Tea Party and the Right  
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Tea Partiers V. Millennials: Why the Far Right Disdains Young People, Even Their Own Kids

Sociologist Theda Skocpol explains what drives the angry right, and what to expect next from them.

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They’ve actually destroyed the organizational integrity of the Republican Party right now. That’s why the situation is so scary for the United States. The Washington press corps wants to write again and again that both sides should compromise. The fact of the matter is that Obama doesn’t have anybody to compromise with. He can’t make a deal, because the Tea Party forces have discombobulated the Republican leadership. John Boehner can’t make a deal with anybody. He can’t deliver even on what he wants for breakfast.

“Destroyed the organizational integrity of the Republican Party” how so?

Republican Party committees can’t necessarily keep themselves at all levels from being taken over or end-run-ed by Tea Party forces. The leadership in the Senate, [and] especially in the House, can’t control their various actions, can’t use a combination of carrots and sticks to put things together. It means even that in elections, Republicans can’t control the message they’re sending out. You can declare that you’re going to have outreach to women and minorities, and the next day Rush Limbaugh can say god-knows-what. People can show up at the U.S. Capitol with a confederate flag in front of the White House. Things are kind of out of control.

The confederate flag – is there some larger significance in that popping up when and where it did?

There’s a strain in the Tea Party, especially at the grassroots, that’s xenophobic and racist, and certainly the confederate flag also symbolizes regional resistance to federal power – there’s lots of themes here that resemble nullification, and even the pre-Civil War crisis.

But I don’t really think it’s helpful to announce that the entire Tea Party base is racist.  I don’t think it’s that simple. For one thing, they’re just as riled up about immigration as they are about blacks. There’s certainly a worry about a change in the social composition of America. But we found in our research that they also resent young people – including in their own families.

They think young people are not measuring up. That the grandsons and daughters and nieces and nephews expect to get free college loans, and don’t get a job, and hold ideas that are not very American in their view – like Obama. Obama symbolizes all of this.

How does that play out in the politics around the Affordable Care Act, and these accusations of raiding Medicare?

One of the big mysteries that we’ve tried to deal with in our research is why the Affordable Care Act, which after all is fairly moderate – its an extremely important piece of legislation, but it’s moderate in its means – why would that become a flashpoint?

Well, despite all of the particular policy features that came from conservative origins, it is a powerfully redistributive law. The people left out of the insurance system have been lower income and more moderate income workers.  They’re a younger population, browner and blacker. And then you come along with a president who symbolizes everything that conservatives and Tea Partiers hate. And he proposes to raise taxes on wealthier people, Medicare beneficiaries, and business to pay for insurance for those people who’ve been left out. So Obamacare really symbolizes the idea that this new America is going to take something from “our America.”

And for the ideological forces, Freedomworks, Americans For Prosperity, Heritage Action – you just have to go back to Bill Kristol’s  memo in 1993 on Clinton healthcare. They’re worried about filling in one of the big holes in the American welfare state, and creating a positive relationship between the government and working-age people that will make it hard for Republicans to win elections or proceed with their preference: to roll back Social Security and Medicare, let alone another big piece of the American welfare state.

 
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