07/01/2010 02:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Tea Party Has No Poets

It is a misnomer to call the Tea Party a protest movement. It's just a bumper sticker movement spawned in irrational anger but without coherent protest. Genuine protest over war, injustice, racism, bigotry, and crimes of all kinds produces great protest poetry, the outpouring of inspired language capable of moving others and producing genuine change. I think of Allen Ginsburg's "Howl," which begins, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...." or Lawrence Ferlinghetti singing, "I am awaiting a rebirth of wonder," or Adrienne Rich saying, "The moment of change is the only poem." There's also my friend Alec Emerson who wrote a poem in memory of Kent State.

A girl, half kneels, awkwardly, beside a corpse.
Looking up, in stunned agony, she
raises one arm.
The Ohio National Guard
reloads to protect itself.

These and other protest poems arise from outrage but are expressed in a quieter insight, using language to arouse feeling and to mourn or take action or effect a change of heart. But this Tea Party movement has no heart and thus no poetry in it. It has only bumper stickers, like

I Am Not Your ATM
I Voted for Change, Not more Taxation
I Voted for Obama, Not Debt for Our Children
I Want My Country Back!
I Will Keep my Freedom, my Guns, my Money. You Keep THE CHANGE!
I Will Not Grab My Ankles

What drives these people is anger generated not by injustice, war, bigotry, racism, or crime but anger generated by fear, the fear that their America is changing, that providing health care, for example, for all Americans will ask them to share what they have and to level the playing field of opportunity for all Americans.

One of our great founding thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great, great grandsire of my friend Alec Emerson, spoke and wrote about America as Opportunity and because he had witnessed the destructive nature of illness, said this about the importance of good health:

...but I will say, get health. No labor, pains, temperance, poverty, nor exercise, that can gain it, must be grudged. For sickness is a cannibal which eats up all the life and youth it can lay hold of, and absorbs its own sons and daughters. I figure it as a pale, wailing, distracted phantom, absolutely selfish, heedless of what is good and great, attentive to its sensations, losing its soul, and afflicting other souls with meanness and mopings, and with ministration to its voracity of trifles.

Among the thirty-three advanced countries in the world, only America does not offer its citizens universal health care, and if the Tea Party has its way, ObamaCare, as they call it, will die in the womb and be stillborn. Somebody find me a poem about stopping health care or why illness is a good thing and should be cherished, or, perhaps a poem about denying an Hispanic child the right to a good education.

No, the so-called Tea Party movement will die childless because it has no soul as well as no heart, which is why they won't win in politics. As we say in sport, they haven't a prayer of winning the game.