idea? Keep the cops, keep the teachers, keep the firemen but cut all the legislators. Close federal buildings. Cut your service for a day—reduce the post office to five days a week. We don’t need Saturdays anymore. Etcetera. Etcetera. Who do you have appointed to your various agencies today that are non-productive? The first thing that progressives and liberals do is try to hurt the average person by taking away the things that are obvious—police, fire and teachers. They don’t talk about all those—in Shelby County, to give you a perspective, our former mayor, A. C. Wharton, during his tenure, appointed 180 jobs. Mayoral appointments. Fully within his authority. But they don’t do any—they’re just appointments. The average salary for those is about $100,000 a year. What are these people doing there? Cut ‘em. They should be gone tomorrow.
And by the way, the graft and corruption at the state and local levels is far and away worse than anything that happens at the federal level. At the federal level the numbers are so big you could write the check for something as a rounding error. But at the local levels is where you make those changes happen.
And that’s why I think Meg Whitman, who frankly I think can make a difference, although it will be hard for her, because as you know the California Assembly legislative structure makes it almost impossible to accommodate compromise of any kind. So the crisis is going to get to the point where they make a decision to work together and really cut. Or not. Otherwise it fails.
Now I don’t want any of my tax dollars going to help the state. I don’t have all those freebies, I don’t have all the education, all the sanctuary city stuff. If you want that, I say, “Go for it, Los Angeles. Go for it, San Francisco. Have a good day. It’s all yours. But you own it. Not me. I have no with problem with your state’s rights.” So if California wins or loses, it should win or lose on the basis of its own good or bad decisions.
As you know, jobs are leaving there in force. So what you are left with is basically urban centers like Los Angeles, where job creation is nil. Silicon Valley, which is still vibrant, but which is moving overseas. And then San Francisco, which is a community unto itself. I guess my point is that the challenges to our state governments is such that we don’t have strong leaders and a legislature that truly cares about the people. Which is why the local elections are so important.
We have to get people who listen and are willing to work to take the hard decisions. That’s a challenge. That’s a multi-election-cycle effort, to be sure. It’s not gonna happen in 2010, or 2012. But we have to start. If we were to throw up our hands and say “reform is dead, walk away,” then we would be foolish. And California is in debt. California has some huge problems, which may or may not be solved in the next decade but they can be solved. It takes some boldness. And frankly the realization that the federal government is not going to bail you out.
It’s this whole issue—when I looked at how the Los Angeles school district was penalizing Arizona—supposedly, right? I found it amusing because at the end of the day California gets so much of its energy from the state of Arizona. And because it’s not in my backyard. They get everything from out of state then say how stupid you are. Who provide us with all this stuff.
This is the problem whenever you try to balkanize relationships—this is why I’m anti-boycott. You have to realize you have a pile of dollars, and they are not your dollars, federal and state government, they are our dollars. And I agree we have to pay a certain level of taxation because we are enabled by federal and state and local agencies to have good quality libraries and schools and public infrastructure and all. I don’t disagree that those are things that are necessary and desirable. But I also believe when that is dealt with in a reasonable fashion, those same governmental agencies have to recognize “there is no more.”
We have not had a single contraction of government in the twentieth century. And now in the twenty-first century it is even more. Where else in the world have you ever seen a lack of contraction of any sort of government agencies except in America? How can this be? How can corporations downsize, right size, outsource, and the federal government just keeps growing and growing and growing. It’s not possible. And yet all these people believe—and as you know the shoe that is about to drop is the public pensions. That’s gone. Cities are going to have to declare bankruptcy because they are unfunded. They are just not going to be there. Just like mine’s not there. I have a public-funded pension. That’s my Social Security.
Not all the conventioneers were in favor of our involvement in Afghanistan. So it is more nuanced, am I right?
It is more nuanced. Look, that’s why I don’t like to get in foreign policy issues with the Tea Party movement. That’s why we focus on things like fiscal responsibility, smaller government and free markets then some of these things are going to be limited by virtue of limiting those elements. If government doesn’t have all the money to do what it cares to do, then it won’t do some of those things. It will make the tougher choices. Which ultimately it must.
Afghanistan is now a challenge for any president. Bush or Obama. But the truth of the matter is you don’t go into a war and not want to win it. I think that ‘s what we ultimately did with all the associated combinations. Foreign policy—it is a nuanced issue within the movement.
Just one final question. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos blog, what would be a scenario where you think where—you talk about the need to get around balkanization—a Tea Party group of leaders could come together and talk with a group of Daily Kos or MoveOn? Is that too pie in the sky?
I think that right now we’re trying to fix the conservative movement, right? What I have found from my own experience is, when I was discussing things with the New York Times and several other more liberal papers—one thing I was very clear about, and I felt I was treated very fairly in the interviews, the reflection of my comments in those interviews. One thing I didn’t do was attack them or their institutions. I didn’t have to, I didn’t want to. I can disagree with you, but I can disagree graciously. And what I found was, in that opening, which I was very clear about in any interviews I took, is that people respected me for that—I think. At least, were willing to have the dialogue. And reflect fairly my comments without making me to look like a cartoonish figure.
I believe that ultimately that is something that needs to happen. I think we are so polarized right now, it’s going to have to happen later. It’s going to have to happen under a different president. Because this president has very effectively balkanized this nation. Very effectively. In a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more divisive figure. To go from what was “hope and change” with a lot of folks voting for him, 62 million folks voting for him, to where he stands today. Without having simply misled that group of people. And when you have imbued that level of emotion, and that level of expectation in an individual and that individual fails you, you—I know a lot of people that were of that ilk—they are hurt, they are unwilling to talk about it, they are unwilling to admit the problem. And until you get to that point, it is hard to have those dialogues. I would love to have a chance to talk, but just not right now. I think it would be good to have that dialogue—not on the record, but to have that dialogue.
We talk about it here—you and I had lunch in this city—we have a very demographically bifurcated—a very large African-American population here, and in South Memphis; and a very white population in the suburbs, although a number of suburbs like Cordova and Bartlett are not. It takes an effort to make those connections, to work together. It’s something that we do on a local basis, that I do on a local basis. And so why wouldn’t I want to do it on a political basis? But right now I have so much work to do in my quote unquote own party and the efforts I am undertaking, I don’t know if I have enough energy or time for that today.
We are in a battle of hearts and minds, and I would like to say that the battle can be had in a way that is respectful but tough, very tough—and we’ll see how it turns out in 2010

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