The XX Factor

Is This the Future of the Tea Party?

Just when it was looking like we could write off Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate, she went and gave a rousing speech this weekend at the Madison, Wis., Tea Party rally that The Week called a ” grand slam .” But I’m far more interested in the speech by 14-year-old Tricia Willoughby that I saw on Ann Althouse’s blog .

It’s not so much the content of the speech that is striking-Willoughby’s quotes from the Founding Fathers on debt and limited government are vaguely reminiscent of a high-school history lesson, and her calls not to saddle future generations with debt, while more powerful coming from one who would be saddled, is Tea Party boilerplate. What’s impressive is her strong voice, her confidence, and, let’s face it, her youth. The Tea Party is often seen as being made up entirely of cranky middle-aged people who don’t like paying taxes. But here is a smart, engaging young woman speaking with the poise of someone older. (And no, she doesn’t come by her poise accidentally. A quick Google search reveals that her parents are pro-life activists in Madison and that Tricia is in a debate club.  Cynics will point out that-gasp!-she is homeschooled, as if that ought to discredit her.)

What’s not so apparent in the above video, which was shot from very close to the stage, is how difficult it must have been to maintain that poise.  Ann Althouse and her husband were near some anti-Tea Party protesters at the rally and captured them on film during Willoughby’s speech. They are beating drums, waving cowbells and ultimately boo Willoughby and tell her to “go home.”

There is much debate over what long-lasting impact the Tea Party will have, if any.  If there are many more like Tricia Willoughby, I wouldn’t underestimate it.