The Tea Party Is Dangerous: Dispelling 7 Myths That Help Us Avoid Reality About the New Right-Wing Politics
Continued from previous page
The Tea Party movement does not represent a new sentiment or set of ideas in American politics; it is merely a new expression of what was once called the New Right, which grew out of the failed 1964 presidential campaign of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz. The men who formed the New Right also created the Religious Right, plucking the late Rev. Jerry Falwell out of the closed universe of Southern Baptists to front a national political organization called the Moral Majority. That organization had much to do with electing Ronald Reagan, long considered to be something of a political joke, to the White House.
The Moral Majority existed for a mere 10 years, but gave birth to a movement that continues to shape the Republican political landscape and holds the keys to the GOP's get-out-the-vote operations.
6. The Tea Party movement is disorganized and has no leader.
Those invested in diminishing the movement's importance point to its lack of organization and lucidity.
But those are exactly the reasons it remains so dangerous: anybody with a paranoid claim that seems plausible in the right-wing universe can pick off a portion of the movement, and with some money and moxie, mobilize a throng of foot-soldiers for his or her cause.
The mobilizer could be corporate-backed astroturfers, Rupert Murdoch's media empire, or a one-note organization such as the so-called constitutionalist Oath Keepers (an organization of people either currently or formerly serving in the armed forces and law enforcement who pledge to defy enforcement of laws they deem to be unconstitutional).
As certain commentators deride the Tea Party movement as being too disorganized to impact electoral politics on a wide scale, right-wing leaders, seeking to tap the rage and resentment that underlies this populist movement, are using the 2010 mid-term elections to organize for 2012 – a presidential election year. The right’s old hands – men such as Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, and Richard Viguerie, known as Ronald Reagan’s “postmaster general” for his direct-mail operation on behalf of 1980’s unlikely presidential candidate, are already on the ground, compiling databases and organizing local Tea Party groups to do electoral activism.
Campaigns that seem ridiculous to in-the-know political observers can provide the basis for potent voter mobilization efforts. Just witness the 1988 presidential campaign of Rev. Pat Robertson, whose losing bid for the Republican nomination yielded a data-mining bonanza that formed the basis of the Christian Coalition – the organization that laid the groundwork for the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” which in turn set the stage for George W. Bush’s ascension to the White House.
7. Tea Party supporters are all stupid, crazy or ignorant.
Except they're not.
According to an April New York Times/CBS News poll, the percentage of Tea Party supporters with college degrees substantially exceeds the percentage of those in the general population (23 percent, compared with 15 percent for the general public), while 33 percent of Tea Party supporters attended college without obtaining a degree, compared with 28 percent of the general public. They may be less educated than liberals, but that doesn't mean they're dolts.
When people find their notion of reality upended by actual events (say, the near-collapse of the economy of the world's wealthiest nation, in which you happen to live), they reach for explanations that don't contradict their fundamental principles (such as a belief in so-called free markets, or the equation of capitalism with democracy). This is the classic recipe for both scapegoating and conspiracy-theorizing.