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The Tea Party Movement: The Pendulum Swings

In my last post, I called attention to the financial and ideological forces that have given rise to this latest political rebellion known as the tea party.  The point of that post was to illuminate both progressives and conservatives as to the real nature of the forces that have fueled the tea party movement.

We know where the money is coming from.  We know what those who provide the money want for their contributions.  We know that the more prominent tea party organizations can not be considered a “grass-roots” movement.  It is a movement that has been co-opted by several extremely rich individuals who want to become even richer.  To make this happen, there must be “boots on the ground”.  There must be a large number of individuals who can be persuaded to “rise up” against the current political establishment and bring about change.  It does not matter to those on the cutting edge of the tea party movement that their activities may, indeed, further the causes of those funding it.  What seems to matter is that they “take their country back”.  That phrase is one of the most overused, least understood phrases that have ever been uttered in the political realm.

The 2006 and 2008 elections were a stinging rebuke to those who lean toward the political right in this country.  What I have found most surprising about Republican defeat in those two elections is the rejection of oft-used Republican tactic of inserting “family values” issues into their campaigns.  Those who voted along Democratic lines in those elections completely rejected the “guns, gays, & abortion” themes so often brought to the forefront by those running the Republican campaigns in efforts to stimulate their political base.

In prior elections, these themes resonated more strongly within the American electorate.  It would be interesting to determine to what extent unhappiness with the performance of the Bush Administration contributed to the reduction in the relevance of “family values” issues.  In essence, those espousing these issues were marginalized and overwhelmed by those who had their own set of family values.  It was almost as if the “left” shouted from their rooftops that they were tired of those on the “right” claiming the family values mantra.  They seemed to say that they were tired of being classified by the “right” as not having values.  In essence they were saying that we all have values, and we are tired of you claiming that your values are the only ones that count.  I will admit, I do grow fatigued of those who claim that someone’s  values are “un-American”.  Who are you kidding?  People who think differently than you are just as American as you are.  In fact, it is just as “American” to think differently as it is to believe as you do.  There, I said it!

I remember a lot of political commentators making ridiculous comments after these elections that the Republican Party was fading fast and was in real danger of becoming irrelevant politically in this country.  Those comments were short-sighted and for the most part, unbelievable.  While it was true that the party was in disarray, the ebb and flow of the political struggle in this country operates as a pendulum.  It was only a matter of time until the pendulum swung back.  As a pendulum moves, it goes from one extreme to another.  As it travels between extremes, it must pass through the middle first.  Most of us, have political beliefs that are more aligned with the center than with the extremes.  We just don’t make a lot of noise about our beliefs as those on the extreme are prone to do. This election is going to be about returning to the middle.  There will be more balance in the governing bodies of this country when the new Congress is sworn in.  Whether or not our elected politicians can actually govern from the middle will be the story of the next two years. 

So who are these “boots on the ground” that make up the vast majority of the tea party movement?  First of all, they are mainly members of the Republican Party.  They are the very same conservative voters whose political ideology was so soundly defeated on the national level in 2006 and 2008.

Amy Gardner, of the Washington Post recently published the results of months of research done by their news organization into the nature of the tea party movement.  (Gauging the Scope of the Tea Party Movement in America, Amy Gardner, Washington Post, Oct. 24th)  The research completed involved canvassing hundreds of local tea party groups throughout the country for information about their membership.  Efforts were made to contact every tea party group in the nation in an attempt to get a handle on the membership of this “new political reality” encompassing the country.  Their results go a long way towards explaining the tea party phenomenon.

The tea party is a conglomerate of local groups, both large and small, and for the most part they have not participated in any political campaigning this year.  Seventy percent of the groups said they have not participated at all.  This stands in contrast to the  small number of national groups that claim the tea party label. (See my prior post on the scope and reach of the Koch Brothers and Koch Industries into the tea party movement.)  For the most part, at the local level, they are just average Americans who are unhappy with the performance of their elected officials and are tired of not being heard.

Respondents to the Washington Posts efforts for the most part confirmed that there is very little agreement among the leaders of the various groups.  They don’t agree on what they should be most concerned about.  Interestingly enough, social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights did not register as concerns.  Less than half of the groups even mentioned that they wanted to limit the size of government.

Here is an interesting bit of information that came from the study.  Eleven percent of the tea party respondents said that President Obama’s race, religion or ethnic background was either “very important” or “somewhat important” to them.  It seems that the claims about racism being a factor affecting the unhappiness of tea party supporters are somewhat justified.

Remember that those who have issues with the race of the President are not generally inclined to shout it from the rooftops, or respond to it in surveys.  Suffice it to be said that there is an element of racism found within tea party supporters.  The extent of the racist elements within the group is yet to be determined. Legitimate estimates are that up to 1 in 4 tea party members have difficulty with the fact the country is being run by an African American. The racial overtones infiltrating the movement may also be shown to be regional. 

It could very well be that increased media coverage of the more prominent activities and rallies within the tea party movement have called attention to signs and behaviors by those who have racist tendencies.  Extremists always generate the most noise.  Research indicates that many of the groups have kicked out questionable members to help them project a more tolerant image.  That being said, there is ample evidence to show that there has been infiltration of avowed racist individuals into the tea party movement.  The extent to which this has influenced the movement is yet to be determined.

Here is something to think about.  If Hilary Clinton had been elected President in 2008, would I have had to spend time writing about the chauvinistic presence within the movement instead of the racist presence that seems to infiltrate it now?   How you answer that question is probably a good indicator of the amount of tolerance you have for either of those types of human behavior.

When groups were asked to name a nationally prominent leader who represented their group over one-third said “no-one”.  Often Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are mentioned as potential leaders of this election cycles’ group of fed up Americans.

Here is a remarkable statistic that probably gives more than ample evidence that the tea party movement is, for the most part, made up of very conservative members of the Republican Party.  96% of voters who say they support the Tea party movement also say they voted for John McCain in 2008!  In statistical terms, that’s a landslide.  The tea party movement is not an independent, bipartisan movement as it sometimes claims to be.  It is a group of conservatives who support Republican ideology.  If you are shocked by that claim you just have not been paying attention to what is going on ideologically in this country.

So who are the “boots on the ground” that are members of, or supporters of the tea party movement in this country?  My research (some not brought out in this post) seems to indicate that tea party supporters are generally:

  • Conservative Republicans who are reacting to Democratic control of Washington.
  • Individuals who started out being mad at the Republican establishment for behaviors and political actions that are contrary to stated beliefs of Republicans and now are doing their best to oust Democratic candidates in the 2010 election.
  • Have limited political experience and very little experience in organizing political events.
  • Have taken no action politically since the last election cycle.
  • Are not professional political operatives.
  • Have had their political operations funded by huge sums of money being fed into their coffers by very rich individuals who prefer to remain in the shadows and who have an agenda that will make them richer than they are now.
  • Not members of any minority population.
  • Extremely impatient when their political beliefs are not shared by the majority of Americans.
  • Prone to express their discontent by stating that they “want their country back”, or stating that thinking any differently than they do is evidence of being “un-American” or “socialist”.
  • Prone to claims that those who believe differently than they do are not following the guidelines and intents of the original framers of the Constitution.
  • Rarely Constitutional Scholars.
  • Fairly typical of other conservative groups that have made it a habit of going on the attack against representatives of government elected in accordance with the Constitution and representing a political ideology different than their own.


For the most part, tea party supporters are just members of the American electorate that were marginalized in the last two elections and making every attempt to accelerate the normal swinging of the political pendulum back to their ideology.  In many respects the tea party movement is perceived as being something entirely new to the political environment.  Reality, however,  illustrates very clearly that the movement has been here many times before under different leadership and different names.  This movement crops up every time the nation is being led by a Democratic President whose party controls both sides of Congress.  There is nothing new here.  We have seen it all before.  The fact that this movement has been around before under a different name does not in any way reduce their anger or their effectiveness.  It only calls attention to the fact that their presence and influence was totally predictable by anyone who legitimately follows the movement of the political pendulum.

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