Who is afraid of the TEA Party? An interview with Dallas Tea Party leader Russ Ramsland
by Debbie Georgatos on July 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM
This is the first in a series of interviews this writer will present in an effort to paint a more full and accurate picture than one can find in mainstream media, of the most dynamic, commonly misrepresented, sometimes feared, increasingly impactful, and intentionally decentralized political movement in America today---the Tea Party.
Below is an interview with Russ Ramsland—who is among the leaders of the Dallas area Tea Party organizations, and is also the head of one of the local community based Tea Party groups-- the Park Cities/Preston Hollow Tea Party.
I attended their July 19th meeting, and even in the middle of summer vacation time and the Dallas heat, more than 70 people were in attendance, a racially diverse and slightly older crowd. Discussion topics included a summary of the just completed Texas legislative session, the poor behavior of some elected Democrats on our County Commissioners’ Court, and an introduction of a new State Rep candidate. Lots of Q&A…lots of energy.
A quick bio on Russ---he has his undergraduate degree in political science from Duke University, and his MBA from Harvard. He is a successful serial entrepreneur, having worked in the Middle East, the South Pacific and in Europe, and in various professional fields including in the oil and gas drilling business, commercial real estate development, as a CFO in a residential broadband company, and a business consultant.
Perhaps of most interest to conservatives--Russ’ political background includes work in the Reagan White House on some very advanced semi-conductor material development that was a component in Star Wars. He also worked for the Reagan Campaign in 1979 and 1980, and with the Phil Gramm campaign (when Gramm was still a Democrat!) in West Texas.
Russ refers frequently to an “oligarchy”—and just to be sure I looked it up—it means “government by the few.” Because that concept weaves deeply into his thinking, I decided to share the definition with you.
Debbie Georgatos: Why do you think the Tea Party came into being?
Russ Ramsland: ..the Tea Party I think is …. best understood as the old Reagan conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, come back to life. And it’s a response very much like the response was to Jimmy Carter, only this time the situation is much, much worse.
Debbie Georgatos: The original Tea Party in 1773, which we all learned about in school growing up, was inspired by love of freedom, and the perception that freedom could not be found under the repressive rule of King George……do you see similarities to the sentiments of Americans today that gave rise to the modern Tea Party?
Russ Ramsland: I think there is a similarity to the extent that the original Tea Party was a rebellion against an oligarchy, in that case a monarchy, and the belief was that there was a better way for people to live and govern themselves than under an oligarchy. And to the extent we have a group today that is very much focused on socialism, which is a form of oligarchy, there are similarities. A more recent parallel was the rise of conservatism under Reagan after the rise of socialism that was coming about under Carter.
Debbie Georgatos: Why is the Tea Party so popular today in America?
Russ Ramsland: I believe that there has been a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party. There was a time when both the Democrats and the Republicans had at least the same underpinnings of belief, and that was the Constitution and the Rule of Law. And you could argue about exactly how to work within that framework, but you still believed in those two items.
The Democrat Party of today has moved way beyond that. They have moved back to really wanting an oligarchy—socialism or whatever.
They are oligarchists—no longer a party that believes in the rule of law. They believe in the rule by elite with a certain amount of what today we call crony capitalism, and in the 40’s we would have called it economic fascism, and referred to the German model for how government and industry cooperated to a very large scale.
It is so inimical to the American system…what is in the Administration today, that the American people have become first increasingly fearful and now increasingly emboldened. They have rediscovered that they really can affect the process—they really can have a government of the people, for the people and by the people, as opposed to a government of elites that can function totally independently and ignore the people.
The Tea Party is a popular uprising and a desire to return to the more traditional American system, as opposed to allowing it to be converted into an oligarchy.
Debbie Georgatos: What is the relationship or connection between Tea Party groups around the country?
Russ Ramsland: Tea Parties are hard for politicians and the media to understand because they are true grassroots organizations. There is not a national organization, no top-down structure, not an overarching structure. It is truly a bottom-up structure and every Tea Party is a little different. They are the purist form of a working democracy at the grassroots level…. It’s really more of an educational, an informative group.
It is in no sense a political party but it is a political expression to the extent it gets people invigorated and educated and into the process.
Undergirding the Tea Party is the belief that Civics is something we haven’t done for a long time---that the American system has been such an incredible success for a long, long time, has offered so much hope to the world, has been such a hands-down winner that for too long we have felt like it would run on auto-pilot. And the truth of the matter is, and the Founding Fathers spoke to this idea, we must constantly be vigilant, we must constantly work within it, or we will lose it. And their words were of course prescient because that’s what we believe we are facing today.
The Tea Party is dedicated to the idea that Civics is something that everybody ought to dedicate an hour or two a week to, just like you would contribute an hour or two to your church or your charity work….that is your duty as a citizen and we try to teach….how you can do that.
Debbie Georgatos: What would your describe as the main tenets or the main principles the Tea Party stands for?
Russ Ramsland: " ..the Tea Party is fundamentally all about fiscal conservatism… it is really not about social issues. The Tea Party is dedicated first and foremost to limited government. It is dedicated to the idea of individual liberty and freedom, but is not a libertarian group by any means. It does believe you need to live within your means, be fiscally conservative. It believes in low taxation and less regulation as opposed to more."
Debbie Georgatos: Is one of the thoughts behind the Tea Party the strong support of the Constitution?
Russ Ramsland: Yes—that comes with the whole idea of limited government. The whole idea of limited government is that government is limited by or should be, by the Constitution, and if you’re following the Constitution and the rule of law, as opposed to the oligarchical concept of following whoever happens to be on the throne at the time…. if you believe in a Constitution and the rule of law, then our Constitution says you will end up with federalism which is a limited central government and a dispersal of control far outside of Washington to the states and local level where people are best informed and best able to manage most of the issues of the country.
Debbie Georgatos: Do you think most people in the Tea Party have strong feelings about foreign policy and national defense?
Russ Ramsland: I think they do, but as far as the Tea Party itself, it has a “we believe in a strong national defense” position, but the interpretation of what that means policy-by-policy is a little more amorphous. In general the Tea Party believes in a strong national defense, and in an independent America, not in an America that is governed under the auspices, for example of the UN.
Debbie Georgatos: Is there some event that if it occurred, the Tea Party leaders would say “OK—mission accomplished.” Or put another way, is the tea Party short-lived or is it here to stay?
Russ Ramsland: I think the Tea Party is an awakening, and I’ve run the local Tea Party group for going on three years and I am getting as many new members now every week or month as ever before, if not even more. I am seeing more and more people begin to wake up, begin to become concerned. It is a growing situation, as opposed to a static one.
The Tea Party is not about … the healthcare takeover, although that is a festering sore, but it is really addressing the larger problem of reasserting that the government works for the people, and doesn’t rule over them. It’s about teaching people about the system and how to get engaged in the system, and that’s an ongoing thing.
The Tea Party is also morphing…it still does the…public rallies, but that is a smaller part. The Tea Party is becoming more and more sophisticated all the time about how to engage and inject itself into the political system, and how to utilize and best use its people’s time. It’s changing but its not going away…it’s growing.
Debbie Georgatos: Does your Tea Party group endorse candidates?
Russ Ramsland: No, we do not. We believe in the idea of giving people as much face time and exposure to candidates as possible---exposure to their records. For the most part we do not endorse candidates. But we are often asked “does this candidate seem to reflect the principles of the Tea Party” and that question we can generally answer.
Endorsing candidates is really the job of the political parties to support their candidates.
Debbie Georgatos: So you don’t see the Tea Party as a new third party to compete with the Democrats and Republicans?
Russ Ramsland: Absolutely not. Ronald Reagan had a saying that any group strong enough to form a third party is strong enough to take over one of the existing two. We don’t want to take over anybody, but we do want to reform.
The Tea Party is really much closer to the stated ideals of the Republican Party, and we simply seek to help reform the Republican Party to where its candidates are really willing to stand up for conservative principles, as opposed to espouse them but then vote to just go along to get along.
Debbie Georgatos: What is the Tea Party’s main mission---support and elect candidates, educate voters, persuade voters of the wisdom of your views, or all of the above?
Russ Ramsland: A bit of all of those things…..while we don’t endorse, we will talk about a candidate’s record, and let people judge for themselves whether they like those records or they don’t. We do take positions on certain legislation or events, and talk about how they do or do not conform to the principles of fiscal conservatism or limited government and Constitutional government…. We do seek to inform, to educate, and to provide a forum for discussion.
Debbie Georgatos: What do you think the biggest issues are that are going to persuade voters in 2012, in the big national races?
Russ Ramsland: It’s the economy and the debt. The country is in terrible financial condition because it’s been left to politicians quite frankly that are much more interested in buying votes and continuing their political futures and wonderful lifestyles in the Washington world, than they are in maybe upsetting some people and saying no.
What we have given all of these guys in DC is not too different than giving your American Express card to your 14 year old. And if you are going to give your 14 year old your credit card you need to have some pretty strong strings on it, and there just haven’t been any. And as a result, the country is in a terrible financial condition.
And certain factions obviously want to continue and make the situation even worse, and they don’t want to talk about the fact that that is what they are doing. We seek to shed light on the discussion, and try to guide the ideas about how we get out of the situation. Certainly, the finances of this country, and the economy, and the jobs and how you go about generating new jobs are uppermost in most people’s minds right now.
Debbie Georgatos: You’ve probably read some criticism in the media that the Tea Party brought a lot of people into the process who are novices in the political world. Even some of the Republican establishment have been skeptical of the Tea Party because people who’ve not been involved now have become involved, and even seem to sway the outcome of elections. What is your thought on that?
Russ Ramsland: “Those pesky and obnoxious Americans….how dare they get involved in our process?” I think it is a wonderful thing. And yes, some of them are novice and very new to the process, and I think it’s wonderful as we watch them become more and more knowledgeable and sophisticated. It takes a while to build a movement, but by and large this movement has come about extremely rapidly and it has educated itself very well, and kept the discourse at a very high level.
Debbie Georgatos: In the broad spectrum of American political viewpoints, where do you think the supporters of the Tea Party stand? Are they far right, in the middle, or where?
Russ Ramsland: I object to the whole notion of far right and far left…it’s not a line, it’s a circle. And at the top of the circle, is the American experiment with Republicanism and with Democracy. And I mean that not in terms of party but in terms of the concepts. And at the bottom of the circle are all of the oligarchies—fascism, communism, socialism, monarchies, all of those sorts of things.
And bisecting that circle is, in our case, the Constitution, and the Republicanism and Democracy extends from that line up, and all of the oligarchies extend from that Constitution line, down. Those on the bottom half operate not on the rule of law but on the rule of whoever happens to be on the throne…and have the most power or the intimidation factor.
Today in America the fight is really all about which side of that Constitution line are you on. For those on the top, above that line, who believe in a Democracy and a Republic, it’s not a question of right or left, although there are more liberal and more conservative people in this group above the Constitution line, but they all believe in a constitutional Republic, and that people should be free, that they should have liberty, they should enjoy the fruit of their labors, that they were created equal, but they are not forced by their government down to be on an equal level. It’s a system that tries to extol people to do their best and be the best they can, as opposed to a system that just wants to cram everybody down to a common level with a little layer of elites on top.
So the Tea Party certainly belongs above the Constitutional line that bisects this circle, but we have Tea Party people who are Democrats, Tea Party people who are Republicans, and a whole lot of Tea Party people who are independents. We have a wide range of views on for example, social issues, but they all tend to believe in the rule of law and fiscal conservatism and those sorts of things.
We have a lot of Democrats who’ve come to the Tea Party and say the fact is that the Democrat Party has jumped the fence and they’ve left us. We didn’t really leave it. We support the Tea Party because we’ll be bankrupt if we don’t.
The Tea Party occupies a very wide area in the top half of the circle, not necessarily right or left. But I don’t believe the Tea Party occupies any area below that line.
Debbie Georgatos: What about the debt ceiling debate?
Russ Ramsland: When you’ve maxed out your credit card, all of us real people have to say ok, we’re going to take the money we have, allocate as we need to, and cut the fringe. And these guys in Washington, if we keep allowing them to debase the currency by printing more money, or borrow more, then you’re in a ridiculous situation similar to telling American Express to just keep raising your credit limit. And that’s not the way the world works. They are going through a very painful process of discovering reality, and they don’t like it very much.
As far as the debt ceiling, I believe we can prioritize what the spending needs to be, and if that’s the only way to cut government spending is by saying no more debt, that’s what we’ll have to do. It would be nice if it were an orderly process….but it may be an ugly process. But ultimately we can easily pay the debt service. Debt service today is 1% of GDP, and we can easily pay Social Security and all of those really critical kinds of things.
But we do need to reform entitlements, reform Medicare and Medicaid, and get rid of Obamacare, and return to the private sector. Raising the debt ceiling is just the issue that brought all of this to a head.
Debbie Georgatos: Anything you wish the world, or the Republican or Democrat Parties, understood better about the Tea Party?
Russ Ramsland: Don’t take your opinions about the Tea Party from the mainstream media. If you want to understand the Tea Party, go to a couple of meetings, see who they are. You’ll find that they are your neighbors. I’m always amused at the media caricatures of the Tea Party---because it is really the wide swath of core American values, limited government, freedom and liberty, fiscal sanity, lower taxes, the rising tide that lifts all boats as John Kennedy said---that is the Tea Party. That’s the Tea Party.
After our interview, I asked Russ also about the claim some in the media and on the American Left have made that the Tea Party is racist. His answer was simply that the Tea Party stands for ideas, for principles, and those ideas are the founding principles from our Constitution, of limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the time-tested principles that made America great and strong, and those ideas have no racial bias or overtone. Color simply doesn’t enter into it. In fact, it is the ultra-liberal side in the American political scene that seeks to introduce legislation and concepts into the American system that are racially based or have racial preferences underlying them. The statue of justice is blindfolded because the intention is that all who are brought before her should be judged without regard to race, color or creed. The ultra-liberals want laws that require her to peek out from under her blindfold and determine your race, color or creed before judgment. That is simply not American, and not what the Tea Party stands for.