Welcome Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, and Host Jeremi Suri.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics

Jeremi Suri, Host:

I remember receiving a phone call from a prominent newspaper reporter in Fall 2009 about the emergence of the Tea Party, largely in opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care legislation. “Is the Tea Party going to become a major force in American politics,” the reporter asked. “No,” I responded confidently. “Like other fringe protest parties in the past, it will fizzle quickly. Their message is too negative.”

I have never been so wrong in my life! My confident prediction gave way to a true nightmare in my home state of Wisconsin. In November 2010 the citizens of what is often labeled America’s progressive state elected Tea Party followers to virtually all government offices. Scott Walker became governor, the Fitzgerald brothers (Scott and Jeff) became the leaders of the two houses of the state legislature, and unknown businessman Ron Johnson unseated the long-serving progressive stalwart, Russ Feingold, from the U.S. Senate. Similar things happened in other states (New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio), but the reversal of Democratic leadership in Wisconsin was especially dramatic.

As everyone reading the newspapers knows, the drama of the election was only the beginning. Walker, the Fitzgeralds, and their many Tea Partiers in the Wisconsin legislature have proceeded to attack every hinge of progressive government head-on. They have been bold, categorical, and uncompromising. They have been vicious. They have been offensive to every notion of decency. In less than six months, the Wisconsin Tea Party Republicans have attempted to dismantle union collective bargaining, public funding for education, support to uninsured citizens, voting rights for the young and old, and the rudiments of progressive taxation. Repeating their mantra that “the state is broke,” Walker, the Fitzgeralds, and their supporters have dished out tax breaks and other goodies to business groups, as they have scaled back funding for basic public goods. They have pledged to make government serve business as they have rescinded the promise of opportunity for all citizens, especially those from poor backgrounds. I have found the force of this movement so frustrating that it contributed – among other factors – to my decision to leave Wisconsin this coming fall. I can only see more dark months and years for the state before things improve.

Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio put all of this into perspective in their powerful and opinionated book, Crashing the Tea Party. The authors have a number of key arguments. First, they contend that the Tea Party is not a grass-roots movement, but instead a creature of powerful business interests and the Republican Party. The mainstream media, they argue, has been too willing to accept the “false populism” of groups that are small, unrepresentative, and well connected to elites.

Second, Street and DiMaggio document the narrowness, selfishness, and stunning elitism of Tea Party supporters. The public opinion tables on pages 49-55 of their book are particularly revealing. The authors show that 36% of Tea Party supporters have an annual income above $75,000. Only 25% of the general public earns as much. 35% of Tea Party supporters are college graduates, compared to 28% in the public at large. On these and other measures, the Tea Party is a party of protest for those who have the least reason to protest. Street and DiMaggio conclude that this is a sham designed to hide the long-established Republican business interests behind the Walkers, the Fitzgeralds, and their counterparts in other states.

Third, and perhaps most surprising to many readers, the authors deny that the Democratic Party offers a viable alternative to the Republican Tea Party. Street and DiMaggio are scornful of mainstream Democrats, especially President Barack Obama, who have abandoned what they see as the progressive soul of the party. Instead of standing strong for workers’ rights, for economic redistribution, and for basic public services, Street and DiMaggio argue that the Democratic party has capitulated to business interests and other wealthy groups. Progressive change, they predict, will come from a true “Progressive Tea Party,” inspired by groups like the protestors at the Wisconsin state capitol who mobilized to save unions and fair treatment of citizens, not a particular party.

Street and DiMaggio have spent a lot of time studying the Tea Party. They have thought deeply about its relationship to the political times we live in, and the recent past. Their book is passionate and provocative, argumentative and argument-worthy.

The problem, as I see it, is that they re-create the very one-sidedness and insensitivity they condemn in the Tea Party. They are probably correct that the popular appeal of the Tea Party is sometimes exaggerated, but they also dismiss its “false populism” too quickly. Hundreds of thousands of “ordinary” working citizens in Wisconsin and other states are fed up with what they see as government over-spending and misguided policies. They are drawn to the Tea Party’s call to scale things back. They are motivated to keep their taxes down. In a time of economic turmoil, these sentiments are not unprecedented. They are not just a creature of media manipulation. They are, I fear, quite sincere and widely held among reasonable people. Street and DiMaggio do not give Tea Party populism enough credit, and they therefore under-estimate the true challenge to progressive politics.

In addition, there is the problem of over-generalization. Tea Partiers do not move in lock-step with each other. They do not share a coherent ideology or a common program for change. They are a mix of various angry and anti-governmental opinions. This mix of viewpoints contributes to inconsistencies and contradictions, as Street and DiMaggio explain. It should, however, warn the authors against bald statements like: “Most Tea Partiers do harbor racist opinions” (page 77.) Really? Where is the evidence?

This kind of statement undermines any respect for the opinions of good citizens who are not racist but see some appeal in the Tea Party’s general message. Why should we pass summary judgment on these citizens? Just because the movement is often reprehensible does not mean that its followers are reprehensible too. Many Wisconsin residents of integrity voted for Governor Walker and his counterparts. Progressive politicians must find a way to attract the support of these citizens again, not condemn them for voting their minds. Progressive politicians must find a way to reach out more effectively, replacing partisan polarization with creative bridge-building. Maybe that will be the subject for Street and DiMaggio’s next book.

140 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics”

BevW June 4th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Paul, Anthony, Jeremi, Welcome back to the Lake.

Jeremi, Thank you for Hosting today’s salon from Oslo.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Hello, everyone. Are you there?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Thanks for having me.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Paul should be here shortly

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I’m in..on the road but safely ensconced in a Starbucks with WiFi

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Not as dramatic as being in Oslo I must say :)

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

To get us started I have a first question for Paul and Anthony. To what extent is the Tea Party influencing our debate about the federal deficit ceiling, and the federal budget in general?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

It’s influenced the debate quite a bit in the sense that the Tea Party phenomenon was instrumental in helping return Republicans to Congressional power, and Tea party republicans in Congress are pushing strongly for massive reductions in government spending.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Jeremi thank you for the thoughtful review. I was up in Madison twice during the protests: February 19 (when Tea Party tried to have a big counter-raly…they failed) and again on (I think) March 12, sort of the last big day, which felt kind of like a recall Walker rally

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Tea Party = monied interests. They’re winning & they’re gonna win. No one can fight against that much money.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

The Tea Party is representative of the right-most elements of the Republican Party, which is why there has been a significant amount of tension with less right-wing republicans, although the latter group has been on the decline for decades and is under even stronger assault in the last few years.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Oh its huge. We wouldn’t have this current deficit reduction drama with out the Tea Party/GOP (I even sometimes say Tea.O.P) triumph of Nov. 4, 2010. Theyve raised the ceiling without incident dozens and dozens of times in tne last 50 years, but not now…thanks largely to Tea Party thing.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Okay, I agree, but what about all of those rural and suburban Wisconsin citizens I have met (parents of my students) who vote Democrat and are now fed up. They are attracted to Tea Party rhetoric about smaller government and lower taxes…

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

These individuals would fit into the part of the public who finds the Tea Party generally appealing

BevW June 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

to CAGNomics I would say that monied interests exercse grossly outsized influence across the partisan divide and have done so since long before the rise of the current Tea Party phenmoenon. U.S. elections have long been “a wealth primary,” ….an expession of the unelected dictatorship of money to no small degree. The Citizens United decision made this problem worse, of course.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

In response to Jeremi’s question: I frame the TEa Party as consisting of various circles, and a central core
the outermost circle includes the sympathetic public, the next closest circle those who are potentially involved or who attend a protest, and the core of hard core activists. The further you get to the outside, the more likely you are to find people who generally like the sound of the Tea Party, but who are less likely to strongly agree with the “movement’s” political ideologies when closely prodded.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to BevW @ 15

thanks Beverly!

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Aren’t these “moderate” supporters of the Tea Party an important part of the story. Where do they fit in? How do they shape the movement? They are not present in your book.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

The return on buying politicians is at least 100%, and in most cases multiples of that. Now that the Supremes are allowing outright sales of politicians to bidness interests there’s no stopping it. All the PTB need is a small political front, and their bucks will take care of the rest.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

How many people are in this “outer ring” according to your scheme? They seem like a lot in Wisconsin. Governor Walker received 52% of the vote. At least 4-8% of that vote had gone Democratic in prior elections…

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 13

the point about the different circles of the tea party is explored in more detail through public opinion data in the “tea party super republicans” chapter of our book.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 21

yes, but most in Wisconsin opposes his policies, in terms of his attacks on unions, which were not included in his campaign rhetoric.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Why do you guys argue in your book that the Tea Party is racist? Do you think most supporters are really racist? Why?

yellowsnapdragon June 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

36% of Tea Party supporters have an annual income above $75,000. Only 25% of the general public earns as much. 35% of Tea Party supporters are college graduates, compared to 28% in the public at large

OK, but what are the statistics for hippies who show up at rallies and are otherwise politically active? Aren’t most politically active folks more educated with higher salaries?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I would add that Tea Party rhetoric is really “super Republican” rhetoric, the rhetoric of where the GOP has been going for some time and that its appeal is fed to no small degree by corporate media rhetoric (and not just FOX News rhetoric) that accuses Democrats of driving deficits by going too far left with a big government agenda (the “too left Obama” narrative of 2009-2010 matches the “too left Clinton” narrative of 1992 and 1993..old story). This despite the fact the Dems are actually corporatists, not especially left or big government per se and despite the fact the GOP presidents drove deficits with their own big government agenda of corporate welfare, tax cuts, and militarism

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 21

opinion polls of those in wisconsin show his attacks on unions are opposed by a majority of those within the state. it’s questionable whether he would have won if he campaigned on these plans at the time of the election. Many people are deeply angry at unresponsive government, but if you look closely at national survey data, you find that they strongly oppose the TEa party “solutions” of eviscerating unions and oppose Tea party supported candidates who are intent on pushing for the privatization of medicare, and the eventual privatization of social security.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Not sure. It depends how you ask the questions in polls. Remember, more than 50% of Wisconsinites just reelected an ultra-conservative Walker-supporting Supreme Court justice last month. Polls show state pretty evenly split. Te Party ideas have clearly gained traction with swing voters and some former Democrats.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 16

Yes, it’s a long tradition in the U.S. But the monied interests had a few hurdles. They had to get rid of unions, which they’ve been working at since the 1950s, largely successful 30 years later for private unions, got Raygun to bust ATC, now taking sledgehammer to public employee unions.

They also had to buy the U.S. media, which also took several decades to accomplish.

Then they had to establish rightwing think tanks, and buy out those that were centrist, like Brookings, & turn them radical right.

Clinton sold out any remaining D interests, and O has leapt much farther right.

The Tea Party is just a fig leaf for fooling Americans who don’t watch politics very closely into thinking that their vote still counts.

June 4th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

It doesn’t really seem like you’re answering Jeremi’s question. Okay, so you wrote a chapter addressing it. Can’t you give a few sentences summarizing the chapter, rather than just blowing the question off?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 24

that’s an important question. it can be answered in different ways, depending on the group in question, and whether we are talking about tea party views of african americans, or their views of Muslims.

Propagandee June 4th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

A progressive wing of the Tea Party– I luv it!

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Let’s start with Tea Party views of African-Americans. What are they?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 24

Some statistics worth thinking about in terms of the comprehensive poll done by the university of washington of tea party supporters:

35% believe blacks are hardworking (55% Tea Party opponents think they are hardworking)
45% believe blacks are intelligent (59% tea party opponents think they are intelligent)
41%, believe blacks are trustworthy (57% tea party opponents think they are trustworthy)
72% disagree that “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class”
73% agree that “it’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would just only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites”

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Anthony hit a point I wanted to make on divisions within Tea Party “followers.” A lot of the support on the margins (outside the active participant cadre, which is vert very small) is very loosey-goosey and brand driven. Lots of the folks who have called themselves supporters really do not like the hard right agenda at all and just sort of fell for this media blank sheet that was created. “Tea Party” came to mean “I’m pissed off” (often quite legitimately, of course) for lots of folks. Paul Ryan really stepped into this with his Medicare plan. “Rank and file” Tea Partiers are demotaphically older and very much want to keep their Social Security and Medicare.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 28

I’d personally conclude that these kind of figures, which suggest strong tea party support for the notion that african americans are stupid, untrustworthy, and lazy fits into the classic definition of racism. to speak in such broad strokes about an entire people is racist and reveals profound ignorance, in light of the data we describe, which show that there is no empirical evidence nationally to validate such arguments.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Welcome Paul and Anthony, and thank you Jeremi for a fine introduction.

My impression of the Tea Party is that it evolved over time. It most certainly exploded not as a populist-driven entity, but by virtue of the astro turf money poured into it that the book documents. It would not have had such instantaneous traction without it.

Over time however it did become an outlet for genuine populist discontent. It really was the only game in town because of the institutional failure on the left to provide an adequate counter-narrative, and an outlet, that addressed those feelings. The organizations that the public looks to for cues were successfully corralled in the veal pen, and they decided to sit it out just when people wanted to express their outrage against the banks. The unions that were organizing in the wake of the AIG scandal were called by the White House and told to stop because Geithner wanted bank buy-in for his PPIP program. And they did. (Notably the banks never bought in to the PPIP program.)

There are huge rifts within the Tea Party, notably between the libertarians and the social conservatives. Ask Dick Armey about pot, or the wars, and he shakes in his boots. FreedomWorks won’t get near any issue that could fracture a coalition that is already pretty shaky. But that’s a division that few have ever tried to take advantage of.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

And the Democrats lose working class folks for sure…by being, well, elitists (just because Rusha says that doesn’t make it all false) and, more to the point, corporatists

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 35

I agree with your assessment of “loosey-goosey” supporters, Paul. But isn’t that also true of all movements in the US. A successful movement always finds a way to attract some “loosey-goosey” supporters who do not buy the whole, or even major parts, of the program. Wouldn’t you say that about the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Neocon Movement?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 37

Thanks Jane. It’s definitely an outlet for legitimate discontent, there should be no questions about that. And there’s definitely diversity within ranks. Our analysis tries to make generalizations, whenever possible, by looking at national opinion data, and buttressing that data with case study analysis of the chicago and madison Tea Party protests which we directly observed over the last year.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 39

The question is still, however, whether the Tea Party is in reality a social movement. That is a case that has to be made, not one to be reflexively accepted by journalists who haven’t questioned it much.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Unfortunately, we had far more data than we could publish with this book, which was originally 400 pages, but got halved due to production limits. The other half went into painstaking detail analyzing the various Tea Party umbrella groups, and assessing how much actual activism was going on within them. The answer is a resounding “not much,” I’m afraid.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

What % of U.S. voters self-identify as TPers?

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 37

Well said, Jane. I agree with all of what you say. Your key point about the absence of a viable and alternative program on the Left is worth exploring. It comes up in the book as well. Why has the Left become a non-entity in our political debates? Where is the call for a new New Deal? Where is the argument for social welfare? Where is the claim to equality and justice?

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 35

“Rank and file” Tea Partiers are demotaphically older and very much want to keep their Social Security and Medicare.

That’s one of the things that mystifies me. How could they really hold this thing together when the fault lines are so massive, if anyone was seriously trying to crack it? How is the disinformation machine so strong that it can consistently keep blurring them over time?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Racism is atricky matter. We are talking mainly about “level 2 racism,” so callled colod blind racism. Not the sort where folks are openly bigoted and dropping he N word and all like that. Some such vile folks have shown their ugly face at TP rallies for sure. But mainly what we talk about is (CBS-NYT and Washington University) polling data that shows that Tea Partiers are even more prone than the white majority to blame blacks for their presence at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic hiearchies and to deny the role of institutional racism (alive and well under the cover of a first black president). Now with Muslims, however, Tea Pwrtiers do seem to exhibit a fair measre of level one bigotry.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

The rest of the national data I collected (and further descriptions of the chicago and madison case studies) will be included in another book of equal length coming out this fall, titled “the rise of the tea party,” by monthly review press.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I think the Tea Party is a social movement. 3 criteria:

1. They have shown some mass appeal — whether manipulated or not
2. They have a clear mobilizing ideology — whether all followers believe it or not
3. They have an infrastructure of institutions to organize around — this is the strongest point in your book

Social movements are always manipulative. Social movements always attract fellow travelers who do not buy the whole program. Social movements are always financed by someone…

Why not call a cow a cow — the Tea Party is a social movement. If you visit rural and suburban parts of Wisconsin you will definitely agree.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 43

the percent depends on the question asked, but polls typically find that between one quarter to one third of the public considers themselves tea party supporters on the most general level. Of course, those claiming to be activists represent just 4% of the public. those actually involved in activism are a radically smaller number, close to something like .00005% of the adult public.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

@Jeremi: Tea Party phenomenon (we don’t really say “movement” actually…don’t think it qualifies) is super loosey…very weighted to non-active support. We are veterans of real social movements and oserved very think activist base in groups and meetings we attended. Many Tea Partiers seemed actively hostile to real movement building activity – the stuff of real social movements like labor and Civil Rights struggles…

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I was researching Tea Party activism across individual states one time, and what I saw were a bunch of micro-sites that only became active when someone was pouring money through the system. They’d go for 6, 8, 10 months with zero activity, then suddenly the busses would pull up and everyone was engaged again. There did not seem to be much native organizing going on at the grassroots level, more like someone flips a switch and everyone jumps. However, maybe they were being channeled into local electoral activity and it just wasn’t showing up on their websites. Or maybe it was all happening offline, and they weren’t conscientious about documenting it. It all had a very astro-turfy feel, however.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 48

Our national survey of the 150 cities claiming a major turnout for the April 2010 rallies, at the height of the Tea Party media publicity, showed that just 8% of these “chapters” provided any evidence, whether through the national tea Party patriots website, or the local chapter websites, of regular meetings. a regular meeting was classified as evidence of two consecutive meetings, taking place over at least two months, in the run up to the rallies. If the Tea Party can’t even muster up this minimal level of activity, it would be difficult to call it a movement.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 50

Paul — social movements take many shapes. Just because the Tea Party uses different tactics does not mean we should say it isn’t a movement. It is a definite movement because it is actively moving American politics, as your book shows. We better pay attention!

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’m surprised it’s as high as 1/3, no matter how you ask the Q. They can’t get more than 1000 out to any rally.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

@Jane. The libertarians got swamped early. Ron Paul realy proved the fundraising potency and draw of “Tea Party” label in December 2006, but by late 2009 his types were complaining about their fairly complete marginalizations in the face of the Palin supporters and Glenn Beck followers

yellowsnapdragon June 4th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 50

Many Tea Partiers seemed actively hostile to real movement building activity – the stuff of real social movements like labor and Civil Rights struggles…

Yet, the TPers have had amazing success in influencing the actions of Washington.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 48

This 8% was the number of active tea party patriot chapters. looking at other tea party affiliated groups like resistnet (now the patriot action network), one sees that their listed membership nationally is about .00005% of the public. Patchwork nation also did a comprehensive national analysis of those on record as participating in the tea party through meetings or other direct means throughout the country. their exhausive study concluded that a mere 67,000 members were listed as involved across all national tea party groups. that’s .03% of the total population. the first requisite of any mass movement is the “mass” part. Our question is, where is it? I haven’t seen any evidence of it, nationally or locally, yet.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

A new question: which national/state figure best represents what the Tea Party is really about?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 54

this is a very good point too, if you look across the country, as I did for teh second tea party book, you see that actual turnouts at rallies is typically between .03% to 17 percent at best of the 4% of Americans who claim to be actively involved in the Tea Party. The fact of the matter is that turnouts at rallies seldom are more than a 1,000 or a few thousand, and that number is radically less than what should be the turnouts if those who say they are involved are actually attending.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 55

Hasn’t Ron been upstaged by his strange son Rand?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Madison, WI, February 19, 2011: tens of thousands of public workers and their supporters swirling around the Capital Rotunda versus maybe 700 Walker supporters funded by Americans for Prosperity/Koch brothers. An actual progressive movement surrounding a fake populist one. And all this while publlic opinion data reports most Americans value job creation over deficit reduction and support public worker coll. barg rights.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 60

I can’t keep Ron and Rand straight…

tambershall June 4th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Are they influencing DC? Or are their masters?
Are they just a distraction so that those in control can exert more effort into that control, and less on PR?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

for example, in the city of chicago during the april 15 2010 rally,just 2,000 turned out in total. If 4% of the city population is actively involved, that number should have reached a max of more than 105,000. just one quarter of the max would have required 30,000 (which is 25% of the four percent for the city who should be part of the movement, if national polling data is right). Instead, the 2,000 who showed up are just 2% of the total maximum who could have showed up. Something very strange is going on here when you have that kind of discrepancy. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the entire 4% of locals who say they are actively involved to show up for the biggest tea party rally to date, but it should have been radically higher than a miniscule 2% of that 4% segment of the public. I haven’t seen any supporters of the “Tea party is a movement” argument even address these very simple questions, which are quite damning.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 61

I was there, Paul. What you say is only partially true. There were thousands of people around the state who sympathized with Walker and hated the student/union protesters. I met many who came to Madison. I met many more when I traveled my state. They are there, and they are politically active. They just did not come to the Capitol in large numbers. Again, they voted (more than 50% around the state) for an ultra-conservative Supreme COurt justice a month after the rallies at the Capitol.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

They only show up when Koch’s provide the buses & the beer.

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 62

The father, Ron, is merely nuts. His son, Rand is 2-3 times around the bend.

On edit: It’s like the diff bet Rs & Ds. Ds are rightwing idealogues, Rs are lunatic fringe.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Anthony — movements are not judged by the number who show up at a rally. By that assessment, the Civil Rights Movement was rarely a true movement. Most whites and blacks stayed home. A movement is judged by those who sympathize, contribute, and VOTE!!!!

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 55

I wrote about it at the time. When Palin came to Tennessee and started talking about bombing Iran, the libertarians were getting pissed. The problem is, the GOP had been blowing through cash like drunken sailors during the Bush years and needed Ron Paul’s street cred in order to be able to say with a straight face that they actually gave a shit about lower government spending. Then Rand Paul’s candidacy really energized the base. So I think the libertarian legacy — and the fault lines — still linger. Even though, as you say, it has in large part become another name for pissed off, old Republicans.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Jane’s point about the veal pen is 100 correct in my opinion. Popular resentment abhorring a progressive a vacuum is a big part of what happened, but it was more about Dem and dem-captive progressive default than it was about the right going an getting our working class base ala Tom Frank’s Kansas book. What the great Obama-Emmanuel standdown of 2009-2010 did was stand down progressive electoral bases. A mass social or political movement on the right was not required. Low turnout in a mid-term non presidential election + Democratic demobilization + favorable “hall of mirrors” media coverage of “the Tea Party” (the phrase deserves quote marks) + (yes) huge middle class and some working class white economic anxiety lets the Republicans re-brand and re-energize enough to score a historic triumph — something some of us predicted.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 68

voting is not a requisite in and of itself of a social movement. sympathy is an important part, IF there is evidence of regular activism at the local level, which there is not. contributions need to be gaged as more than just someone polling you and you saying you are an active part of the movement. if this is all there is, then it is not a social movement. I repeat, our comprehensive national survey of tea partiers found that just 8% of chapters claiming a turnout provided ANY evidence of regular meetings. 92% provided no evidence. I’ve been involved in social movements for ten years, and if I claimed that you could have one simply with a rally that is coordinated by a half dozen people sending out email blasts, and that you could then simply go out and vote, I would be rightly laughed out of meetings with other activists.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

anyone can visit a website and show up once a year for a rally. that has nothing to do with social movements, which are hard work, have uncertain outcomes, and take (contrary to tea partiers’ assumptions) quite a bit of face-to-face work, on a regular basis.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 68

they are not judged JUST by those who show up at a rally. they are also judged by: 1. how many people are actually coming together locally and participating in discussions, via forums, town halls, protests, and organizing meetings. 2. whether people bother to show up for rallies, and then according to other criteria as well. the first point is the most important for an organic movement that is bottom up. something can look like a movement from a far, but actually be the product of the kind of top-down organizing I’m describing, via national groups like Freedom works, tea party patriots, americans for prosperity, etc. coordinating with a very small/miniscule number of local activists who don’t bother to have regular meetings. You can call this a “movement” if you like, but the term becomes almost meaningless at that point without regular, mass interaction at the local level across a significant number of chapters. These pre-requisites are not made up by me, they are a consensus of the social movement literature, which has been developed over the decades.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

If the Tea Party is not a social movement, what is it? To call is “fake populism” is not enough, or even fair. It clearly exerts influence, has supporters, and even some staying power. What is it?

eCAHNomics June 4th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Spelling is apparently not a criterion for TPers. Although he did make a sign & show up at a rally.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 70

the great Obama-Emmanuel standdown of 2009-2010

That deserves to be a book title. Or at least a blog post.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Corporate media’s role has been absolutely critical. Recently Sal (?) Russo, head of Tea Party Express, confided that TP phenomenon would not have happeneed w/o FOX News. Though I would add that we document the role of the center and so called liberal part of the corporate media (NYT, CBS, and Post)in selling Tea Party movement mythology..portraying it as a mass social protest phenomenon. 10,000 plus surround Chicago City Hall to protest corporate schools agenda and its barely a story in local media. 25 pissed off Beck watching suburban middle aged white guys dress up in colonial garb and decry “Obama socialism” at a car dealership in Naperville and its a story. I simply for effect. We have quite a bit of quanititatuive data on disparate media coverage suggesting the distinction they make between what we call worthy protesters (the tea party is perfect example) and unworthy protest (protests of the left). Madison broke through the distrinction, for a while.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 65

the madison protests were advertised heavily by national and local tea party groups. they pleaded with midwesterners to show up. at the end of the day, they marshalled for the month of february less than 1,000 people ONE TIME. Those protesting against walker had tens of thousands to more than 100,000 for weeks on end. it’s not hard to get less than 1,000 people together once when you have millionaires funding groups like freedom works and the sam adam’s alliance, who have tremendous resources and are able to get some sort of turnout one time. The chasm between what a movement should look like (with regard to union protestor turnout) and what it looked like with tea partier’s anemic numbers, was instructive and quite a revelation when I saw it.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

…on media: corporate media (again not jst FOX) transmitted the town hall health care protests in a way that fed its silly big government Obama too left narrative and which in turn helped drive Tea Party enthusiasm and membership.

speakingupnow June 4th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

That 92% of the tea partiers do NOT attend regular meetings seems consistent with how our country is acting regardless of where they stand on issues. In spite of the passionate feelings on issues by a few, where are the on-going protests in the streets? It seems that we have become a society of “consumers” with an “oh well, I can’t do anything about it” type of attitude. How many of the tea partiers would even participate if they didn’t have someone footing the bill?

This country has become a kleptocracy, not a democracy. How many people will have to “feel” that before they wake up?

spiny June 4th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

It seems that both the Republican and Democratic parties ignore a lot of the economic populism of their base. Certainly many Democrats, and in particular president Obama, try to avoid angering their big-money donors by shunning economic populism- and have actively or secretly opposed reform on many issues. Unfortunately, this allows the Republicans to play pretend populists. A lot of the tea-party supporters seem to be economic populists- for example supporting the elimination of tax breaks for big business. Do you think the Republican party will be able to continue to subvert these economic populist issues within the tea-party movement?

texan99 June 4th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Another way to interpret that data: only 35% to 45% of Tea Party enthusiasts were willing to make a categorical statement about blacks as a race rather than as individuals, but between 55% and 59% of Tea Party opponents were willing to do so. Which group is struggling harder to control its inherent racism?

35% believe blacks are hardworking (55% Tea Party opponents think they are hardworking)
45% believe blacks are intelligent (59% tea party opponents think they are intelligent)
41%, believe blacks are trustworthy (57% tea party opponents think they are trustworthy)

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Okay, Anthony, but Walker Supreme Court candidate won after the rallies at the Capitol. More than 50% voted for Walker’s candidate around the state. How do you explain that? Doesn’t that show broad support for Walker’s Tea Party agenda? Why didn’t voters who allegedly rejected his extreme politics reject his candidate?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 74

that’s a very good question. I don’t call it a social movement. I deem it, in light of our national and local evidence collected, to be a conglomeration of small interest groups seen in the very small number of people who are active in local tea party “chapters” affiliated with patriot action network and tea party patriots, and in light of their coordination with national groups like america deserves better, freedomworks, americans for prosperity, etc. They look very much like a social movement at first glance, because the rallies seem like they have fairly large numbers when you see them on television reporting. But when the “mass” part is missing in organizational meetings and when you actually look at the size of rally turnouts (versus the number whoh claim to be active tea partiers), it falls short of mass membership. The only piece of evidence that does strongly suggest the tea party is a mass movement is the polling data suggesting 4% of the public is active. but if you can’t find evidence of that activity, then the number doesn’t mean much

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I should point out, by the way, that I started this project assuming from teh beginning that it WAS a mass movement. I was excited about the prospect of contacting local branches and doing interviews with activists and “movement members.” I had no reason to doubt they were a movement in light of the media reporting. I was greatly disappointed when I couldn’t find evidence of regular meetings throughout the chicago area and nationally. at that point, we decided doing a book on the lack of widespread participation was just as interesting as doing one on widespread participation.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Is it perhaps a new kind of digital age, virtual movement?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to texan99 @ 82

potentially a very intriguing point, and I’m glad you brought it up. But it is belied by the finding in the same survey that: 73% agree that “it’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would just only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites”

three quarters of tea party supporters, then, are willing to say that blacks are lazy and if they just were willing to try, they would do well. that’s certainly a majority willing to commit to a negative stereotype.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

TP phenomemon is pseudo-conservative, largely corporate and elite Republican-crafted rancid populism that I think is very nicely suggested in William Greider’s book Who Will Tell the People? It is the miliant wing of the GOP…super Republican phenomenon. It does have fractures and problems to be sure, related to the fact that it taps the very real economic anxieties of petit-bourgois (small business and professional) whites and a minority of native born white workers. The GOP of Nixon, Reagan, Lee Atwater, Bush II captured this too.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

The TP has had a terrible time holding real national conventions and its maor turnouts in Washington have seemed to depend a great deal on having big media personalities (Palin and Beck) at the hed of events.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 86

another good question, very good. It’s hard for me to conclude so, although I considered this very point. the analysis of local chapters for the 150 cities who claimed an april 15th turnout specifically looked at the tea party national site (which coordinates activities for local chapters). we also looked at every local site we could find when they existed. more than half the groups didn’t even have a local site, making coordination very difficult, if not impossible. the 92% failure rate to organize was calculated by looking at the national site and at local ones, and looking at announcements and calendars for evidence of meetings. little was available.

geoshmoe June 4th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 74

If the Tea Party is not a social movement, what is it?

It’s Big Deep Pocket 21st century Corporate rent-a-mob. If the morons don’t know their being used so what? things can go along fine as long as they can round up some warm bods, they might have to change to free beer at some point.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 86

I also do a comprehensive analysis of the online communication of the chicago tea party chapter, supposedly where it all started back in 2009. I was part of their listserv over the last year. there was minimal evidence of anything productive going on there. in fact those who attended chicago meetings specifically dismissed it as a place where nothing productive or meaningful happened. there is one very important element online, though. people visit various local tea party websites and provide their email information. then the local activist coordinating it sends an “email blast” to these people informing them of when and where to show up for a rally. this was reguarly recognized at the very few meetings throughout chicago that did take place. it should be noted at these meetings that organizers informed me that they were tired of having local meetings, because no one wanted to show up. they could get their 500 to 2,000 people to turnout once a year through email blasts. that’s quite a worthy tactic for coordinating rallies and should be part of any social movement, but by itself it’s just not enough. you need people who are willing to actually show up and talk to each other.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

The homogeneity of (canned…from FreedomWorks/Dick Armey and AFP/Koch Bros and Tea Party Express/Sal Russo [former Reagaon operative]) their rhetoric very prononced in Chicago area. Also very pronounced is basic electoral objectve of electing Republicans, even lesser evil Repunblicans in November 2010. Their critique of insufficiently riht GOP candidate was far outsripped by their super Republican extreme hatred of Dems. The messages filter down through Web sites to no small degree, filter down from leading hard right Repubican operatives and interests.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 88

Is this why you invoked Hofstadter’s “paranoid style” in your book? Of course, Hofstadter believed that fear and hatred were in fact populist — real populist parts of US history from the 19c to McCarthy. Do you see a strong connection to that analysis?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

On elite funded rent-a-mobs (I would not go that far with Tea Party but I ike the babsic thrust of the point about this Astroturf phenomenon)and fake white hats, I highly recommend Grieder’s aforementioned book Who Wil Tell the People? Much of this seems veryy old. I am reminded also of the of the business-funded Liberty League and its campaign against FDR “socialism” during the 1930s…

Knox June 4th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 88

TPers are being used by people how know how to play them. The GOP’s been doing it for as long as I can remember. The Democratic Party in the wake of Bill Clinton has started doing the same.

The real problem is not government or even the corporations. The real problem isn’t even necessarily that there are people who will abuse their positions. The real problem is that we now have a system where those in positions of power in government and those in positions of power in US corporations are colluding in order to abuse the system in ways that are almost hard to imagine.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

But we should not overstate our point. Clearly the phenomenon is something of a Frankenstein in part because it does in fact capture some popular energies real GOP elites don’t want.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 58

very sorry I didn’t get to respond to this question. what we know of the most inspirational leaders has been dicatated by pollsters, who only ask about certain figures. It seems that Glenn Beck is the most respected figure, according to poll numbers, which is quite indicative of who is helping drive this thing and in terms of the mediated nature of the movement. Sarah Palin scores very well too. Bush scores pretty well, with something like 60% of TP supporters scoring him favorably. Bachmann, as far as I can tell, is viewed pretty favorably.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 95

Remember, Paul, the right-wing campaign against FDR had strong roots and it exerted enduring influence. See Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 74

I have my own theory. Which basically involves imagining what the world would look like had the Tea Party never happened.

The fiscal conservatives on the right (they do exist) had grown frustrated with the GOP, and party identification/satisfaction was low in the wake of the Bush years and the 2008 defeats. Had the Tea Party not materialized, circumstances were certainly ripe for some sort of right-wing movement to arise in opposition to both the banking scandals and Democratic legislation.

As it was, Ailes et. al. were able to derail that energy and channel it into largely corporate-friendly activity. But they never successfully defanged them, and as a result you saw a lot of Republicans lose their seats to Tea Party candidates. Much like the progressive online left (which I suppose was never really much a movement), the very diverse group of people who identify as members of the “Tea Party” will be able to overlook their differences as long as they have Obama in the White House to unify them in opposition. George Bush did the same thing for progressives. The minute there’s not a Democrat in the White House, I think they fly apart at the seams.

So, I look at the Tea Party is a placeholder. A group of people who came together in response to a massive PR campaign, who can execute short-term electoral objectives but have little in the way of a shared ideology that could hold them together if the political winds change. They have taken on a tribal identity that takes on the appearance of a social movement thanks to outsized media coverage and opposition from the left, but I don’t think it’s native. And I have serious doubts that it’s possible for a true grassroots movement to grow out of it.

The Tea Party in Texas is likely to discover they are just too different from the Tea Party in Massachusetts if the Koch Brothers ever decided to stop pouring money through that sieve. Local tea party organizations may provide a training ground for movement leaders, and they may connect people in a way that gives rise to a genuine movement, but for now they basically insure that no true grassroots movement can arise to occupy that space.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to Knox @ 96

thanks for the insight. I’d say it goes even further too. something like half (or perhaps more than half) of members of congress are millionaires. in other words, they don’t just serve affluent interests, they ARE the affluent interests. a close look at Obama’s economic advisers, who are largely drawn from the financial class, is another example. How can Obama be controlled by Wall Street if his administration IS Wall Street. There’s not even a pretense of separation between the elite class and the political class anymore.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 100

I think Jane’s bringing up important points. when you see something like “60% of tea partiers” feel one way or another, which happens all the time, it certainly suggests that there is a lot of room for disagreement, especially regionally. I think they will have a hard go of it coming together as a coherent national movement because there is so much confusion, even among the supporters in the general public. most say they want to keep their social security and medicare, then vote in republicans (tea party or not) who have shown commitment over the last thirty years to dismantling those programs. That’s a profound confusion!

speakingupnow June 4th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Do you think if we equate “tradition” with “prejudice” that it becomes increasingly more difficult for us to speak with “ordinary people in the tea party” and to use their common language? Shouldn’t we perhaps approach members of the tea party without preconceived “prejudice” on our part and have a discussion about why the “common good” is actually better for society? Even former “independent” farmers of Wisconsin understood the concept in the past.

Knox June 4th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

TPers are not a rented mob. They’re people who dance to the tune of anyone playing subtle rascist, xenophobic, and/or anti-government rhetoric. No one has to pay them to dance. They are attracted to people who will play certain tunes in order to use them. They just don’t know they’re being used.

Maybe we should also be asking ourselves how the Democratic Party’s base has been so easily manipulated and used so that they continue to support and vote for weasels who pretend to fight for average Americans when, in fact, there’s no real fight at all. Democrats are worst than Republicans because they trick the American people into thinking that they have a side in a fight when, in reality, there is no fight.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 100

I see your point, Jane, but I think the Tea Party is much more than a placeholder. They have a tribal esprit de corps, despite differences, that mobilizes them to act quick. They are held together by a sense of impending budget doom and a common belief in liberal decadence. Again, look at how the Tea Party governors (Walker, Kasich, etc. ) have held their supporters together long after election.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

The right (TP, FOX) machine has tapped the paranoid style with a vengeance. And I don’t think its what the smart elites really want or need at the end of the day. I think the TP is coming close to exhausting its functionality for the “ruling class,” establishment or what have you. Smart capital likes how Obama shifted yet further right and gave another big wet neoliberal kiss to the business elite after the November elections (many examples of this), but….threatening to undermine the ‘recovery’ by shutting down the federal government? Refusing to lift the debt ceiling? Sparking huge labor rebellions in the heartland? Pushing for closing the borders and criminalizing immigrant labor (the Business Roundtable and US Chamber of Commerce want “flexible” migrant labor for God’s sake)? Making it impossible or hugely difficult for the GOP to congeal around a presidential candidate like a Romney or a Huntsman or a Pawlenty? The TP is being a real pain to smart elites at a certain point.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I notice that numerous new comments and questions come after I have written an answer to an already old question. I am now reading JH’s latest comment :)

June 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

That sounds to me to be an issue with how the question is worded. I am sure that if you got rid of the racial-leading use of the words “blacks” and ” whites” and used the word “people” Instead, you’d get the same respond, i.e. there are many people who see success (being ” well off”) as a function of effort more than of opportunity, color of their skin, or any other category you try to put them in.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 106

Yes, but they have also given the Republican Party a vision. Romney, Pawlenty, and others will draw on Tea Party energy but also claim “moderation” on the most divisive issues.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 95

Hah, Bill Greider and I were in front of the White House together for a demonstration against AIG the day before the first April 15 Tea Party extravaganza on Fox. Some students had organized it, and it was basically me, Bill and a few Code Pink people. We looked at the way Fox had (quite brilliantly) managed to unite the anti-Obama and anti-bank narrative, with no competition for the anti-bank impulse from the left. The unions and all the other liberal groups were just sitting on their hands, at the request of the White House. We just shook our heads and went “we are so screwed.”

I know the impulse is to criticize the Tea Partiers for only showing up when Americans for Prosperity is providing the busses, when the big institutional players decided to sit out the AIG scandal, liberals stayed home too. As Jeremi noted, that changed in Wisconsin, and it’s no longer the case in many instances. But, something to consider when evaluating the role that institutions play across the board in channeling and mobilizing activism.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 83

Jeremi is right that there is certainly a lot of support among the general public for views associated with the American right and the tea party. depending on how the question is asked, for example, you can find that support for the tea party reaches as high as 50% of the public, especially when you ask: “do you support obama or the tea party?” (an actual rasmussen question). this shows that there is quite a bit of support for right wing views in general among the public. those sentiments have been mobilized mostly, however, as a result of mediated right-wing views being disseminated by pundits and political officials in their media/campaign statements.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

We have about 30 minutes left. I want to ask about the future. What do we expect in the next year? Will the Tea Party be a major factor in the 2012 Presidential Campaign? Will they gain or lose traction? Why?

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 113

I expect them to be around for quite a while. as a rebranding of the republican party, they are extremely valuable, especially come election time. the party of the president typically gets blamed when the economy tanks, and obama is going to have a hell of a time if the current downturn trend continues. he could get thrown out and a republican could win by default.

Knox June 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 113

They already are a major factor in the GOP nomination process. So what? We’re going to get stuck with Obama for 4 more years. How leaders who call themselves liberal and/or progressive can fool so many Americans is a far more important question.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

whether the Republican-tea party agenda is successful, however, will depend on whether they can get past two institutional hurdles: 1. seniors, who will fight medicare and social security privatization to the bitter end, as Bush so quickly found out, and 2. what’s left of the unions (particularly in the public sector), who don’t appear to be likely to go down without a fight. Their benefits (tenure, collective bargaining, health care) were won with years of struggle, and I don’t see them giving up without a fight. I can’t predict how these battles will play out, but I can say, generally speaking, that the public is on the side of those fighting for basic union protections and preserving social security/medicare. that’s certainly worth something.

June 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

What you see as confusion, I see as voting for then lesser of two evils. The electoral landscape is still pretty binary – it’s either vote for the person who made it through the Republican primary or the one who won the Democratic bake-off. So are they really voting to cut off their Medicare or are they just saying they’d rather have the candidate who is closest to their belief in fiscal responsibility vs. the one who believes in increased spending and increased taxes?

It’s not confusion, it’s pragmatism.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

What about the backlash to the Tea Party in Madison and elsewhere that you describe in chapter 8. Will that be a factor in 2012?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I think JH’s last long comment is dead on. Jeremi I think you are describing, basically, the right before, during and after the Tea Party. How long the brand will hold relevance is not clear…GOP elite also can’t be happy with role that so called Tea Party candidate played in helping defeat establishment Republian candidate in recent special election in a historically red congressional district in upstate NY.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I think the Tea Party is also in for quite a bit of trouble however, along the lines that paul described. It is representative of what has increasingly become the heart of the republican party, by which I mean extreme right-wingers. statistical voting studies in political science show that the republican party is more extreme now than at any time over the last 100 years. it’s been going this way for a while. in this sense, the tea party is merely the most recent “update” to this growing right-wingi polarization of the party. there are very few moderates left, as anyone who looks at political science voting studies or Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) voting scores can tell you.

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 119

So you see more Republican Party – Tea Party tensions, Paul? Do you see a party split or near split?

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 3:41 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 105

Those same people would have “a sense of impending budget doom and a common belief in liberal decadence” whether the Tea Party existed or not. The question is, where would they be pointing their energy if it wasn’t being channeled by corporate right-wing money and buttressed by a massive Fox PR blitz to give them an identity that unifies them. They might actually threaten the status-quo. As it is, they just become the implementers of the same austerity measures that the IMF, the world bank and global oligarchs have been pushing all over the world. Any time they start to drift off of that mission, the big monied interests appear to have sufficient control to push them back into line. I can’t claim comprehensive knowledge of the situation, but it’s my impression that this would be a lot harder to do if the various Tea Party organizations had not been so successfully penetrated by people who owe their primary allegiance to outside interests. That’s not a characteristic of a movement.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I think this growing polarization could spell doom for tea partiers and republicans because of all the fire they’re playing with. Republicans voted 2-1 against the bailout the first time around, and more voted against it the second time then for it. that’ squite a risk you’re taking with the future of the financial class, since the collapse could have totally wiped them out without a bailout. similarly problems have come up recently. our health care system can’t function anymore, and businesses are being hurt. tea partiers and republican see no problem with teh parasitic role health care companies play against other businesses. further more, the 60 billion in cuts they recently pushed (republicans) was openly rebuked by goldman sachs, which worried about the effects it could have on the economy. now we have the playing chicken with the debt ceiling, which could play havoc on the economy and bond markets. the problem today is that tea partiers and republicans have come to believe in the lies republicans have been telling for years about the need for “free markets”. no one ever took that seriously before, and now they are, and simply put, the system can’t function if anyone takes free market rhetoric even remotely seriously.

Knox June 4th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Whether the Republican-tea party agenda is successful, however, will depend on whether they can get past two institutional hurdles there will actually be anyone on the other side fighting them.

In 2008, the American people thought they were electing Democrats who would give a sh*t about them. They got Democrats who – other than their rhetoric – are no better than Republicans.

Ultimately, whether the Republican-tea party agenda is successful will depend on finding real leaders who will not work with them to screw over the American people.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

The Tea Party, like Beck and like Father Coughlin, draws on economnic anexiety. Perhaps now we are going into a double dip recession, as many warned. Because of that and the fact that GOP’s popularity is so bad (necessitating the Tea Party re-brand) and the fact that dominant media still seems to like the brand and is hooking it to 2012, it could be with us for a while.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 121

to add to whatever paul says, there have been quite a few tensions, but that’s with the few remaining moderate republicans. far right republicans have for quite a while been the mainstay of the party, as voting studies reveal. in this sense, the much-to-do about tensions within the party between tea partiers and “establishment” republicans has been greatly exaggerated. I wasn’t surprised that tea party officials have been pushing for massive budget cuts in social welfare programs, and haven’t pushed to trim military spending or the bush tax cuts. these policies have been the bread and butter of the republican party for thirty years! what the tea partiers did was just get more in people’s faces with it and obnoxiously push this agenda, without even being willing to compromise to get what they want (“we want it all now, rather than over the next ten years,” couldu be an appropriate description). I don’t see a substantive difference then, between “tea party republicans” and non-tea party republicans.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I don’t see it as a Tea Party versus GOP split. As Tony mentioned, the Republicans in House voted 2 to 1 against the Bush-Paulsen bailouts….so we are dealing with pre-existing divisions within the GOP and they seem to be related to Tom Ferguson-like divisions within capital to some degree (well, this is a subject for more research).

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I am glad that foreign policy and military affairs have entered the conversation for the last few minutes. Where does the Tea Party stand on these issues? Is the Tea Party comfortable with our expansive foreign and military policy? Does it share traditional Republican hawkish and big military spending policies?

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

“The Tea Party” cannot elect a president of its own kind of course. It can provide super-Republican energy to help a Romney or Huntsman or Pawlenty defeat a hated Democrat damaged by a double-dip recession And it can help push that president or a returning Obama further right

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 128

this one’s been very hard to answer. I don’t like to make generalizations about questions where there hasn’t been systematic research, at least in the form of some sort of basic polling. all I can tell is that most tea partiers have a positive perception of Bush, which suggests to me that they didn’t have a fundamental problem with his foreign policies. then again, something like 40% of tea partiers don’t like bush, so they may dissent from his hawkish policies. we do know that most tea partiers disagree with obama’s strategy of engaging (via speeches) with the muslim world. this seems to fit into their racist perception (expressed by 59% of tea partiers)that obama either wasn’t born in this country or that they just can’t be sure that he’s a citizen. it appears to be an outgrowth of a radical anti-muslim, xenophobia which fits nicely into a hawkish foreign policy.

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 128

to add a more recent survey from the pew research center this year, 67% of tea partiers agree that islam is “more likely than other religions to encourage violence.” this also fits into the anti-islamic militarism we witnessed at local chicago meetings described in the book. this doesn’t bode well for the potential of those on the left to engage in a constructive dialogue or agenda with tea partiers based on promoting an easing of tensions with the middle east and a greater cross-national understanding based on mutual respect and support. just my take, although there’s a lot more to be said on the matter.

BevW June 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon,

Paul, Anthony, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the Tea Party.

Jeremi, Thank you very much for Hosting this great discussion and Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Paul’s website

Anthony’s website


Crashing The Tea Party

Jeremi’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Tomorrow – Jeanne Devon “Mudflats” with her new book, Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years, Hosted by Shannyn Moore.

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

We found essentially no public opinion data on their foreign policy positions. This wasn’t polled much. Libertarian types who joined early started complaining quickly about the pretty strong militarism they picked up in local chapters and rallies. Strong approval numbers for George W. Bush suggestt strong militarism. So does their deletion of the Pentagon system from calls for deficit reduction and fiscal discipline. Beck as a Tea Party icon (and Palin too) fir the militarist profile. And so do their attitudes about Islam and Muslims, which are ptetty awful….

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 128

73% of tp supporters disapproved of Obma’s supposed policy of “engaging with Muslim countries”

Jeremi Suri June 4th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to BevW @ 132

Thanks everyone!! Great session. I learned a lot.

Thank you, Bev. You rock!

Anthony DiMaggio June 4th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 132

thanks so much for having us, Bev, and to Jeremi for his thoughtful, challenging, and insightful comments, and for his participation. thanks to paul too and to all who followed/participated in this.

Paul Street June 4th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you for an excellent salon.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 127

I don’t see at meaningful Tea Party vs. GOP split either, as long as they have opposition to Obama to unify them. The only thing that threatens to divide them is competition for the same resources. Until now, they’ve worked pretty much hand in glove toward the same objectives on the same campaigns. If the Tea Party ever became a more efficient vehicle than the Republicans for achieving corporate objectives, and began seriously siphoning off resources, then you’d see a fracas.

Jane Hamsher June 4th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thank you all so much. Thanks Jeremi for hosting, and to Paul and Anthony for a great discussion.

The book is great, as all of Paul’s books are. Recommend it highly to anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of modern politics.

June 4th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 133

Beck as a Tea Party icon (and Palin too) fir the militarist profile. And so do their attitudes about Islam and Muslims, which are ptetty awful….

Sorry to be getting here so late; and just quickly scanning the comments.

Aside from what JH mentioned as the Fox PR Blitz, that only stoked the fire. The rest of the traditional media, mirroring the Beltway Villager mentality, was quick to legitimize the TP, who are really the 20-25% Bush dead-enders, where that same media complex has never voiced the liberal side who has similare numbers, due to sclerotic liberal institutions who are not only decaying, but are under attack in several dimensions; direct attack and being bought off by the Pete Petersons of the world.

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