Democrats have effectively turned "tea party" into a pejorative, making the words conjure a rigid, uncompromising movement that is at the root of Washington's dysfunction.
You won't hear a Democratic mouth open today without a slur against the tea party spilling out.
What are these Republican revolutionaries doing that Dems find so divisive and dangerous?
Best I can tell, their major offense is holding Washington accountable. Listen to them, as I did on Mackinac Island last week during the Republican Leadership Conference, and the only demand you hear is that politicians stop mortgaging America's future to reckless spending and swelling deficits.
All they want is for politicians to finally do what both Democrats and Republicans always said they'd do — make the government live within its means — but never got around to doing until the tea party forced their hand.
In other words, the tea party is the adult in a roomful of overindulged children who resent the call to accountability. How much greater would the debt be today, how much larger the deficit, if the tea party hadn't shouted, "Enough!"
And yet the movement is demonized as un-American for trying to divert the United States from its road to Athens.
The vitriol it is encountering is strange, since it isn't much involved in explosive social issues. While there are splinter groups motivated by social conservatism, as a whole the tea party has not been distracted by abortion, gay rights or religion.
Its members are mostly civil libertarians who want to restore the protections the Constitution grants individuals against an intrusive and powerful government. They want the government to do its assigned job — no more and no less. They're telling the truth about the dangers ahead.
For that they're accused of jeopardizing America's viability.
Are they single-minded in their mission? Sure. They don't compromise, and they don't forgive politicians who break their promises.
In that sense, they are most like the environmentalists who lead the Democratic Party around by its nose — but less destructive. Nobody has lost a job, at least not in the private sector, because of tea party activism.
Compare that to the pain wrought by the unyielding environmental movement, which has put light bulb makers out of work in Kentucky, coal miners out of work in West Virginia, oil riggers out of work in Alabama, and on and on.
Barack Obama promised to change how Washington works, and instead exploited the worst of Washington's ways to change America into something Americans don't want.
So along comes the tea party, and those vested in the status quo resent having to answer to the taxpayers.
That was well-illustrated at the Detroit Economic Club lunch last week, when Democrat Rep. Sander Levin complained tea party beholden Republicans were risking a government shutdown by demanding emergency relief spending be offset with cuts elsewhere. Said Levin: We've never paid for disaster spending. To which Republican Rep. Candice Miller replied: "We've never paid for anything. That's why we have a $14 trillion debt."
That's the tea party talking. And it's hard to see why anyone would be frightened by such a commonsense message of fiscal responsibility.