Tea Party

The Professors and the Tea Parties

Ten scholars try to explain the Tea Party movement.

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Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, edited by Lawrence Rosenthal and Christine Trost, University of California Press, 312 pages, $29.95.

As soon as the Tea Party movement began, so did the war to define it. The groups' activists positioned themselves as grassroots populists, "normal, hardworking Americans fed up with government." Their critics searched for connections that would let them decry the movement as Astroturf. The pervasiveness of both partisan arguments, along with the movement's often confusing decentralized structure, have made it difficult to understand the phenomenon with clarity.

Now a collection of academic essays, Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, attempts to provide such an "informed and profound understanding." Whether it succeeds is debatable.

The volume, edited by the Berkeley sociologist Lawrence Rosenthal and the Berkeley political scientist Christine Trost, opens with an argument by Charles Postel, an historian at San Francisco State. Postel, the author of The Populist Vision, asks whether Tea Party groups are authentically "populist." Setting the tone for the book, he argues that the Tea Parties cannot be legitimately understood within the late 19th century populist tradition, which he characterizes as "a democratic movement for economic justice," because they stand fundamentally opposed to many of the original populist reforms. Instead, he says, the movement has to be understood within a right-wing history that includes the likes of the John Birch Society and Barry Goldwater. Authentic populists would address the concerns of the middle class, he continues, while Tea Partiers are free-market fundamentalists in league with a corporate elite, struggling to dissolve what remains of a middle-class safety net. "In this time of crisis of political economy," he writes, "where is the populism in a movement that demands hard money and to revert to the gold standard?"

I think I can answer that question. As an anthropologist, I conducted fieldwork for two years in the Tea Party movement, among two grassroots groups in California and among professional conservative operatives in Washington, D.C. The push for a return to the gold standard was indeed present, often accompanied by demands to "End the Fed!" While activists argue that a return to the gold standard will provide economic security through curtailing the accumulation of debt (it would be impossible to over-borrow, or to create money/value out of "nothing"), I think the political demand has much deeper significance.

Briefly, at this point currency values are determined by floating rates of exchange generated through global currency markets. Consequently, values are in rapid flux, in a state of constant motion and redefinition. A local activist I came to know intimately once told me that she converted her entire 401K to gold and silver because "the only things that have value come from the earth." Their value, she believed, was permanent and external to markets. The idea reflected a yearning for materiality, for certainty, for "core principles"—for a form of value and, ultimately, selfhood that was inviolable and transcendent. If anything, her actions registered a nervousness around global market norms and the shifting ground of the middle class. Tea Party populism lies less in proposed remedies, and more in the critiques embedded within.

Postel's tendency to align the movement with corporate objectives is ever-present in the book. The editors' introduction gives credence to the conspiracy theory that the pivotal Rick Santelli rant that was a flash point for the emergence of the movement was staged. Separate research by the conservative watchdog Devin Burghart and the University of Missouri–Columbia sociologist Clarence Lo also argue that the Tea Parties are essentially a top-down phenomenon—in Lo's words, a movement "test marketed," designed, and initiated by an elite.

In a "first wave," Lo writes, the initial Tea Party mobilizations were manufactured and "directly" controlled by an imaginatively conceived nexus of establishment organizations and grassroots groups, including FreedomWorks, American Majority, dontgo, Smart Girl Politics, and #TCOT. But as the movement quickly scaled, he argues, a "second wave" was able to generate what he calls "marginal autonomy," resulting in a more decentralized movement composed of "open, local networks" that at times challenged traditional political structures. Despite this, Lo denies that the movement has any grassroots authenticity. The GOP, he says, "allows marginal autonomy in [its] ranks" as a way of continually revitalizing the party.

Lo and some of his colleagues are clearly eager to push back against the idea of a grassroots, populist Tea Party movement, highlighting the influence and participation of Republican elites. This is partially warranted: Elites are and have been involved in the movement, and the grassroots narrative does obscure the involvement of established groups like FreedomWorks. But in my fieldwork, I observed the exact opposite of the process described by Lo. In the early stages of the movement, activists had more autonomy in controlling their agendas and messages. For the most part, establishment Republicans were blindsided by the suddenness of the movement's emergence, its rapid expansion, and its activists' willingness to reject establishment institutions—including the GOP—as proxies for their political interests. The desire to build a movement and platform in which activists could project "OUR message," as one told me, was made forcefully in April 2009 when local organizers in a number of cities publically rejected requests by high-profile Republicans to speak at Tea Party events.

With time, however, establishment organizations became more effective at building influence and injecting themselves into movement networks. Yet despite those organizations' increasing power, the movement as a whole is not vertically organized, there is no central leadership, and the relationships between activists and the establishment remains unstable. Any accounting of establishment influence demands nuance, and must recognize how broad-based Tea Party political agendas are negotiated between activists and the establishment.

Leaving Lo's chapter, the reader is left to wonder about these "open, local networks" he briefly invokes. Throughout the other essays we see statements that the movement is "decentralized" or "networked" or "uncoordinated," but this novel form remains unexplained. Why did activists organize themselves in networks?

The answer is pretty simple, and it points us in a different direction for understanding the Tea Parties. Fearful of centralized, technocratic authority (socialism!), fearful of the demise and fundamental transformation of the United States, fearful of the eclipsing of their own sovereignty as "the people," activists are using digital media to build networks and organizational forms that stress their own autonomy and sovereignty. The protests, the email lists, the blogging and tweeting, the monthly meetings of groups featuring local self-styled experts—all provide opportunities for activists to express themselves and develop and assert their own knowledge and opinions. Through doing so, activists are struggling against a profound sense of estrangment to "figure out our rights as American people," as a local leader once told me. In this sense, the Tea Party project, steeped in constitutionalist politics, an emphasis on localism, and the idea of American exceptionalism, is one of recovery, a movement to recuperate the power of the individual against the state and the nation against globalist trends.

In this sense, the movement is not entirely instrumental in its politics. That is, its interests are not limited to a concrete set of political demands that can be ameliorated through legislation, though that is the premise on which one of the book's contributors, the James Madison University political scientist Martin Cohen, bases his argument about the movement's limited political efficacy. Much like Occupy, the Tea Parties can be thought of as a new social movement experimenting with new organizational and cultural forms. The movement's decentralized shape is itself is an answer to the problems activists are addressing.

Charges of racism have been the bane of the movement, and many activists have worked overtime to refute those claims, producing clear anti-racist moments. Consequently, there is no easy way to address the Tea Parties' relationship to race. In a thoughtful but flawed chapter, the University of Michigan political scientist Lisa Disch contends that it would be a mistake to perceive the movement as "simply racist." Tea Party politics has to be understood, Disch contends, within a history of liberal social welfare policy and the ways in which racialized concepts of citizenship have come to be forged. Grappling with what she sees as a central contradiction in the anti-government Tea Party message—the often very public defense of government programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as epitomized in the famous statement, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"—she notes that those New Deal–legacy policies implicitly grouped people through racial categories. While Disch could have been more careful to assert that Medicare is a product of Great Society legislation rather than the New Deal (and to distinguish between the cultural politics of the two), she makes a reasonable case that such entitlements came to be associated with "whiteness" in the way that welfare has been with "blackness." The result, she concludes, is what she calls a "white citizenship" movement, in which activists have mobilized in part to "defend interests and identifications that they have inherited from the New Deal."

There is a problem with this argument. To support her contention that there is dissonance in the movement when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, Disch relies on a broad-ranging 2010 New York Times/CBS poll. But that survey polled Tea Party supporters, not activists. There is a difference, and this is precisely the kind of issue where the views of a local activist might diverge from those of a generally supportive armchair Republican. This points to a larger problem with the research presented in this volume: Not one author reported holding a single conversation with a local Tea Party activist. For the most part, they relied instead on other people's polls, on journalistic accounts, or on Web-based observations.

Despite these limitations, there is merit in Disch's larger contention that activists are mobilizing to defend specific notions of belonging and citizenship. I noted throughout my fieldwork this struggle to restore a particular national vision (and to oppose a creeping globalization). While I witnessed many anti-racist moments—and many feminist, and even anti-homophobic, moments—there was indeed deep resistance to expanded concepts of citizenship and accompanying benefits. This was evident in birther theories, which ultimately worry over the citizenship of a man who has a Kenyan father. It was also evident in the support I witnessed in California for Arizona's infamous SB 1070, which circumvented federal immigration laws to create state-level enforcement, including a "show me your papers" provision. Tea Party support for the law was grounded in abstract support for "states' rights," but also in protecting "the integrity," as an activist mentioned, of "our laws, our nation, and our rights." As Disch generally notes, there was a worry that certain forms of citizenship were slipping. This has ramifications for understanding the anti-government ideologies of the movement. It becomes clear that many activists are not purely anti-government but working to restore a particular contract between themselves and the government—one that foregrounds their interests.

Joseph Lowndes, a political scientist at the University of Oregon, also interrogates the role of race in the movement, arguing that there are "complex changes afoot" in the right's racial politics. While he contends that the specter of "Obama's socialism" is highly racialized, "meant to evoke fears of a black president unleashing a criminal state on a vulnerable nation," Lowndes also notes that there is a significant lack of antagonistic politics directed at people of color on the whole. Rather, activists have aimed their fire at such targets as the state, public-sector unions, and (here Lowndes differs from Disch's analysis) universal entitlement programs. At the same time, they have backed candidates of color for political office—Allen West, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and so forth. Even in the racially charged mobilizations in support of Arizona SB 1070 and against what came to be called the "Ground Zero Mosque," Tea Party opinion was far from uniform. There is a larger transformation on the right, Lowndes contends, in which "certain forms of multiculturalism and even anti-racism" are taking root among conservatives, evidenced by President George W. Bush's commitment to racial equality within his administration. This, he concludes, signals a shift away from the infamous Southern Strategy, in which conservative candidates exploited racial resentment for political gains.

If only the chapters discussing social conservatives were as adventurous in their analyses. Peter Montgomery, a longtime watchdog of the Christian right, probes the influence and participation of evangelicals in the movement, while the Washington College political scientist Melissa Deckman, in a bid to understand Tea Party women, analyzes the traits and interests the that evangelicals and Tea Partiers may share. Both writers find a considerable overlap between the movements' cultural and political beliefs, and Montgomery argues that there is a large evangelical presence in Tea Party groups. While his insight that the libertarian-leaning movement has developed a more deeply religious moral underpinning is appreciated, I wish he had written more about the defining struggles and points of divergence between the two groups, many of which I have witnessed. The Tea Party organizations with which I conducted fieldwork in California actively and openly resisted taking on "social issues," with members repeatedly exclaiming, "That's not what we're about."

There is a profound conflict between the two movements in their conceptions of government. The Tea Parties emphasize a Goldwateresque "leave me alone" attitude, while social conservatives have long struggled to advance legislation favorable to their values. Montgomery notes that many on the Christian Right have embraced the Tea Parties' limited-government rhetoric. But does this mean there has been a fundamental shift in thinking, or is this just pragmatic politics? Meanwhile, Deckman notes that Tea Party women are more likely than evangelical women to be pro-choice. Those kinds of data capture conflicting ideas over the role of government in regulating our lives, yet Montgomery and Deckman and give us no sense of this struggle, or of what is unique about the younger movement. Instead we get a generalizing, monolithic view of the right that underappreciates the coalitions and conflicts at play.

The editors argue that Tea Partiers have built an exclusionary politics that rely on the construction of an Other, that this is the hallmark feature of the right, and that the left's processes of identity formation, by contrast, is "more inward looking." There are indeed exclusionary aspects to the Tea Party movement, but most of this volume seems intent on Othering that movement's members, striving as it does to argue that the activists are extremists outside the mainstream. Once again, we are left wanting for a view of the movement that steps beyond the usual partisan frames.

NEXT: Brickbat: Diving in the Deep End

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  1. The “Tea Party” is the only political entity less relevant than the Libertarian Party.

    Once Team Red figured out that they’d have their votes no matter what, they gave them a big bowl of ignore. That, coupled with the sustained media campaign against them has turned them into the politcal equivalent of a Serenity fan club.

    1. You seem to ignore the fact that Tea Parties sprang up all over the place and comprise the most active fiscal conservatives in the electorate. Their votes may be secure for the Republicans, but their efforts need to be engaged to turn out the vote and raise funds.

      1. Once Team Red figured out that they’d have their votes no matter what, they gave them a big bowl of ignore.

        Their votes may be secure for the Republicans,

        A Leftie friend used to complain regularly about the “Teabaggers” being in the bag for the Republicans until I asked him what the Democrat leadership has done to attract Tea Party support. They’ve called them homophobic insults, terrorists, supremacists, lynchers and more. Then you complain they support your opponents?

        1. It was an attack by both teams to keep people disengaged from the political process. Team Red quietly secures their votes, ceding nothing to them; Team Blue uses its media wing to marginalize them and make them seem extremist and non-grassroots.

          Quite an effective way to melt a snowball honestly. You have to admire them.

          1. The tea party has mostly worked inside the party to sway primaries and get their candidates in at the local level – who will eventually be the source for national candidates. So yes, the Republicans have their votes in the regular election, but it’s been an uneasy partnership at best.

            1. I think it’s only uneasy in one direction. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s going on, it’s theoretically progress.

              But it’s realistically futile.

            2. See, for example, the Nevada and Delaware Senate races last year.

              1. or the KY senate race in 2010.

                McConnell’s handpicked successor is senator now if it wasnt for the Tea Party.

      2. And you seem to ignore that the vast majority of so-called TP activists voted for the likes of Santorum, Gingrich, and eventually Romney during the primaries, when all they had to do, were fiscal conservatism truly at the forefront of their ideology, was vote for Ron Paul.

        But since Paul didn’t pass the generic GOP purity test people who supposedly cared about actual fiscal conservatism looked the other way.

        I had hopes for the TP, but they were foiled when the TP showed its true colors.

        1. This is pretty much where I am. The good bits of the TP rhetoric should have led them to support Paul in significant numbers.

          They didn’t. As is ever the case when someone claims to be fiscally conservative/___________, the ___________ trumps fiscal conservatism every. single. time.

          Have they knocked off a few odious incumbents in primaries? Sure. Have they “changed the conversation”? No.

          1. Best explanation of why I hate the tea party was a Ross Douthat column:

            Most important, they represent two very different endpoints for the Tea Party movement. Paul, for all his crankishness, is the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be: Deeply principled, impressively consistent, a foe of big government in nearly all its forms (the Department of Defense very much included), a man of ideas rather than of party.

            Gingrich, on the other hand, is the kind of conservative that liberals believe most Tea Partiers to be ? not a genuine “don’t tread on me” libertarian, but a partisan Republican whose unstinting support for George W. Bush’s deficit spending morphed into hand-wringing horror of “socialism” once a Democrat captured the Oval Office.

            So Iowa Tea Partiers face a choice. If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.” If Paul wins the caucuses, on the other hand, the movement will keep its honor ? but also deliver the Republican nomination gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.

            1. Paul won the Iowa caucuses.

              1. No, Paul came in third. Santorum won the Iowa caucuses. Paul later on ended getting iowa’s delegates through his strategy of packing the nominating conventions. That was an impressive feat of organization, but it shouldn’t be confused for popular support. And if you look at the exist polling, only about 20% of tea party supporters voted for Paul, as compared to 30% for Santorum.

                1. The caucus is the voting for delegates, not the attached straw poll.

                  Paul won the Caucus.

                  1. The Iowa Caucus seems to disagree with you:

                    http://caucuses.desmoinesregis…..s/results/

                    And yes, I’m aware of the difference between the Iowa Caucus and the Ames Straw Poll, but Paul didn’t win either. He came in second in the straw poll to Bachmann and third in the caucus to Santorum and Romney. He got the delegates.

                    But the caucus does not select the nominating delegates, those were chosen at the Iowa State Convention in April. That’s where Paul got his delegates because the other parties weren’t paying attention to Iowa anymore by then.

          2. Have they knocked off a few odious incumbents in primaries?

            Also, knocking off incumbents in primaries is of little use when you use the oppurtunity to replace them with unelectable nutbars.

            1. They’re basically the Republican version of the Arab Spring. At first everyone’s happy to see Hosni Mubarack kicked out of office, but it turns to horror a few months later when they realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is the group that’s going to fill the vacuum.

              1. A libertarian calling the candidate for any other political party a nutbar is kind of the pot calling the kettle black considering the solid .05% numbers LP candidates can count on in any given election for any given office, all the way from local dog catcher to POTUS. A certain kind of nutbar is our kind of candidate, is it not?

          3. Its a bit “True Scotsman”, but I dont think any Tea partiers voted for Romney or Gingrich or Santorum.

            1. Well the exit polling disagree with you. People who identified as tea party supporters overwhelmingly supported Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum.

              1. Do you understand True Scotsman? Self identification doesnt make you a tea partier. Voting for RGS disqualifies you.

                1. What does make you a tea partier then?

                  1. Holding fiscal sanity as a priority; not identity politics.

                    1. And who decided that was the criteria? Sy, Emperor of the Tea Party?

                    2. As someone who did some grassroots work with it in our local area during the first few months of it, I think I’ve got a better idea of what its original intent was. Not you.
                      Our local chapter refused to cater to the GOP when they rolled through trying to garner our support.

        2. Pauls foreign policy is anathemic to most conservatives. They don’t just disagree with his positions, they hate him for having them, and view him as a horrible person when they hear them.

    2. That’s garbage. Hatch Orrin others felt the heat. You can’t ignore what primaries you.

  2. I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn’t even know it yet. Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a river that snaked through the corn fields like a main circuit cable plugged straight into the Tea Party. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of the Tea Party’s memory any more than being back in the midwest was an accident. There is no way to tell their story without telling my own. And if their story really is a confession, then so is mine.

    1. Er, this doesn’t seem to be in the article. (At least, when I searched the one-page version for “Midwest”, there were no hits.) Is it actually in the book?

      1. Ted S.’s methods have become unsound.

      2. You need to watch more movies.

      3. Des Moines, I’m still in fucking Des Moines.

        1. The horror… the horror…

          1. “We train young men to drop hyperbole on people, but won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their protest banners, because it’s obscene!”

      4. He forged that part where a Tea Partier hurls the pointy end of a handwritten placard straight through his chest.

        Supposedly it read “We came unarmed [this time]”.

  3. The academic elite are afraid of a non-socialist popular movement because they can’t control it. So they produce a narrative to other it, constructing “facts” and info to support their view and ignoring anything that doesn’t fit. It’s an common theme.

    1. I can already see the sentences in academic journals, “As Lawrence Rosenthal and Christine Trost and their co-authors have recently demonstrated…” So it has been written, so it shall be.

      It was similar when Jill Lepore’s book came out. Academics all over the place rushed to say something along the lines of “Lepore has written a convincing work on the Tea Party which demonstrates that all the bad things I believed about them all along is true.”

    2. The academic elite are afraid of a non-socialist popular movement because they can’t control it.

      I agree. The academics have it mostly wrong, and for all the wrong reasons.

      But so do those who still support the TP and maintain that their sole care was to revert to a sense of fiscal conservatism. The minute self-defined TPs started voting in droves for the likes of Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney during the primaries, when they had a perfectly viable candidate in Ron Paul, the game was up. They showed that they cared more about their raging war boners and various facets of TEH KUKTUR WARZ than with maintaining their previous stance of demanding fiscal conservatism in government.

      1. The problem is that Ron Paul is seen as being a bit of a loon, and his rabid followers even more so. Kind of like the Dennis Kucinich of the Republican party. Greatly admired for some of his positions, but far too odd to ever be President.

        1. A great presidential campaign: Ron Paul vs. Dennis Kucinich.

          1. Ron Paul vs. Dennis Kucinich vs. Wu-Tang

        2. I would have thought that the President claiming the power to assassinate citizens without due process or the slightest bit of oversight was utter lunacy and one of the biggest stories ever, but, hey, I didn’t go to an Ivy to bone up on my constitutional scholarship, so what do I know?

          1. If President Clinton had assassinated Osama before 9/11 then there would be no 9/11 that is why most people don’t have a problem with Obama assassinating people.

            1. Didn’t he try to assassinate Osama? Is this really what this country has come to? We can’t have things like due process and trials because DA EVUL TERRURISTZ!?

            2. If we’d purged New York of it’s citizenry and burned the Pentagon to the ground, 9/11 would have consisted of some property damaged and a few crashed planes. I’m sure most people would be up it. Pentagon will be our reichstag, and we will build a new holocaust in manhattan.

      2. TP never said it was a libertarian party so why should they vote for Ron Paul who is a libertarian. Most of the TP people I know still want a strong defense because weather you like it or not the rest of the world is still going to hate us weather we are involved in international affairs or not. Remember not acting is often as bad as taking action hence WWII.

        1. “weather?”

          You do know it’s possible to have a strong defense without spending more than the next 10 countries combined and occupying random shitholes for decades on end? Not sure how WWII proves your point; It probably wouldn’t have happened (or wouldn’t have included Hitler and the Holocaust) if the US didn’t needlessly join in WWI.

  4. “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

    Their official slogan defined them.

    1. Your handle…

      1. You think he was in the “Coffee Party” or one of Van Jones’ various powerfist clenched-with-hatred-of-the-landlord-class (as the Maoists have prescribed) popular fronts/organizations?

    2. Yes, their “official” slogan. Good to see the derp is still with you, shriek.

      1. I’m casting for “Derp: The Musical” – I wonder if shreeek could escape his basement for an audition.

        1. I always thought shrike was an “it”. [scratches head]

        2. Shreek, Tony, Tulpa and such don’t leave their basements for auditions.
          No, they’re too important for that.
          If you won’t bring the audition to them, then they are entitled to transportation, room and board, and some spending cash.
          It’s certainly not their responsibility.

          1. ah, I forgot that such talent requires special handling.

        3. You’ll have to ask his Mom. Bring donuts. Lots of them.

      2. Considering there are five large Tea Party groups within easy driving range of my house and they’re all very different about their concerns. We have hard-right-neocons, libertarian-leftish, plus one strictly about educating people about political matters. A couple of them won’t even talk to each other. There are also several dozen little groups, many of which aren’t associated with any of the big groups.

        Talking about organizational or official matters of the Tea Party is a lot like talking about bone density medications for a corn field. Some might be there, and sure, go ahead and try and use it.

  5. Charles Postel, an historian at San Francisco State. Postel, the author of The Populist Vision, asks whether Tea Party groups are authentically “populist.” Setting the tone for the book, he argues that the Tea Parties cannot be legitimately understood within the late 19th century populist tradition, which he characterizes as “a democratic movement for economic justice,” because they stand fundamentally opposed to many of the original populist reforms.

    Postel’s never heard of Producerism? Or, more likely, he’s using the term “populism” in an extremely narrow way in an attempt to delegitimize, in his mind, the Tea Party’s appeal to a large portion of the American working class.

    1. Just because there happen to be a lot of the popularis in the movement, and they are opposing an unresponsive state doesn’t mean they are “populists”, man!

    2. Authentic populist movements are people demanding their free shit because, well, they deserve free shit. Justice means free shit. It’s all about free shit.

      If they aren’t demanding free shit then they aren’t a true populist movement, because populist movements are all about free shit.

      1. The Tea Party is demanding just as much free shit as the Occupiers. They just want different free shit.

        1. So you’re saying they are populists.

          1. Pretty much, that’s part of why I never trusted them. Populists aways end up turning into anti-capitalists.

    3. Stop the presses! The Tea Parties aren’t pushing 19th century policies? Gad, man, how irrelevant of them.

      1. The 19th century was, like, more than 100 years ago. Whatever.

        /Ezra

    4. “he’s using the term “populism” in an extremely narrow way in an attempt to delegitimize, in his mind, the Tea Party’s appeal to a large portion of the American working class.”

      That’s obviously what he’s doing. It’s not a Leftist populist movement, so in his mind it can’t ever be legitimate.

  6. Missing from the analysis of the Tea Party’s views on Social Security and Medicare is the obvious fact that these programs were historically marketed as annuity and insurance schemes, respectively. Things like food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid, or SS Disability have always been acknowledged as direct income transfers (and most people are smart enough to understand that “social insurance” is simply an income transfer).

    1. If it were more readily acknowledged that these programs were, from the start, pyramid schemes there might be more opposition even among the TEA Party types. Some who support them may even be intellectually aware of this but psychologically do not want to admit having been duped.

      1. Some who support them may even be intellectually aware of this but psychologically do not want to admit having been duped.

        Of course “being duped” requires that one actually have a choice in the matter. SS and medicare were decided long before most TPers had a choice in the matter.

    2. And, as William Voegli pointed out, Medicare and SS have been sold as “contractual obligations” (whether they are or not is another issue). And much of the TP frustration was over the government raiding one social scheme to support another.

      1. To be fair, I suspect that many if not most TPers aren’t really pro-Medicare.

        I think it has more to do with the fact that retired people have a lot of free time on their hands to engage in political activism, and will consequently show up at rallies in disproportionate numbers.

        I you sat down and talked to the average TPer in their 30s or 40s, you might hear a lot more criticism of medicare.

        1. Good point.

        2. The average TPer ISN’T in their 30s or 40s.

  7. Anyone who calls the Tea Party a bunch of bigots has obviously never attended a single Tea Party-related event. Are there individual racists in the Tea Party movement? Absolutely, just like there are racists in the Democratic Party. I describe myself as a Tea Party libertarian. Not only am I NOT racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, Islamophic, or homophobic, I don’t like people who are any of those things. If the Tea Party movement was racist as a whole I would stop associating with them real quick.

    1. Of course you’re a bigot. Just bringing up the subject makes you one. That and the fact that you admit to attending TEA Party meetings. That makes you a bigot as well.

      People who know and understand the true nature of the TEA Party do not have to attend meetings. They’d be tainted if they did.

      It’s like drugs. True experts never actually take them, but rather they observe. Anyone who has actually taken drugs cannot be trusted.

    2. Huh. Brian from Texas, I bet you’re A WHITE GUY. Not a racist, indeed.

      1. I happen to be part Jewish with a bit of Kiowa Indian mixed in.

        1. Triple racist! It’s called jewish-american and native american, you racist scum!

    3. Dude – you’re from TEXAS.

      Therefore, RACIST.

      QED

  8. morning links? I guess someone took that drinking game seriously.

    1. I’m sure either Hillary or Barack will be glad to take responsibility.

  9. Their critics searched for connections that would let them decry the movement as Astroturf. The pervasiveness of both partisan arguments, along with the movement’s often confusing decentralized structure, have made it difficult to understand the phenomenon with clarity.

    I think there’s no greater indication of this being an authentic grassroots movement than the confusing decentralized structure.

    Problem is the academic left has been so accustomed to astroturfing left-liberal protest movements that they are incapable of recognizing an honest-to-God grassroots movement when it slaps them in the face.

    For some reason, they seem to think the only authentic popular uprisings have to consist of poor people demanding handouts. The idea that middle class people who are tired of being taxed and tired of seeing other people living large off of free shit might get pissed off too has never occured to them.

  10. The Intellectual Left is fundamentally unable to make sense of any political movement because their refusal to acknowledge the fundamental flaws and horrible history of Communism and the violence and barbarity of their Third World Revolutionary heroes means that they are completely detached from reality.

  11. I had few defenders at a local tea party meeting after giving a speech on why I’m voting for Gary Johnson. Most TPers have decided to vote for Romney as the lesser of two evils. The task, for those libertarians who wish to stay associated with the TP, if Romney wins is to keep TPers focused on having the GOP tow the lion. If they don’t, the TP movement will disappear until such time as the Democrats retake the presidency.

    1. Romulus Augustus,

      Please; make that toe the line.

  12. The editors argue that Tea Partiers have built an exclusionary politics that rely on the construction of an Other, that this is the hallmark feature of the right, and that the left’s processes of identity formation, by contrast, is “more inward looking.”

    BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Oh man, that’s a good one. I laughed that hard in a long time.

    1. *I haven’t laughed that hard…*

  13. This is a nice article. It’s not surprising that Tea Partiers in California would be inclusive than those in Alabama or Arizona. Much of the Tea Party angst is simply a reaction to the sudden drop in net worth that most Americans have suffered, something no one of the post WWII generations ever experienced. Obama’s “otherness” gave an edge to the sense of disenfranchisement, though I wonder if Hillary wouldn’t have been equally “controversial.” The Tea Partiers did blame Bush almost as much as they blamed Obama–although virtually none of them gave a damn about Bush’s spending policies while he was still in office (immigration was another matter).

    1. Re: Alan Vanneman,

      Much of the Tea Party angst is simply a reaction to the sudden drop in net worth that most Americans have suffered

      It actually grew from real outrage over the bailouts. People have suffered drop in net worth before, without resorting to populist activism.

      1. My suspicion is that it was the one-two-punch of a drop in net worth followed by watching some get bailed out. If you take a hit and then see someone else getting a bailout, knowing full well that all you’re going to get is the bill, you’re going to get a little angry.

  14. “The volume, edited by the Berkeley sociologist Lawrence Rosenthal and the Berkeley political scientist Christine Trost,”

    “There’s your problem right there. Somebody switched this thing to “Evil”.”

  15. No group promotes and fears the notion of “otherness” quite like the left.

    Watch how quickly they designate you as some “corporatist” or deadly foe of regulation if you defend the Citizens United decision. If a white-ish man shoots a black guy in accident, then it must be a result of the nation’s growing distrust of minorities because a black man is the president.

    If you ask a woman to buy her own contraception, then you’re waging “War against women.” See a mostly white tea partiers or Ron Paulites crowd saying something about limited government? Exclusion of minorities! Fringe radicals!

  16. “certain forms of multiculturalism and even anti-racism” are taking root among conservatives

    huh?

    What the fuck does he think the civil war was about if not anti-racism?

    What was McKinley never born?

    Was he not president 13 years before Wilson kicked all the blacks out of the white house?

    The left’s blind spot covers everything that happened from 1860 to 1964.

    1. “What the fuck does he think the civil war was about if not anti-racism?”
      Political power, the legitimacy of the union and northern opposition to the southern equivalent of a free trade zone?

  17. LAST!

  18. Not one author reported holding a single conversation with a local Tea Party activist. For the most part, they relied instead on other people’s polls, on journalistic accounts, or on Web-based observations.

    Well, duh. You didn’t expect them to actually be caught consorting with the rabble, did you? You don’t need to go actually talk to a racist homophobic slavery supporting southern redneck with a nigger-dragging hitch on the back of his truck to know that he’s a racist homophobic slavery supporting southern redneck with a nigger-dragging hitch on the back of his truck. Tea Parties are ignorant, old racists. Because if they weren’t ignorant, old racists they wouldn’t be Tea Partiers. QED. Now if you’d excuse me, I need to go make a space on my shelf for that Pulitzer.

    1. I wonder why my articulate and well thought out post is missing, and this one is here?

      Good grief.

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