Saturday, May 5, 2012

What makes the Tea Party tick?

CSPAN's Book TV --which you probably watch if you're over 60--had a pair of sociologists on last weekend who had done a study and a book about local Tea Party activists. You can read about it on Amazon here.

The researchers struck me as being objective and thorough. And they added that they liked the people they met personally. So their conclusions didn't reflect any personal animus.

Here's what they found:

1. Tea Partiers are all anti-Federal government, anti-federal deficit, anti-taxes.

2. They mostly run small businesses themselves, and they like businessmen--very much including wealthy corporate businessmen, who they think of as small businessmen like themselves, only who made it big. 

2. Around 2/3 are Evangelical Protestant Christians; the rest are non-fervent. This is an internal schism, with the fervent Christians considering the somewhat more secular ones (who are also more urban & more educated) as being practically RINOs.

3. They're nearly all middle-aged and older whites.

4. Groups they dislike openly:
    a. Young people in general, who they consider lazy ingrates, entitled, disrespectful of traditional American culture and values, and disrespectful of their elders.
        So they greet all the talk about cutting student loan rates with hostility.
    b. Muslims. Not just Salafist and Wahhabist fundamentalist extremists, but all Muslims.
    c. College Professors, who they consider out of touch, infecting their children with loony pie in the sky social ideas--and also teaching their children disrespect for traditional American culture and values. This has a whiff of Town  & Gown antipathies from back in the day.
    d. Illegal immigrants--particularly from Mexico and parts south
    e. Legal immigrants--particularly ones from non-Anglo countries like Mexico and parts south
        --In general they have the same view of immigration that Mexican law does: that it should be prohibited where the numbers and cultural makeup of the immigrants would change the character of society.
    f. Homosexuals.
    g. Atheists.
    h. Democrats, who they see as the party of young people, Muslims, college professors, illegal immigrants, and legal immigrants--in short, anyone except for middle aged and older Anglo whites.
    i. ObamaCare--although they like its provisions when asked about them individually and when they aren't identified as part of ObamaCare, and although many Tea Party types are on MediCare and are collecting Social Security, and know these are government programs. But they believe they paid for them, while the groups listed above are freeloaders who are just mooching off them.
    j. Anyone who supports abortion rights. They don't see it as a women's rights issue, because they see fertilized eggs as little men and women whose rights completely override those of the hominid baby bags they're inside of.
    k. Liberals.
     l. Environmentalists.
    m. Overpopulation Jeremiadists like me.

5. Groups they dislike implicitly:
     a. Blacks. Even in meetings where they don't think outsiders are present, nearly all Tea Party types won't talk about this openly, and Tea Party leaders--both grassroots and self-appointed ones working for the Angry Billionaires' Club and GOP operatives--hotly deny that there's the slightest whiff of racial animus in the Tea Party.
        Their feelings are rather nuanced. If a black were the Republican presidential candidate and a white were the Democratic one, they'd vote for the black, and mostly without hesitation. In the pre-1970 Old South, they'd talk about "our Colored folk" affectionately if paternalistically, contrasting them with the "uppity Negroes" who'd been "influenced by outsiders." But if someone espouses values the Tea Party types don't like, and that someone is black, like Obama (actually half black, but even the President doesn't call himself mulatto or mixed race), they'll get an extra dose of opprobrium, all of it attributed to policy stuff though.
    b. Members of religions that are not evangelical Christian, to the degree that the religion differs from evangelical Protestantism. Though they seem inclined to give Catholics who are Anglos a pass due to the abortion issue. Many of them do not consider the Mormon religion to be a Christian religion.

They'll still vote for Romney, in part because they believe President Obama is not a Christian, due to Reverend Wright's infamous condemnation of America from the pulpit, which they in turn condemn without regard to the life experiences Reverend Wright had had that led him to that oratorical moment. The fact of Romney's LDS faith had dampened their enthusiasm for him. It won't keep them from voting for him but it might keep some from campaigning for hims as enthusiastically as they would have for, say, Wealthy Lobbyist Sentorum.

In short, Tea Party types are Anglo-American tribalists, who feel embattled at every turn, who focus on economic issues in public by and large because that's the only way they can have unity within their ranks, but a majority of them expect politicians they help elect to pass and enforce socially conservative laws--against abortion and homosexuals for example. In practice this is what has happened--often ahead of taking action on economic issues. So to a degree the third of Tea Party types who aren't ardent social conservatives are being duped.

So are independents who vote for Tea Party-affiliated candidates in hopes of getting elected politicians who will  "mind the store" and focus on economic issues. Instead they've gotten anti-abortion jihadis.

Liberals, by the way, have the same problem when they elect candidates who then focus on causes they can't do anything about--like my local and very liberal city council spending hours on a resolution to urge the President of the United States to add a Department of Peace to his cabinet instead of acting on local issues--issue they could actually do something about.

And just as Tea Partiers have zero empathy for the Occupy movement and Democrats / Liberals in general, in my experience the reverse holds true as well, with many, many liberals not giving Tea Partiers any credit, not acknowledging that they could be responding to real problems, even if they disagree with the Tea Partiers' solutions.

The Tea Party movement is both an authentic grassroots movement and an example of AstroTurf pseudo-populism. that is, corporate special interests have been quick to adopt/co-opt the Tea Party movement and Fox News has worked tireless to organize Tea Partiers and give them a platform--as long as and to the degree that it will help elect Republicans who will vote the way Grover Norquist and his paymasters want them to vote. This doesn't mean the Tea Partiers were just sitting in their homes watching reruns of Lawrence Welk before this. And it doesn't mean they've all been co-opted successfully. It does mean that the effort is being made by well-paid operatives, and that it has had a degree of success.

And at the same time Liberal politicians have helped by campaigning on the behalf of citizens of other countries who are here illegally, on the behalf of granting special favors to every ethnic /racial group in this country except for Anglos, and on the behalf of public employees, even the ones who are compensated far better than their private sector counterparts.

Because of that, efforts Democratic politicians made to appeal to Anglo blue-collar populism are wasted effort mostly, because those pols aren't willing to change their stances on those issues, which are key ones for Tea Partiers.

And it leaves Democratic-leaning independents like me frustrated. We understand where the Tea partiers are coming from. They have an authentic Anglo-American culture, and it is being changed substantially by immigration from Mexico in particular, due to the huge numbers and the peasant demographics of those immigrants. Many public employees have been getting too much for their work. And it's long past ime for special legislative favors for anyone who isn't an Anglo to end.

At the same time the Tea Partiers hostility to the environment, to science, to highly educated people, to other ethnic groups, and above all to their eager embrace of precisely the people who have created their economic problems, all turn off independents like me. Their lack of skepticism towards their ostensible friends in high places, coupled with their rigid opposition towards anyone and anything they think is outside their tribe, make them perfect tools in the hands of the corporatists.

Just one more example of how tribalism is really the worst political problem of our era--and the most intractable.



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