What is the Tea Party all about?
March 31, 2010 7:55 PM   Subscribe

What is this Tea Party thing I keep hearing so much about?

I keep on hearing about this Tea Party thing splashed all over the US media. Being Australian, I'm not quite entirely in the loop, and wonder what it is they're all about. My ears pricked up when I half heard their self-appointed "president" explain that they were planning on taking over the republican party, or something along those lines. Can you explain to me what (they think) they're doing? I hear plenty of ugliness about them, for sure.. but what is it they actually stand for? And how is it they plan on going about it?
posted by Philby to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
And who exactly is organizing it?

if you don't mind, Philby?
posted by salvia at 7:59 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sure someone else will answer this more directly, but have you had a look at this? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:01 PM on March 31, 2010


Have you tried the obvious sources? Wikipedia (more here). Some analysis.
posted by spiderskull at 8:03 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a vague idea.... but Wikipaedia has a page on the protests... Here 'tis. And there's a general one on the movement too...Here ya go. Just googling "tea party" gives some good info.

Seems some Americans don't like tax. Well colour me shocked! Hope some of the locals can give their take on it... a bit better than the wiki page. It's all so strange to us Australians, isn't it?
posted by taff at 8:05 PM on March 31, 2010


salvia :

Americans for Prosperity is the organization behind the Tea Party movement, and they are funded largely by Koch Industries, a company which has also spent larger-than-Exxon amounts of money on disproving climate change.

they are involved in core industries such as commodities trading, petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, as well as in other ventures and investments.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-demelle/greenpeace-unmasks-koch-i_b_518036.html
posted by radiosilents at 8:09 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


Besides the Wikipedia link for the movement itself, there's the Boston Tea Party which looms large as an event from the American revolution that has been elevated to a kind of a national creation myth.

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and reference is often made to it in other political protests.

Therefore, "tea party" references the 1773 event and the follow-on nostalgic, mythic view that it was the singular day where Americans finally stood up and said "fuck you" to the British, starting the revolution and putting the country on the path to independence.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:09 PM on March 31, 2010


In the original 1773 event, some of the participants dressed-up in native aboriginal costumes, adding further confusion to the perception...
posted by ovvl at 8:24 PM on March 31, 2010


Ah! I happen to be doing anthropological feildwork with some Tea Party groups in my area presently.


This first thing I would say is: don't believe most of what you see in the media. A few important misconceptions:

- There is no real "Tea Party Movement." It's really a label that a whole host of groups, each with a different form of organization/set of ideals, affiliate themselves with. For instance, in my area there is a chapter of the 9/12 Movement, which owes its existence to Glenn Beck, as well as a group called the "Sons of Liberty" (also a Boston Tea Party reference) -- which has much more of a libertarian slant-- which both think of themselves as part of the Tea Party. When there are protests, fund-raising events, etc. they will sometimes be referred to as Tea Party events, if more than one "Tea Party" group is involved with the event. (this is also basically the answer to salvia's question)

Now, you may have heard of the Tea Party Express, as well as the Tea Party convention at which Sarah Palin spoke. Neither of these find much acceptance among the Tea Party affiliated groups in my area. They think of them as power grabs/brainwashing BY the republican party. Essentially they are recognized as what they are-- attempts at cooptation.

However, i would say it is not unreasonable to say that their goals are the "takeover" of the republican party. The big thing that's happening around here is a push to make Tea Party members committeemen. These are the low level party fuctionaries who choose what people to put on the local ballot. I think representatives the Dem and Republican National Conferences are also chosen by a system which is fundamentally based on committeemen.

They do not support anyone just because they are republican or democrat. They seem truly dedicated to their values (which i will get to next) and vet candidates based on them.

So what are their values? There seems to be a focus on individual liberty. Many call themselves "Constitutionalists" when asked for a political affliation, so they're real into that too. Taxation is a big issue, definitely, and so is excessive government spending.

Lastly, on the ugliness: I haven't seen too much of it. Certainly nothing as horrid as the stuff they show on the news. Certainly, some people believe in death panels, conspiracy theories, etc. In terms of violence, things vary widely. Some people tell me emphatically and unequivocally that violence is not part of the movement, but sometimes comments at meetings have an undertone of aggression (i would point out that the TP is hardly unique in this). They actually get pretty sensitive about the whole "TP is racist" thing. There is a black guy who goes to the Sons of Liberty regularly.

If you want more information, or links to TP sites, you could MeMail me.
posted by Truthiness at 8:27 PM on March 31, 2010 [24 favorites]


Given that some of my neighbors affiliate with these groups, I think the best starting point would be to compare them to One Nation, a right-wing challenge to both established parties, the primary difference being that tea party activists are, as of now, much less unified.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:29 PM on March 31, 2010




Here's an article in the New York Times about their movement.

In a nutshell: they're almost entirely white Americans, often middle aged, almost exclusively in the middle of the country, frequently unemployed or on some sort of government assistance, and they don't really know what they're protesting.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:42 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here are the demographics:
74 percent are Republicans or independent voters leaning Republican;
16 percent are Democrats or independent voters leaning Democratic;
5 percent are solidly independent;
45 percent are men;
55 percent are women;
88 percent are white;
77 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008;
15 percent voted for President Barack Obama.
I'm not fan of the Tea Party movement, but I second Truthiness that you shouldn't believe a lot of the conventional wisdom about them. The CW is that they're a bunch of "angry white men" and there's a sinister veneer of racism to the whole thing. As far as I can tell, this is a fantasy that's been concocted by the Tea Party's political opponents. For instance, I guarantee you that a lot of people are going to read that poll, promptly forget that the group is disproportionately female, and go back to tarring them as angry white men.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:43 PM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Republican populists, as distinct from Republican plutocrats. In the words of Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, "everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle".
posted by aquafortis at 8:45 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks guys- there's some good information there. What I really want is some on-the-groud perspectives. I like the comparison to One Nation- that seems apt. Any more opinions or observations, opine/ observate away, please!
posted by Philby at 8:49 PM on March 31, 2010


As Damn That Television says, it's a lot of hype and huffing and puffing, and their values (as stated) generally aren't congruent with their actions. When asked to further explain themselves, they usually can't.
posted by gjc at 9:31 PM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since no one else has said it, the tea party movement only started a year ago, which is suspiciously close to when Obama entered office. You'd think they would have been protesting during the Bush years, since Bush's massive deficit will have to be paid back through taxes at some point. That and Fox New's aggressive promoting of the tea party gives one pause.
posted by malp at 9:47 PM on March 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


President Bush turned an all-time record surplus into an all-time record deficit, and none of these "fiscally-conservative" fuckers said boo until a black guy became president.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:32 PM on March 31, 2010 [19 favorites]


it's a lot of hype and huffing and puffing, and their values (as stated) generally aren't congruent with their actions. When asked to further explain themselves, they usually can't.

That's true of all political movements without a clear achievable end-goal. If your end goal is lower taxes, how do you know when you've achieved it? When taxes are lower than most developed nations? When taxes are abolished? What about inflation, the hidden tax? You can't clearly define your position when logically it must be vague. Contrast that with the women's suffrage movement. You knew when to stop protesting when you could vote

Finally, there's nothing hypocritical in taking advantage of the current system while trying to change it. I knew a owner of a bucket factory, which at the time polluted the air somewhat badly. He was all for legislation to limit the pollution, but no way was he going to install expensive scrubbers without being required to. To do so would have hurt the competitiveness of his factory. He was concerned about the environment, not stupid.

Similarly, tea party protesters get a lot a flak.,. "You're on social security, eh? I bet you even drove on a government funded road to get here, huh?" ... when their initial goal was to hinder Obama's stimulus spending, which is an entirely reasonable position.
posted by malp at 10:46 PM on March 31, 2010


From what I've seen they think that Obama is a socialist. They also think he's a communist, a fascist, Hitler, and Kenyan. They compare taxes to "white slavery".
posted by irisclara at 12:58 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Raban's recent piece for the NYRB, At the Tea Party, provides a good on-the-ground perspective. The main points that I took away from Raban's article were (1) the Tea Party movement has got a lot of people involved in political activism for the first time in their lives, but (2) it's politically quite fractured and incoherent, and (3) the extreme right-wing agenda that seems to be driving the movement, and the crazy 'birther' stuff that gets so much coverage in the media, actually doesn't seem to have much support at the grassroots.
posted by verstegan at 2:46 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


My take: a group of reductionists who do not consider the subtlety and complexity involved in governing 300 million people.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:46 AM on April 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


So what are their values? There seems to be a focus on individual liberty. Many call themselves "Constitutionalists" when asked for a political affliation, so they're real into that too. Taxation is a big issue, definitely, and so is excessive government spending.

(I am favoriting this so. hard.)

I know exactly one person who self-identifies as a member of the Tea Party (although to my knowledge he has not participated in any events/meetings/protests with them). He is a non-White grandson of immigrants. What Truthiness describes as their values are very much in line with why he considers himself part of the Tea Party. He is also very angry re: the attempted co-opting of the label by Sarah Palin, racists, etc. But he does consider Obama to be a socialist, and socialism to be a Bad Thing.

Insert anecdata disclaimer here.
posted by somanyamys at 6:44 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


malp, your point is well taken. I'd be out there too screaming about taxes... if anyone had actually raised my taxes. Or even inflation, if there was any evidence it was looming. But interest rates are damn near zero. Yes, in the long term, government debt needs to be reduced. And coincidentally enough, that's what Obama is trying to do. But the vast majority of government debt is actually owed to them and ourselves- in the form of our retirement accounts and the social security "lockbox". Somebody is going to have to pay dearly when they start drawing off of that.

I guess my problem is that these people are clearly worked up about something, and the fact that they can't say what it is means only two things can be happening:

1- They are being vague because they don't want to say what they are actually angry about. (All the damned brown people.)

2- They are an ignorant mob, being used as a tool of political power. No, there is no leader, that's the beauty of it. It's a self-sustaining inferno of something. The various people who find them politically expedient simply wander up and throw napalm on the fire when they need a little warmth.

And maybe an extra credit #3- They are extracting their pound of political flesh. They saw all the anti-war protesters, assumed they were just trying to bring Bush down for solely political reasons, and now are taking great delight in taking their turn at "having fun" protesting the opposition.

(As for nothing hypocritical, that's a fine line. These people, however, are veering over it. Many are saying (through words or implication) that they are on the moral high ground. "It's wrong to steal from the rich and give to the poor/greedy/lazy", and things like that. If one is arguing morality, it IS hypocritical to engage in what they are protesting against. On the other side of the line is the bucket guy, who wanted a policy change. If he was going around saying his competitors were wrong for polluting so much, that would be a different story.)

As an interested outsider, their movement seems to be able to be distilled down to "quit hitting yourself." These people are able to hang out in parking lots and scream at anyone who will listen, rather than sitting at home with an empty cupboard and empty gas tank frying up squirrels for sustenance precisely because of the prosperity these government programs created. Can government be made more efficient? Absolutely. But you don't improve by destroying.
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


So what are their values? There seems to be a focus on individual liberty. Many call themselves "Constitutionalists" when asked for a political affliation, so they're real into that too. Taxation is a big issue, definitely, and so is excessive government spending.

But they are fighting a straw man, created to incite them. Nobody (besides the leftiest fringes) is attacking anyone's liberty. In fact, they are undermining the very nature of the Constitution- everyone votes, and the winners of the election get to run the government for a while. This country was founded, or at least tried to be, on the notion that everyone's liberty is equal. They give the impression that they fancy their own liberty to be much more important than that of those they disagree with. And *that* is what makes them scary.
posted by gjc at 7:16 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It also seems to me that there was a linguistic shift that happened at some point over the past year - this phenomenon started out with people having protests they were calling "tea parties" (mostly in response to the bailout and the stimulus bill, I think), and then at some point the term shifted to being the "Tea Party" as if it were an entity. It's not totally clear to me whether that corresponds to a reality in the way these groups have coalesced into a movement or whether it is just a shift in the way it is being talked about.
posted by yarrow at 7:18 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


But they are fighting a straw man, created to incite them. Nobody (besides the leftiest fringes) is attacking anyone's liberty.

Being required by law to do ANYTHING is a a restriction on your liberty. Some restrictions are legal and justified, but to say only the far left wants to do that is flat out incorrect. There are people on both sides of the isle that want to restrict people's freedom. Being required to buy health insurance is a restriction of an individual's liberty. Banning gay marriage is a restriction.

The run of the mill tea party participants are pretty consistently fiscally conservative and not overly concerned with social issues (either right or left leaning).
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:22 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


President Bush turned an all-time record surplus into an all-time record deficit, and none of these "fiscally-conservative" fuckers said boo until a black guy became president.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:32 AM on April 1 [7 favorites +] [!]


A member of my family who has attended a Tea Party rally points out this chart.

Also, it's not true that no conservatives criticized Bush for his deficits. Bush was roundly criticized by conservatives for expanding the government.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:09 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, it's not true that no conservatives criticized Bush for his deficits. Bush was roundly criticized by conservatives for expanding the government.

So true -- the Tea Party dude I described above strongly disliked Bush for that reason. (Just to round out my anecdote...)
posted by somanyamys at 9:31 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, nice chart. I like this one and this one.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:48 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My concern is that a lot of these people are those who said any protest against Bush was unAmerican, but protest against Obama (even on issues where he is just dealing with the fallout of the Bush years) is considered patriotic dissent.

Since I was the age of 12 my test for most things is "if you reverse it, does it still make sense?", and the Tea Party-ists, organized or otherwise, aren't doing very well on that front. Issues they let slide during the Bush years are now suddenly hot 'talking points'. Seems very one-sided and myopic to me.
posted by foobario at 9:55 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since no one else has said it, the tea party movement only started a year ago

... and at that time they weren't so much the tea but the teabag party, a moniker they shed hastily when mocked by Jon Stewart.
posted by Rash at 10:09 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since I was the age of 12 my test for most things is "if you reverse it, does it still make sense?", and the Tea Party-ists, organized or otherwise, aren't doing very well on that front. Issues they let slide during the Bush years are now suddenly hot 'talking points'. Seems very one-sided and myopic to me.

The reversing it to see if it is fair is a very good point. I wish more people did that.

The idea that they didn't criticize Bush is very much a product of the mainstream media. Don't listen to the news reports on the tea party. Go talk to them yourself.

Truthfully, I would have to say the tea party movement grew out of the Ron Paul campaign. The message is similar and the media is covering it the same way. For example, this video is pretty typical of the turnouts Ron Paul would get verses Romney and the other GOP candidates. There is one example that I can't find immediately where the turnout was similar to the one I linked to, but the mainstream media showed a picture of a single tired old man to represent the Ron Paul supporters and a vibrant, energetic family supporting Mitt Romney.

The media rarely has anything good to say about Ron Paul or the tea party movement. There are many examples of this, it just takes a bit of research. Another good starting point is too find pictures of the tea party march on Washington, compare them to the Million Man March from the 90s and then compare the estimated turnout.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2010


Here's a new report on Tea Party demographics. "Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large."
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2010


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