As the Tea Party movement gains strength and raises its national profile, thousands of students and tutors across the country, in town halls and public plazas, libraries and convention halls, have fanned out to bring vastly needed reading and spelling skills to millions of Tea Party movement members. "Are governmint is trying to take are money," railed Tea Party protester Max Bonhof, a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana who has been attending the party's events since early 2009 and struggling to communicate his basic frustrations with the role of government in his life. "This soshialism has to stop rite now."
What began as a few spottily organized demonstrations over the last few years has grown into a nationwide movement with a proven ability to win elections, all at a time when the Democratic leadership in Washington seems unable to cure crippling unemployment. Now that Tea Party members might actually move into leadership roles, pundits and analysts on both sides of the political spectrum agree: the movement badly needs book learning and spelling skills.
"We're talking about a seismic upheaval in American politics," says Jay Rundson, a Republican pollster. "These people are going to sweep into office on waves of dissatisfaction with the direction of our country. They will be tackling items like the environment and the alternative minimum tax, and I'm just horrified, with blood rising to the surface of my skin, that most of them don't know what the AMT is and can't even spell 'alternative.'"
"President Obama is a muslin," said Ruth Gabel of Carlsbad, Calif., trying to refer to the religion of Islam but instead referring to loosely woven white cotton fabric originating in the Middle East. "Liberals wont report the truth."
As the frustration with Washington reaches critical mass, the Tea Party movement, bereft of basic understanding of politics, statistics, science and spelling, has turned to problematic candidates with little understanding of the political process or the mechanisms of legal procedure.
The Republican primary winner for the U.S. Senate seat from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, has in the past criticized masturbation and reportedly used campaign contributions to pay her rent, and is considered so unelectable that even Karl Rove, the Republican political strategist and senior adviser to George W. Bush, has called her "nutty."
"As the winds of change whip through the neoclassical white peristyles, arcades and hallways of Washington, we need to be prepared, just as we were not for Hurricane Katrina, to deal with this onslaught of poorly read, even more poorly skills-tested people reaching the pinnacles of political power," said moderate Republican Abe Hochstein. "They are about to put their hands on the levers of government. They not only don't have the instructions, but they probably wouldn't understand them if they did."
"We're at a crossroads in America," said President Barack Obama. "We face a different set of challenges than our ancestors did. Social Security could be put on ice. Deep sea oil wells are going to rupture or explode. Carbon emissions will change the composition of our skies. Americans are frustrated. So frustrated they can barely articulate their rage. And when I say barely articulate, I mean, they can't put it into coherent sentences, linear arguments or even understandable grammar."
Laura Franklin, a grade school teacher from Pensacola, Fla., has been tutoring Tea Party members for the last year or so to help give them better language and speaking tools to get their points across.
"These are people with lots of feelings and strong convictions," says Franklin. "Things are happening that they don't understand, and when a person feels disoriented and disenfranchised, at the mercy of political forces he can't fathom, then he makes self-defeating mistakes out of anger and has a compulsion to repeat them. What I want to do is get these people reading some books and learning something about the forces affecting them. That will help them better focus this awesome energy they have ... or, better yet maybe they can peaceably leave the tea party if they wish."
"I'm through with the taxes and the bailouts and the government messing with Medicare," said Rosemary Grothe, of Lubbock, Texas, repeatedly contradicting herself.
Jerry Rathskiller, however, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was more sanguine after working with a tutor for a few months.
"I used to be a birther," said Rathskiller, "But after my tutor Shelly taught me what the concept of scientific falsifiability was, I realized how much I don't know and thought I better shut my mouth before I start to look any stupider."
An important thing to do with tea party members is to teach them strong verbs, says Franklin.
"They tend to do poorly with these. Usually what you see in tea party members is strings of nouns with no correlation to each other: 'bailouts,' 'Obamacare,' 'Acorn,' 'Socialist,' 'Communist,' 'Palin,' 'taxes,' 'liberal media.'
Franklin says that verbs used with these words and phrases might illuminate them better.
"When a man says 'Obama is a socialist,' that doesn't tell us much," said Franklin to one of her students. "Maybe you explain with a strong verb what he has done that makes you think that. Perhaps you could make a more concrete statement such as 'Obama will not let the alternative minimum tax expire.'"
The student stared into his notebook perplexed. Franklin shook her head.
"Patience," she shrugged. "That's the hallmark of a good teacher. John Maynard Keynes was so smart he could argue mathematicians like Bertrand Russell under the table. Now we have all these people on the Internet calling Keynes 'stupide.'"
"I remember the very first things crossed off the "to do" list of our emboldened leaders," said O'Donnell* speaking at a Family Research Council conference in a barely coherent jumble of hot-button words with no diagrammable structure. " ... They started talking about Obamacare and the bailouts. One industry after another. And our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Confusion everywhere with chatter about withdrawal dates. Plans for closing Gitmo and trying terrorists in Manhattan. And looming Supreme Court vacancies."
"Reading is fundamental," said Rove. "I don't want to bash anyone. All I can say is that I've gotten a lifetime of joy out of reading, and although I have preached to dummies all my life, I can finally say that it has come back to bite me in the ass and I sure wish now that we could send an army of brigadistas out to explain some basic ideas about science, math, statistics and meteorology to the tea party movement. If we don't, we may be surely lost."
*Most of the quotes here are fictional. The O'Donnell comments are unfortunately not.