The Tea Party Movement – Valid Political Expression or Just Another Bunch of Nuts?

Published by in Offbeat
22nd Dec 2016

Begun in widely separated locations in 2009 in response to federal spending and a rising deficit, the Tea Party movement has spread across the country. Republicans have taken up the flag, but is this a valid expression of political will, or just another fringe movement that will fizzle out?

America has never had a shortage of fringe political movements, and the Tea Party movement, begun as a protest against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and a series of healthcare reform bills, is another in a long line of uniquely American responses to political conditions.

Although the movement was begun informally in response to what many conservative Americans saw as too high taxes, too much federal spending, and a mushrooming deficit, conservative activist Keri Carender of Seattle is often credited with being the official founder.  The official name for the movement was inspired by CNBC Business News editor Rick Santelli’s rant against the government’s plan to refinance mortgages on TV from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009.

Using this publicity and the viral impact of social media, the movement morphed from a series of local protests to a genuine national political force, capturing the attention of a number of Republican politicos such as Sarah Palin and Ron Paul.  The question that anyone interested in the direction of American politics must ask though, is:  will the Tea Party movement actually have an impact on the outcome of the 2012 elections, or, is this just another fringe element that will provide entertaining background noise?

A look at the demographics of self-described Tea Party members and supporters gives a clue of the movement’s true character.  While different polls show slightly different results, the common elements of almost all polls are:  Tea Partyers tend to be male, white, over 55, and generally more conservative than the rest of the population.  An October 2010 Washington Post poll showed that 11% of self-described Tea Party members were concerned about President Obama’s race, religion, or ethnic background, while 99% were concerned about the health of the economy.

This demographic is precisely the element of the population that conservative politicians since Richard Nixon have courted in their efforts to swing elections their way; the angry white male who feels threatened by legislation or policies that benefit minorities or other ‘non-majority’ groups or causes.  Unlike the voters that Nixon and those who followed him went after, though, Tea Partyers tend to earn higher incomes and are more conversant with use of mass media techniques to press their issues.

And, there is another worrying aspect of this movement – the issues that it takes up.  Some are frightening; the group, for instance, that mobilized in Citrus County to oppose U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restrictions on boating and other human activity in Kings Bay to avoid damage to manatees.  The group demonstrated against the rules as against the Bill of Rights and the Bible.  There is also an element of insanity, and no small amount of hypocrisy, in the opposition of Tea Partyers to federal spending – a large percentage of the movements followers are receiving Medicare or other federal benefit checks; apparently, they only object to the spending of tax money on ‘others.’