Understanding the Tea Party Non-Revolution

Matt Taibbi has written the most insightful take on the Tea Party movement that I’ve ever seen:

Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it’s going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry’s medals and Barack Obama’s Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about — and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin.

The individuals in the Tea Party may come from very different walks of life, but most of them have a few things in common. After nearly a year of talking with Tea Party members from Nevada to New Jersey, I can count on one hand the key elements I expect to hear in nearly every interview. One: Every single one of them was that exceptional Republican who did protest the spending in the Bush years, and not one of them is the hypocrite who only took to the streets when a black Democratic president launched an emergency stimulus program. (“Not me — I was protesting!” is a common exclamation.) Two: Each and every one of them is the only person in America who has ever read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock. (Here they have guidance from Armey, who explains that the problem with “people who do not cherish America the way we do” is that “they did not read the Federalist Papers.”) Three: They are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views — despite the fact that they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill “cracker babies,” support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over Charlie Rangel, ACORN and Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Four: In fact, some of their best friends are black! (Reporters in Kentucky invented a game called “White Male Liberty Patriot Bingo,” checking off a box every time a Tea Partier mentions a black friend.) And five: Everyone who disagrees with them is a radical leftist who hates America.

To hammer home these points, Taibbi follows the campaign of Rand Paul, and notes that the Kentucky Senate hopefuls candidacy – and his standing among most Tea Partiers – hasn’t diminished since he began disavowing all the limited government views that initially made him the “Tea Party” candidate.

Comments

  1. 1

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    The Tea Party folks were interesting at first, but I realized they’re just Republicans pretending to be serious Libertarians.

  2. 4

    Ludicrus Maximus spews:

    @3:

    Didn’t some Tea guy at one of those “town hall” meetings about the healthcare legislation say almost exactly that?

  3. 7

    manoftruth spews:

    do people have a right to assemble, protest, debsate and vote how they please?

    then whats the fucking problem?

  4. 8

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Lee-
    You sound…desperate and envious.
    The proof of the Tea party Movement will be seen on November 2nd.
    2 years ago, the Republicans were in deep shit.
    Now, we’ll see.
    Even the establishment Republicans have grown to fear & respect the Tea Party.
    You Lee…are too arogant & stubborn.

    This reminds me of the last couple days when Biden told folks like you to “STOP WHINING”.

    Apparently ImamObamao didn’t listen to his V-P and almost immediately IMAMObaMao declares FoxNews “destructive to America”.
    You KLOWNS are in freefall…and collapse.
    When the President starts using the Saul Alinsky methodology on those who challenge He who is in power—KER-POW!
    You are screwed.

    That was a HUGE mistake by the inexperienced and silly IMAMObamao.
    Continue on with you attacks on the Tea Party.
    It might make you feel good…until 11/2!

  5. 9

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Michael @ 6–
    Flameouts??
    You mean like this one…KKK Byrd’s seat??
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Republican John Raese has edged ahead of West Virginia’s popular Democratic Governor Joe Manchin for the first time in the state’s special U.S. Senate race.

    A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely West Virginia Voters finds Raese earning 48% support to Manchin’s 46% when leaners are included. Two percent (5%) prefer some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided.

  6. 10

    manoftruth spews:

    @8
    yup, every attack on sara palin by another hollywood shyster brings in one more vote. and the dancing with the shysters show where they booed her, even my 80 year old democratic mother was pissed….go abc, keep it up.

  7. 11

    proud leftist spews:

    pieceofshit @ 7
    Sure, the people have all those rights. They also have the right to be uninformed, delusional, and wrong. The Teabaggers are exercising that right with enthusiasm.

  8. 12

    Alki Area spews:

    Limited government huh? So gay marriage is ok? That’s the limited government Richard Nixon believed in…a government that didn’t interfere with the churches or reach into the bedroom.

    This is the problem when you on the one hand believe in a small limited government…but on the other hand think government should be the legal arm of the church and responsible for enforcing religious rules and morality.

    Best summed up as: “Don’t interfere with MY life property or money, but DO interfere with anyone I don’t like.”

  9. 14

    masaba spews:

    Didn’t Goldy post a video a few weeks ago of random interviews with a few Teabaggers? The first one stated that she thought we should get back to the Christian values in the Constitution, but quickly was forced to admit that she had never actually read any of the Constitution. The next one said that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry because the Constitution says, ‘majority rules!’

  10. 15

    Michael spews:

    Cyn,

    The Tea Party folks will manage to get a couple of folks elected, but they’re going to lose the majority of their races. Some of those races will be ones like DE where the more mainstream Republican was a shoe in. Overall the Tea Party will get more Democrats elected than Tea Partiers.

  11. 16

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Re 15

    I tend to agree that for Republicans the Tea Party folks are a neutral or negative force. Good mainstream candidates swept aside with a chance to win and regain control of the Congress should have been more important than passion in a critical election.

    What Lee is trying to do is minimize something he should be paying attention to. Just as Republicans tried to minimize the fear that made populist candidates win in 06 and especially 08, this is bad strategy.

    I know he, and many others here, have contempt for this movement. I know that most of the principles are antithetical or even frightening to the far left. Fair enough.

    Lying about it, pretending it’s a corporate front and so on simply ensures the continuing disconnect Americans are feeling with leftist policies Obama, Reid and Pelosi are foisting off on the electorate. The kind of propaganda Taibbi wrote makes your side feel good, but it does nothing to help your sagging poll numbers. In fact, it helps the other side who seem to actually care what the American people want, rather than forcing what they don’t down their collective throats.

  12. 17

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Re 14

    Oh. If you get to use MSNBC, the recognized propaganda arm for Democrats, as a source of good polling data for dem,s is Fox reliable polling for Republicans?

  13. 18

    Steve spews:

    “rather than forcing what they don’t down their collective throats.”

    Horseshit, Lost. Here’s a short list of whack teabagger positions your teabagger candidates would shove down American throats. Prohibition (Sharon Angel). Abortion as murder (All of you). Birth Control as murder(Colorado Initiative). Stopping Americans from having sex (O’Donnell). Giving birth to your rapist’s or father’s child (All of you). Secession (Rick Perry and others).

    You freaks are whack.

  14. 19

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Steve,

    @16
    “I tend to agree that for Republicans the Tea Party folks are a neutral or negative force. Good mainstream candidates swept aside with a chance to win and regain control of the Congress should have been more important than passion in a critical election.”

    So what about this suggested that I supported the Tea Party? Good grief, do try to read the actual post.

  15. 20

    jesus spews:

    @10–Your 80 year old democratic grandmother is so pissed that “somebody” booed Sarah that she is going to VOTE for her? That’s her reason to pick a president? She is an idiot, and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

  16. 21

    Steve spews:

    “So what about this suggested that I supported the Tea Party?”

    There is no “Tea Party”. The teabaggers are the Republican party.

  17. 23

    jesus spews:

    the former, but you left out a couple of other possibilities–jesus the american, or the legal immigrant, or even jesus the mexican who is not in the USA. btw – the pro palin position on the booing is that it did not happen and/or that they were booing the highest scores of the night. please keep up.

  18. 24

    manoftruth spews:

    @23
    the pro palin position on the booing is that it did not happen and/or that they were booing the highest scores of the night. please keep up.

    yeah, thats what i heard. i didnt watch it myself.

  19. 25

    David spews:

    The Tea Party ‘movement’ can be correlated to Civics classes being taken off the ‘requirement to graduate high school’ list.

    You actually had to read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and answer questions about them correctly in order to pass.

  20. 27

    spews:

    @16
    What Lee is trying to do is minimize something he should be paying attention to.

    Um, no. What I’m trying to do is more accurately characterize something that I have been paying attention to.

  21. 28

    spews:

    @16
    Lying about it, pretending it’s a corporate front and so on simply ensures the continuing disconnect Americans are feeling with leftist policies Obama, Reid and Pelosi are foisting off on the electorate.

    It IS a corporate front. There’s simply no question about that any more. The Tea Party movement was completely co-opted by corporate-sponsored organizers and has been for over a year and a half now. That’s why – as Taibbi correctly points out – the movement has no single message or theme other than an incoherent opposition to those who demand that there be greater responsibility among corporate America (which you adorably refer to as the “far left”).

    If you consider yourself part of the “Tea Party”, it means you’re a sucker.

  22. 29

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Lee,

    “The movement has no single message or theme” precisely because it’s a grass roots reaction to government over-reaching. To be fair, I doubt many of those attending rallies would be willing to admit that Bush was as guilty of this as Obama and Pelosi. But how many war protesters do you see holding mutilated American flags on overpasses since Obamas election? They objected while Bush was president, called for immediate cessation to both wars, and then disappeared once Obama won the office. Holding political opinions that don’t acknowledge the weakness of your own side is hardly limited to the Tea Party or Republicans.

    I doubt many of those attending Tea Party events would be called Constitutional scholars, but how many attending a DNC convention or primary event would? Politics based on passion more than knowledge is another thing the right doesn’t hold copyright on.

    Console yourself with the idea that this is an astroturf front for the evil Koch brothers scheme to take over the world (bwah ha ha) all you like. It is a popular response to government that no longer considers itself of the people, by the poeple and for the poeple.

    I don’t consider myself a Tea Party member, have never attended an event, and don’t plan to. But the numbers say that those who do identify as Tea Party are well educated and well off. Those I know who do are just fed to the back teeth with a government that has cut it’s ties to the Constitution and decided power should be located there rather than in the electorate.

  23. 30

    spews:

    @29
    “The movement has no single message or theme” precisely because it’s a grass roots reaction to government over-reaching.

    No, it’s not. It’s a reaction to the Democratic takeover of the White House and their control of Congress.

    To be fair, I doubt many of those attending rallies would be willing to admit that Bush was as guilty of this as Obama and Pelosi.

    Exactly! And that’s why the movement is not what you think it is. It’s not about government overreach, it’s about blind partisanship that serves the interest of the very wealthy.

    But how many war protesters do you see holding mutilated American flags on overpasses since Obamas election? They objected while Bush was president, called for immediate cessation to both wars, and then disappeared once Obama won the office.

    The people who excuse Obama’s war record while excoriating Bush’s are just as hypocritical as the Tea Partiers. And I haven’t been shy to point out that Obama is just as bad as Bush on his civil liberties record and his war policies. In fact, Obama might end up being worse in some respects.

    I doubt many of those attending Tea Party events would be called Constitutional scholars, but how many attending a DNC convention or primary event would? Politics based on passion more than knowledge is another thing the right doesn’t hold copyright on.

    No argument there, but that disproves nothing that I’ve written so far. I’m not here to argue that Democrats or the left are always right. You’re the one who keeps imagining that to be the case. Once you figure that out, you’ll make an ass of yourself around here a lot less often.

    Console yourself with the idea that this is an astroturf front for the evil Koch brothers scheme to take over the world (bwah ha ha) all you like. It is a popular response to government that no longer considers itself of the people, by the poeple and for the poeple.

    No, it’s not. It’s a response to there being Democrats in charge. Whether or not you agree with what they’re doing, the government is no less “for the people” than it was under Bush. The people elected Obama and he’s enacted an agenda that is somewhat in line with what he was elected to do. The reason the Tea Party exists is because aspects of that agenda threaten both the ideology – and the fiscal bottom line – of a number of right-leaning groups and wealthy financial interests. And they’ve been very adept in playing upon nativist emotions to rally people for causes that the vast majority of them don’t quite understand.

    I don’t consider myself a Tea Party member, have never attended an event, and don’t plan to. But the numbers say that those who do identify as Tea Party are well educated and well off. Those I know who do are just fed to the back teeth with a government that has cut it’s ties to the Constitution and decided power should be located there rather than in the electorate.

    And the Tea Partiers I know (and that Taibbi has interacted with), don’t have a goddamn clue what the Constitution says. In fact, support for changing the Constitution when it comes to birthright citizenship and the 4th Amendment runs extremely high among the Tea Party crowd. The idea that the Tea Partiers are Constitutional scholars who bemoan our lack of allegiance to that document is a ridiculous myth.

    Of the Tea Partiers I personally know, they’re almost universally folks who are well-educated only because they were well off growing up. They’re people who’ve never known hardship and have never known what it means to struggle for the basic things in life. And that perspective has caused them to take America – and all the hard work and sacrifice that has gone into building this great country – for granted. And when someone comes along and says that it’s time to work hard again to keep America great – they scream bloody murder and blame everything on “liberals”. That’s what the Tea Party movement is about – it’s the culmination of the death of personal responsibility in this country that’s gone on for many years.

  24. 31

    SJ spews:

    This sort of self serving writing by Taibbi is more a kind of masturbation than anything else.

    The Fox/Koch fed Tea Bagger movement is very, very real. Dismissing or ridiculing ay be reassuring to lace curtain libs, but the dangers of demagoguery can’t be addressed by self satisfied congratulations.

    What I DO NOT see is a counter movement. The underlying issues of the Tea Bag suckers are LIBERAL issues.

  25. 32

    JIMI H spews:

    HEY LIBBIES… KEEP YOUR #$$%# hands off the cash that hard working americans EARN !!!!!!!

    GET OFF THE COUCH WAITING FOR YOUR FOOD STAMPS>>>>>>>AND GET A JOB !!!

    LESS GOVERNMENT ……MORE FREEDOM !!!!

  26. 33

    JIMI H spews:

    LEE –

    it involves reaction to democractic CONTROL of white house……. congress……AND AN ATTEMPT TO CONTROL THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

    The constitution along with the 14th amendment was well written…..its justice brennan who did not know what he was reading

    leeboy..keep your stinking hands off the cabin i built, and it’s recommended that you remove your cabeza from your colon