Welcome Vanessa Williamson, and Host Paul Street (Website).

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism

Search Google and Amazon.com for “Tea Party” book titles and you will find a vast outpouring of mostly right wing propagandistic nonsense, including one of the worst books of all time: Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen’s Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System (2010). The tide of Tea Party book-writing turned a bit toward sanity with New York Times reporter Kate Zernike’s useful account Boiling Mad (2010) and Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s thin reflection The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (also last year). Still, Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol and Harvard graduate student Vanessa Williams’ new book is just the second substantive, systematic, and detailed investigation of the Tea Party phenomenon (2009-2012) to appear in print. The first such investigation (I say at the risk of self-promotion) was a volume I co-authored with political scientist Anthony DiMaggio that appeared last summer: Crashing the Tea Party: Mess Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, May 2011. DiMaggio has just followed up with The Rise of the Tea Party at Monthly Review Press).

Skocpol and Williamson’s book is partly dedicated to rescuing Tea Partiers from the enormous condescension of stereotyping. Along with impressive secondary research that included reading a large number of opinion surveys, journalistic accounts, public documents, academic papers and the like, the authors put in time in the field. They observed Tea Party meetings and interviewed Tea Party members (many of whom they seem to have ended up liking despite the fact that they are liberal allies of President Obama – the “devil incarnate” for many Tea Partiers). They also enlisted two undergraduate assistants in the construction of a large dataset of local Tea Party chapters across the fifty states. What they found from all this is something different from the “exaggerations and distortions from commentators at both ends of the partisan spectrum.” Contrary to many liberals’ early description of Tea Party enthusiasts as a “bunch of uneducated, white racist rednecks,” Skocpol and Williamson determined that the predominantly (yes) white Tea Partiers are relatively well-off and well-educated, predominantly middle class/petit-bourgeois (including many small business owners, especially in construction), middle-aged and senior. Tea Partiers might disproportionately subscribe to “harsh generalizations about blacks and immigrants” but they do “not reject normal interactions with people of other races.”

Contrary to many right-wingers’ claims that the Tea Party is a “pure grassroots rebellion” of “regular Americans,” the authors found that “Tea Party participants are in many respects more ideologically extreme than other very conservative Republicans.” They also conclude that:

“the ‘mass movement’ portrayal overlooks the fact that the Tea Party, understood in its entirety, includes media hosts and wealthy political action committees, plus national advocacy groups and self-proclaimed spokespersons – elites that wield many millions of dollars in political contributions and appear all over the media claiming to speak for grassroots activists who certainly have not elected them, and to whom they are not accountable. What kind of mass rebellion is funded by corporate billionaires, like the Koch brothers, led by over-the-hill former GOP kingpins like Dick Armey, and ceaselessly promoted by millionaires media celebrities like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity?”

Still, the authors argue that the Tea Party is more than merely an Astroturf phenomenon in which corporate America is “faking a grassroots revolution.” The word “grassroots” appears dozens of the times in their book (I lost count after circling it the 20th time) as Skocpol and Williamson show Tea Partiers organizing their own local activities without elite assistance or direction

The authors particularly want us to know that real Tea Partiers behind the costumes, signs, posters and right wing corporate and Republican sponsorship (and exploitation) are not a bunch of “little Dick Armeys” who wish to replace all of government with the “free market.” The “grassroots” foot-soldiers of the Tea Party want to retain and fund, not privatize Social Security and Medicare and are attached to many government functions. Their main gripe with “big government” is the role it allegedly plays in providing services to those Tea Partiers see as “undeserving” free-loaders and law-breakers: the disproportionately nonwhite poor, welfare recipients, illegal immigrants, and lazy and ungrateful young people. Tea Partiers are, of course, convinced that they themselves deserve government services and benefits they have “earned” through “hard work.” It all might sound racist (for good reasons), but Skocpol and Williamson want us to know that Tea Partiers are not “unreconstructed racists,” just really conservative white Americans who happen to strongly exhibit conservatives’ widespread belief that blacks and Latinos owe greater poverty levels to personal failings.

Seen as a whole, Skocpol and Williamson argue, the Tea Party is “neither a top-down creation nor a bottom-up explosion.” It is a combination of three separate but intertwined forces: (1) the “grassroots” energy of ordinary hard right Republican Tea Party supporters, driven less by economic anxiety (however real such anxiety is for many Tea Partiers, thanks to deteriorating home values and retirement accounts amidst the Great Recession) than by cultural fears of social decline and chaos epitomized in their minds by the “socialist” Barack Obama and his promise to “transform America;” (2) millionaire- and billionaire-backed right wing and “free market advocacy groups” (the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Armey’s Freedom Works, most notably) seeking to ride and channel the “grassroots” rebellion and to push the Republican Party further right on economic issues (taxes, regulation and public spending); (3) right wing media personalities and hosts like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, who have fueled the fires of Tea Party anger and (mis)information.

This argument is developed over four chapters: the first on “who the Tea Partiers are” in terms of race, age, socioeconomics, and political identity; the second on “what Tea Partiers believe;” the third on the interaction between elite big money backers and choreographers on one hand and “mobilized grassroots” Tea Partiers on the other; the fourth on the role of right wing media hosts in shaping, disseminating, and cheerleading the Tea Party message. Two final chapters examine the Tea Party’s role in boosting the GOP and pushing it further right (so the authors argue in Chapter 5) and evaluate the Tea Party’s meaning for American democracy and the Tea Party’s future prospects in the political system (Chapter 6).

There are quite a few similarities but also many differences between the picture and interpretation of the Tea Party phenomenon presented in Skocpol and Williamson’s book and the picture and interpretation DiMaggio and I offered (from the “far-left”) in Crashing the Tea Party. We also have some strong differences with Skocpol and Williamson in terms of how to understand the Democrats and the Obama presidency and how the “left” side of the (we think all-too narrow) U.S. political spectrum is best seen in relation to the rise of the Tea Party. I do not have time or space here to go into a full comparison or critique in this regard (and it does not seem appropriate to do so in this venue), but I expect that some of the more relevant differences will gain useful airing in today’s salon.

I encourage readers to purchase two copies of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism – one for themselves and one as a Christmas present for their right wing uncle. That uncle might well stay with Skocpol and Williamson’s highly readable and well-crafted study to the end without throwing it down in anger – something I can’t say with much confidence about my book with DiMaggio.

129 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism”

BevW December 11th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Vanessa, Welcome to the Lake.

Paul, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 1:53 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thanks for having me!

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi Bev and Vanessa….getting set up

dakine01 December 11th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Good afternoon Vanessa and welcome to FDL! Welcome back to FDL Paul.

Vanessa, I have not had an opportunity to read your book although I was aware of some of the points that Paul makes in his intro (mainly because I am an obsessive news junkie and was able to find a few articles that covered things like the Tea Partiers being in favor of Social Security and such)

With the advent of the Occupy Wall St (yesterday’s Book Salon topic), is there a common ground between the OWS movement and the non Astroturf Tea Partiers?

It does seem that the Tea Party efforts appeared almost full blown while Occupy Wall St has had a much more gradual growth cycle

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:02 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Hi Dakine! Thanks for the welcome. This is a great question. First of all, I wish I could say that I thought there was common ground between OWS and the Tea Party, but I don’t think that’s likely. People I spoke to in the Tea Party basically never had concerns about corporate power. Some were Libertarians who actually support money as a form of speech, others were small business owners who see themselves as of a kind with big business.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Ok its 4 pm my time and 5 out east so let me (1)invite everyone to go ahead and ask Vanessa Williamson a question and (2) open with a rather cliche and generic question of my own to the author: Vanessa, what led/compelled/drove you and professor Skocpol to write a book on “the Tea Party” or perhaps I should just say the Tea Party phenomenon?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

As to your other question, the Tea Party had massive institutional support from conservative media — talk radio and then Fox News. But in at least one regard the Tea Party didn’t “peak” for almost a year. I talk about that over at http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/12/05/12946/.

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Thanks to Vanessa for being available for this talk, much appreciated. I had two questions about the book’s findings. For pages 90-92, it says: “in the winter and spring of 2011,” your study found “804 currently active Tea Parties with some presence on the web, plus 164 more groups that appear to have held regular meetings at some point since February 2009” later on the page, it refers to:
“a stock of more than 800 regularly meeting local groups is unusual for any U.S. political organization…”

The two questions:
1. how many regularly meeting groups are there? is it more than 800 or 164? The book seems to suggest 164 first, then more than 800.
2. How did you define “regular” meetings? One meeting a month for two months in a row? Two monthly meetings taking place at some point from February 2009 through Spring 2011? or some other standard?

Thanks

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Here for Dakine is a quote from p.75 of the book: “But Tea Party members rarely stressed economic concerns to us – and they never blamed business or the super-rich for America’s troubles.”

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 6

Well, I was planning to cover the grassroots activism on both sides of the health care reform debate in early 2010. But in Massachusetts, at least, there wasn’t much to cover on the left.

BevW December 11th, 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.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Great question. In spring of 2011, there were about 800 groups *currently* having meetings, and web evidence suggesting that about 164 other groups had, at some point since early 2009, held meetings — but were no longer doing so when we visited their websites. Regular meetings were held monthly or more often. I’m doing follow-up right now, to see how many of those groups have survived this year.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

What’s wrong about this short-version description of TP as a wholly owned Koch subsidiary, who manipulate (as Howard Zinn describes the PTB) their real & imagined slights so cleverly that they don’t realize they are voting against the policies they favor.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Vanessa, I’ve read the book or most of it but I still feel like I’m not 100 percent sure about your answer to the question: “are the Tea Partiers racists?” Are they or aren’t they?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 13

Well, first of all, the organizations that deserve credit for stoking Tea Party fervor are conservative media, not FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity. Those organizations, and others in the Koch orbit, benefited from latching on to the Tea Party brand as much as they shaped it. Remember, these were DC-based organizations that didn’t have the reach to get into the homes and onto the televisions of America’s conservatives. Fox News did. What the Tea Party elite organizations did, however, was claim to speak for these grassroots groups to advocate for the kinds of anti-tax, anti-regulation policies they have supported for years.

Knut December 11th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The book sounds fascinating, Vanessa. In what measure is this a small-town phenomenon? In what measure to the T-Partiers carry the resentment that much of the lower-middle white class had against the anti-Vietnam protests? I am trying to get a bead on the sociology of this movement.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I know that someone already asked about Occupy but my question is a little different from theirs. I saw quite a bit of commentary in the mainstream (dominant corporate) media saying basically that Occupy Wall Street was “the Tea Party of the left.” This became a recurrent theme for while, led in part by Michael Scherer at Time magazine. I am curious what you think about that analogy.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

The media are pawns of PTB. You are, IMO, just identifying first causes, not primary causes.

It was clear from the getgo that TP was a media creation. Every TP rally of 200 people got huge snooze coverage, while 100,000 Latino rallies got none.

But the reality behind the newz coverage is the PTB own the news channels.

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Thanks! I guess if you averaged that it would come out to about 16 regularly meeting groups per state, or one group per 400k Americans. My follow up question would be, in your opinion, and from what you’ve learned about the Tea Party, would you refer to this level of activism as a “mass movement?” I see numbers saying 5% of Americans claim to be “regularly” involved in the Tea Party activism, which would suggest about 16.5 million people regularly involved throughout the country. If I had to try and “fit” those numbers into yours, that would suggest 20k people per group, which seems way too large. Perhaps those saying they are “actively” involved are doing something besides attending meetings for one of these groups? Or perhaps people overreport involvement in Tea Party activism. Either way, the numbers don’t seem to overlap.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

please eCAHNomics for other readers define “PTB”…

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Hi,

I haven’t read your book yet, but was wondering if you did any research on past affiliations of these folks.

It’s been my personal opinion that the Tea Party is nothing but the same conservative assholes (can I say that here?) that’s been around forever. From the John Birch Society through the years of Newt and into Armey’s Army (and wasn’t Dick Armey assosicated with the Tea Party in some way?).

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 17

Just picked up your first book on O to reread, and wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for it. I disliked him before I knew anything about him (have instinct for flakes), but now I despise him.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 14

A lot of people want a quick answer to that. But racist is a serious word and deserves a considered response. The elderly white conservatives I spoke to have some serious racial stereotypes underlying their assessments of who in America is hard-working and deserving of support. When it comes to unauthorized immigrants, or Muslims, they are often quite frightened of who they imagine these people to be — and I report in the book some of the more extreme comments I heard. But when it comes to interacting personally with people of another race, it was a bit different. One woman I interviewed had a adopted an African-American child, others had worked in inner-city schools. Their stereotypes also overlapped other stereotypes about young people in general, including those in their own families.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Knut @ 16

This is a really good point. My impression is that Tea Party groups are particularly prevalent in suburban and exurban areas, but I haven’t cut the data to say that with confidence. And you are right that the 1960s are formative for many of the Tea Partiers’ world views. Many actually identified the Goldwater campaign as their first political engagement.

dakine01 December 11th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to OldFatGuy @ 21

Dick Armey is the chair of FreedomWorks (mentioned by both Vanessa and Paul)

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 20

PTB=powers-that-be. On the right, the most public ones are Kochs, Mellon-Scaifes, Coors. They own politicians, and fund everything from TP to “think” (LOL) tanks to colleges, to NYC Ballet (which I stopped attending, after 30 years, several years before NYS Theater was renamed after David Koch. Gag.)

Would love to know your opinion on who PTB behind O are, since they are clearly diff 1%ers from R PTB. AND maintain lower profiles.

Mod note: Please remember that the Tea Party and not President Obama is the topic of today’s Book Salon

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

The Patchwork nation study suggested that tea partiers hailed disproportionately from “boom town” suburbs, which are kind of like exurban suburbs outside of major cities, to my understanding. precisely the kind of places ravaged by the subprime housing bubble crisis, from my experience

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

In response to Paul Street @ 17

I saw quite a bit of commentary in the mainstream (dominant corporate) media saying basically that Occupy Wall Street was “the Tea Party of the left.”

Heh. Well it sure seemed to me that same corporate media reported on the two “Tea Party’s” in completely different fashions. Maybe it was a personal bias on my part, but it sure seemed to me most of the coverage of the original Tea Party was positive, as in just some angry Americans that want to be heard, while the OWS movements were thugs, losers, and smelled bad.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 17

Occupy is not my field of study, but here are my personal thoughts. I think it’s silly to call OWS “the Tea Party of the left.” I think the structural contraints facing Occupy are totally different. The Tea Party began in opposition to Democratic control of Washington — they never had to state demands, they just had to oppose and prevent change. The Tea Party formed when the official Republican Party was in crisis. There is no clear power vacuum at the top of the Democratic Party, and it’s not clear to me that OWS is made of Democrats the way the Tea Party is made of Republicans. And the institutional support the Tea Party received, from conservative media and elite advocacy groups, is totally on a different order.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

In polls, people vastly overstate all of their activities, from voting to brushing their teeth to going to church. So I wouldn’t take those numbers to heart. It’s possible, however, that people are donating to “Tea Party” candidates, or visiting websites, and are thinking of that when they consider themselves active supporters.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to OldFatGuy @ 21

At the elite level, it is the same-old, same-old. Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, all of those people have been pushing the same Republican policies forever, and were delighted to get to pretend to be leading a grassroots movement — which was not an accurate description either of the groups, or of their links to them. At the grassroots level, Tea Partiers are mostly lifelong conservatives. I did meet several John Birch Society members. What is different is the new networks, connecting elite big-business advocacy groups directly to local conservatives. It used to be that Republicans were more commonly organized through religious groups.

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Thanks. I think I’d agree with your conclusion with regard to exaggeration of involvement in polling. I’d personally say 5% of the public actively involved in tea party groups (if it was true) would most definitely be evidence of a mass movement, although I’m not so sure about 800 groups across the country being a “mass” movement. Clearly this is evidence of some sustained activism going on in terms of the 800 groups, no one can deny that; is it a mass movement though?

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I am an old guy in his 60s and it just seems to me that what I hear from the so called “Tea Party” is the same kind of thing from the same people or rather same sort of people in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s….

Just wearing different clothes and using a different name.

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I did meet several John Birch Society members.

That’s exactly what I suspected.

Thank you for answering.

And for writing this book. I’m gonna give it a read.

Have a wonderful and SAFE Holiday season.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I don’t know if there’s an official definition of a “mass movement.” I think that it is relatively typical that there are a small group of regular active participants and plenty of couch potatoes who are passively sympathetic. What I think is important (and this gets to eCAHNomics point), is that even with this relatively unusual level of grassroots activity, that did not do what grassroots groups used to do. It used to be that local chapters would elect state and national leaders, pay dues, and thereby hold national spokespeople accountable. That is not true in the case of the Tea Party, or really most activism over the last twenty or thirty years. There are professional advocates who rely on wealthy donors, and maintain email lists.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Vanessa, perhaps you overlooked my 18.

I agreed that TP is media creation, but what’s behind that?

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

“I don’t know if there’s an official definition of a “mass movement.””

Yes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a strongly agreed upon definition either. I always ending up coming back to this “mass movement” narrative at the end of the day, however, because it’s been so prevalent in the reporting I see, discussing this as a grassroots “insurgency” and “mass uprising” against the Republican Party “establishment.”

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 33

Yes, I think you hit an important point. One thing to understand about the Tea Party is that it is a generational phenomenon. There were very few young people ever at a meeting. I am thirty, and was often the youngest in the room by twenty years. And I think their views of young people, race and ethnicity and immigration should be understood in that context. Above all, Tea Party people I spoke to were afraid of “losing their country.” Obama was a symbol of that — in some ways, the same symbol he was for those on the left — a candidate who was going to represent a younger, more diverse America.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

OFG there is a great deal of old wine in new bottles about “the Tea Party” — no doubt about it. But we do have a new conjuncture that is many ways more dangerous and one important factor among many today is the fact that the hard right has an entire section of the corporate media called FOX News where basically the John Birch-influenced rantings (the tip off here is the obsession with Woodrow Wilson as some sort of great socialist menace) of Glenn Beck et al have shaped millions of minds.

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Mahalo, Vanessa, Paul, and Anthony, for taking a dip in the Lake…! Mahalo to Bev, as always…!

Having not read the book yet, what are some of your views on Faux Spew’s 24/7 promotion of the Tea Party, and, are the Koch Bros the biggest enablers…?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 36

Sorry — I’m new to this format! :) The Tea Party was definitely stoked by the conservative media, and we talk a little bit in the book about the economic and political changes in this country that helped create the enormously powerful megaphone that is Fox News. There are a lot of books that look at that more thoroughly than we do. In addition to Paul’s book, I’d recommend Echo Chamber.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Yeppers. Grass roots is so damn much hard work. So much easier to pretend it’s grass roots and override real grievances.

Q: Why is there no anti-war sentiment in the REAL people who claim to be TPers, despite teh HUGE drain on the USG budget from the 15+or- warz the U.S. is currently actively engaged in and the taxes usurped from what they really want instead.

perris December 11th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

one thing not pointed out enough, the original tea party held in boston was a demonstration against the king LOWERING taxes not a demonstration against raising taxes

the king lowered the import tax for one of their crony corporations, the colonists would have none of it and sent that untaxed product into the water

interesting how the current day tea party is the antithesis for what the original tea party was really about

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 39

Yeah, I think that gets to Vannessa’s point above.

In the past, they needed religion to shape these young minds. Today they use mass media.

I suppose the danger is that the mass media has a much broader audience of minds to shape.

So sad to see what’s happening to this country. So sad.

blackbeary December 11th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

From what I can see, the Tea Party are narcissists who hate anything not like themselves, nothing new for Repug fundies.
Whereas, with OWS the love is palpable.

Anthony DiMaggio December 11th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

“It used to be that local chapters would elect state and national leaders, pay dues, and thereby hold national spokespeople accountable. That is not true in the case of the Tea Party, or really most activism over the last twenty or thirty years. There are professional advocates who rely on wealthy donors, and maintain email lists.”

I think the Tea party is definitely more active than many traditional national organizations that do the things you referenced immediately above. I wonder how it compares to previous social movements, however, like the civil rights and women’s rights/environmental movements in terms of regularly participating members. I’m not personally aware of any systematic studies of membership levels for these past movements in terms of number of local chapters that were active. historical comparisons, then, seem difficult

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to blackbeary @ 45

Apparently police must be immune to that…

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

It’s not just Faux Snooze. It’s WaPoo, NYT.

msnbc has staked itself out as Obamabot network.

But NONE of the corp media are on the side of real peeps in U.S. The majority of whom want policies that neither Rs nor Ds support. Despite USG relentless pravdaganda trying to convince real peeps to the contrary.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 40

We have a chapter devoted to studying the role of Fox News — you can see a little bit of our early findings here: http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/05/12/fox-news-as-a-social-movement/ The book builds on that.

One couple I spoke to watched six hours of Fox News *a day*. It was genuinely troubling, because these were smart, and otherwise quite thoughtful people. Again and again, I’d hear something totally strange from one of my interviewees (like that the SmartGrid was a plot for the government to take over Americans’ thermostats) — and then I would find it in the Fox News transcripts from the day before.

I myself read eighteen months of Fox News transcripts to write the book, and it was a remarkable experience. I hadn’t realized how frequently the anchors spoke directly to the audience. “They [the liberal elite] are looking down on *you*.” It really builds fear and resentment.

Knut December 11th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

Looking at the age distribution of the t-partiers, I would bet that it is largely composed of people who supported the Vietnam war, took it personally when we lost, and never forgave those who opposed it, whom they believe stabbed America in the back. I would also wager that a large proportion of them never served. I know a lot of people like that.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

Well, when asked about it directly, our Tea Party interviewees, particularly those with military experience, did mention military spending being wasteful. They also had quite diverse views on the Iraq War, and what we should do in Afghanistan. They were also adamant that veterans’ benefits were sacrosanct, and should not be cut. But the concern about government spending is a symbolic issue — it’s part of a larger concern about who the government represents, and whether redistribution in this country should benefit the young, minorities. Military spending doesn’t fit into that frame terribly easily.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I wonder though just how influential Faux Snooze is with the population in general though. With the media landscape the way it is now.

When I was growing up you had 3 networks period and a Cronkite or Morrow piece could make or brake someone or group.

Makes me think that the actual percentage of people in general are not that aware since they have so many more diversions to choose from.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Knut @ 50

Oh for sure.

tjbs December 11th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Just a thought are the TP and OWS left hand and right hand relief valves on the same pressure vessel ?

By providing limited media exposure do the extremes get some relief without actually receiving substantial change ?

The agenda of the PTB marches on towards total suicide of the planet while these movements dance around the outer edges with out enacting substantial change.

Is this classic divide and conquer writ large while the masters march on ?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Knut @ 50

Actually, there were a huge number of military veterans in the Tea Party groups I spoke to, often veterans of Vietnam (or Korea, in some cases).

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Vanessa, you and professor Skocpol are much kinder to the Tea Party cohort than may of us activist types out here ever could imagine being. You have a line somewhere in the book about meeting some “special people” in the Tea Party groups and you do a lot of interesting work to convey sense of their humanity. Now I am not one to demonize others but I really must say that in my own efforts to speak to Tea Partiers and attend their meetings and view their communications, I’ve met quite a few very vicious people. More generally,as the survey data shows, they are savagely indifferent to and ignorant about the plight real situation of inner city black children (and yes the Tea Partiers are absoltuely racists …of the neoliberal/”color blind sort” though they are quite explicitly bigoted in regard to Muslims), of immigrants, of youth, of the rising number of poor in general. They are viciously hypocrical and narcissistic when it comes to government: they wish to keep and fund Social Security and Medicare, which they insist they deserve even while they would deny basic social protections and services to the supposedly undeserving poor, who happen to be disproportionately nonwhite. They routinely repeat ridiculous propagandistic nonsense claiming that the corporate and frankly conservative President and the Democrats are leftists/Marxists… They have carried right wing, “rancid populist” (William Grieder’s term in Who Will Tell the People [1992]) to a new level, blaming poor blacks and Latinos, not the 1 percent (if I might use that term) for the mortgage crisis and financial meltdown. Why are you guys so nice to these people? Aren’t they the enemy to be defeated? :)

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I’d like to ask a bit more about some of the steps that Fox “News” (sic) played in the setting up and promoting the Tea Party. We joke about this, but I’d like to know if you found out stories of “journalists” from “the press” helping the movement. And, if any of them were fired like NPR fired people who were involved in the Occupy Movement.

I’m quite serious about this. I also wonder if, during the run up for the election (when FEC laws come into effect) if Fox people crossed the line.
It would be fun to find these stories and then ask the bosses of these people who were involved in the Tea-party if they will be fired.

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I myself read eighteen months of Fox News transcripts to write the book…

I truly feel for ya…! *g*

Scientific studies have actually proven that Faux Spew dumbs down their audience…!

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 56

What he said…yes.

tjbs December 11th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

Bingo baby !!!!!!

Neither TP or QWS is screaming their lungs out where a country spends over half of their budget on killing then dump their valiant young into the King George Landfill!!!

If that isn’t a complete circle I don’t know what is !!!!

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 52

One thing to consider, though, is the damage that selecting into news you agree with could be for democratic debate. In the mid 20th Century, most people received the same set of facts from the evening news — they might have different opinions about the facts, but the facts were shared. Now, people can choose to watch only Fox News, and get a wholly different set of facts from other Americans. Fox News is not unlike the 19th Century style of journalism, which was outright partisan. Of course, there is not an equivalently loud news source on the left. Fox News, last time I checked, ran *all* of the top ten cable news programs. Of course, they are only reaching a particular demographic of older people who watch television, but that’s actually convenient if your goal is to mobilize conservatives.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Or make money and don’t particularly car how. :-)

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 56

I’ve met quite a few very vicious people.

and

savagely indifferent to and ignorant about the plight real situation of inner city black children

Part of the huge coarsening of U.S. that is soooo disturbing to me.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

but I understand your point and is that really any different that how most use the internet and blogs now ? We here at the lake are pretty much our own choir and those on the right have their own choir and we spend a lot of time preaching to ourselves.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

It’s right out of the Radio Rwanda handbook.

Thanks for writing this book. I’m interested to know if you’ve gotten any mention on FOX or on conservative websites. Your thorough research and analysis, I’d expect, might be subjected to some pretty withering FOX blather.

Has that come your way yet?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 56

I wanted to write a book so that people could understand how intelligent people, who can be personally quite generous, could come to believe things that are simply not the case, and express massive fear and in some cases hatred for people they don’t know. As we say repeatedly in the book, we heard incredibly hateful things about Democrats, union members, and so on. We heard immense fear about immigrants and Muslims. But our goal was to explain what we heard. I assume readers can come to their own conclusions.

In addition, the book is not just about the feelings of grassroots activists. We focus equally on activists, conservative media, and well-funded DC elites, and show how these forces worked together to push the Republican Party to the right. That is a product of a particular time in American history, particular economic and political forces. That seems more interesting, at least to me, than proclaiming some people my “enemies,” even if I thought that were so.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I wanted to write a book so that people could understand how intelligent people, who can be personally quite generous, could come to believe things that are simply not the case, and express massive fear and in some cases hatred for people they don’t know. As we say repeatedly in the book, we heard incredibly hateful things about Democrats, union members, and so on. We heard immense fear a.bout immigrants and Muslims. But our goal was to explain what we heard.

As I mentioned earlier, straight out of Zinn, and his analysis of the many many many ways that the rich & powerful use to manipulate the 99ers.

Or in the trite words of that South Pacific song: You’ve got to be taught to hate & fear…

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

BTW my last rant is a bit heated perhaps but quite serious. I’m in Iowa where in 2007 the ill-fated John Edwards repeatedly and I thought quite properly (whatever Edwards’ real motives were) called out the next president (Obama) for taking a sickeningly polite and accommodating position rather than a fighting stance towards (1) right wing Republicans (and the GOP has been moving well to the arch-authoritarian right since well before the Tea Party brand was discovered and will continue to do after the brand [very soon perhaps] is discarded) and (2) Wall Street/corporate America. I know a moderator above said that the topic is Tea Party and not the president but I would cauton against setting up overly strong boundaries in that regard. It is the sense of many progressive and left activists and commmentators that the mid-term hard right Tea Party/GOP/Teapublican triumph of 2010 (where basically the party of Reagan coasted on the re-brand afforded them by the Tea Party phenomemon and on the Democrats’ demobilization of their own base) would never have happened had the president and Dems actually governed even remotely or partly as fighting progressives…as actual champions of working people. Instead we got what Edwards and Paul Krugman called the “big table fantasy” – the deeply conciliatory and conservative path of claiming that you could get meaningful progressive change by sitting down at “a big negotiating table” with the (purported) enemies of the right and the corporate elite. Edwards was right: “that’s singing Kumbaya: the right and big business will eat everything served.” Excessive politeness towards these folks can prove quite dysfunctional, I say… as the current administration (a product in part of record-setting campaign backing from Wall Street in 2008 – money well spent) bombs another Afghan family and deep sixes the latest attempts to save humanity from catastohic climate change in Durban. Clearly both parties are guilty of what the formerly left Chris Hitchens once usefully described as “the essence of American politics…the mainpulation of populism by elitism.” The Tea Party is the latest GOP version of that longstanding problem.

OldFatGuy December 11th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

And then if one really wanted something more interesting, they’d go to the next step.

That being that while the Republican Party was being moved to the right by outside forces, the Democratic Party was simultaneously moving to the right by choice.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Dearie December 11th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Vanessa, in your conversations with self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, did you hear thoughtful, informed discussions or parroting of FoxNews-type balderdash? I.e., any really factual stuff….or just anxious feelings and fear.

And, really, what do they want? It feels from what I’ve seen/read/experienced that these folks are all about “I got mine, the rest of you get offa my lawn.”

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to spocko @ 57

To everyone: I’m sorry, I think I’m falling a bit behind and if I’ve missed your question, please draw my attention to it.

>> I’d like to ask a bit more about some of the steps that Fox “News” (sic) played in the setting up and promoting the Tea Party. We joke about this, but I’d like to know if you found out stories of “journalists” from “the press” helping the movement. And, if any of them were fired like NPR fired people who were involved in the Occupy Movement.

There is an entire chapter on how Fox News (and earlier, conservative talk radio) helped build the Tea Party. FNC started regularly covering the April 15th 2009 Tea Parties *six weeks before they occurred* (can you imagine getting that kind of advance coverage for your next event? let me tell you, I’d love to get that kind of attention for the book). They also sent anchors to each of the events, and at times promoted the events as “FNC Tea Parties”. This, we argue, must have made a real difference for Fox News viewers, who are profoundly loyal to the Fox brand, but, as older conservatives, were pretty much not experienced in public protest. They also repeatedly claimed the phenomenon was “grassroots” and “independent” and repeatedly encouraged Tea Party activists to stay in the Republican Party, rather than forming a third party movement. It really was, as we say, social movement organizing on the part of conservative media.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 64

This is something political scientists are studying, actually. I’d recommend a quick look at Prior, Markus. (2007). Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. Cambridge University Press.

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Having also immersed myself in right wing radio, I now how useful it is to the right for building fear and resentment. And when they use their own lies instead of the truth their are no consequences for them,

You have seen directly how something that is a lie, said on Fox, pops up in the mouths of the people the next day. It’s not hypothetical for you, you saw cause and effect and can pinpoint it to a specific program. That is a good thing to know.

I’d like to use this data to see about redefining Fox’s as non-press. Redefine them as a lobbying organization and a advertising firm. Their ‘editorial news” content is actually advertising and lobbying. And as such should fall under truth in advertising laws or lobbying laws. Defamation law suits against Fox should be held to the standard of private citizens, not the NY Times and ‘actual malice”.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Thanks Vanessa…I’ll bet it will confirm what I already suspect.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Sorry about all that:) Question: how will the Tea Party cohort vote in 2012. Vanessa, do you agree with me that they will in fact strongly support Romney (even as they grumble about him) is he gets the nomination? Your book suggests that you agree, I think.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I actually would be surprised. We talk in the book about how the Tea Party brand was used to push to the Republican Party to the right — and how the brand would stop getting used as soon as it stopped being useful. I think we are at that point now, in the lead-up to the 2012 election. So I don’t think Fox News or conservative radio want to waste any more time defending the Tea Party, when the goal is to make the Republican Party seem moderate enough to win a general presidential election. But who knows? It would be great for the book if they did.

Terri December 11th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Hi Vanessa. In the intro on your segment on the Rachel Maddow show, Rachel highlighted excerpts from your book and suggests, in effect that the TP (being older and senior),are simply ‘selfish’. Maddow suggest that the TP is not dumb, unaware. or lacking in their understanding of of gov’t programs and how they work but rather that the TP wants the benefits for their demographics (older, white, working people) only. She suggests that your book concludes that the TP is worried about the federal deficit and fears that poor, young, minority and non-working (freeloaders) are placing a financial drain to the system that they contributed to (and therefore, only that demographic — older white workers — should benefit from). Is this correct? Was Maddow’s portrayal of your book and findings accurate? Please explain.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to spocko @ 73

In our academic article, which predates the book, we refer to Fox News as a “social movement organization.” Jargon-y, but accurate. (You can see a bit of that here: http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/05/12/fox-news-as-a-social-movement/)

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 68

If I can sneak in one follow up on your rant, the only reason the PTB allowed Edwards, and still allow Krugman, into the political “debate” is to define how far “left” they will tolerate. There is NO left left. There is only what the voters want, which they will NOT get, and what the PTB (however many subdivisions) want, which they WILL get. Unless Occupy succeeds.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 75

Yes. The Tea Partiers don’t like Romney, but even when their policy facts are totally inaccurate, their political acumen was usually pretty sound. They want to beat Obama, and they will take what they can get in terms of a candidate that might be able to do that.

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Vanessa, do you think the Overton window is being thrown wide open now, considering the Fount of Conservatism, at the Wapoo, George Will, asked recently… Ron Paul, spoiler?

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

A follow up question: is “the Tea Party” running out of usefuleness to the GOP? Polling data suggests that it may be becoming a liability to the party. Why do you think its popularity has fallen considerably? What future do you see for “the Tea Party” after 2012?

An aside on FOX’s influence: I will never forget the day I was driving around in my car and listening to right wing radio and three people in a row called in to tell Sean Hannity why American has been slipping into a totalitarian socialist Hell since the presidency of …not Obama, not LBJ, not even FDR, no…since Woodrow Wilson. Many Tea Partiers I’ve spoken to have gone off about 100 years of socialist decline since…the Progressive Age. Now that is completely insane (like most of what they have to say on American history, including above all the Constitution, where things get truly bizarre) but it directly traceable to Glenn Beck and he in fact got the Wilson angle from the Birch Society

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thank you. I’m going to start using that phrase. I suggest others do the same. Just because Fox has the word ‘News’ in their title and a slogan that says “Fair and Balanced” doesn’t make it so. It’s like the “Clean Skies Initiative” that actually pollutes the skies.

I can start up the Spocko’s Brain News Network and say my motto is, “Vulcan’s never bluff” but that doesn’t make it true.

BevW December 11th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to terridi @ 77

Rachel Maddow Show - 12/9/2011 with Vanessa Williamson & Theda Skocpol

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to terridi @ 77

Tea Partiers have a particular understanding of who deserves government support: people who have “earned” it. That, in practice, means old people, people who have worked, and it means programs that you had to pay into in some fashion (SSec, Medicare, veterans benefits). They believe they have earned their Social Security, which is, of course, true. It’s a system you have to pay into. They are largely unaware, however, of the other less visible ways the government has funded their (typically suburban) lifestyles — the home mortgage tax credit, the building of highways, the subsidies for oil. I seem to be recommending every book but my own, but here’s one more: the Submerged State, by Suzanne Mettler, that looks at how much of what the government does is upwardly redistributive, and almost invisible to recipients.

Back to the Tea Party: They are convinced that vast swathes of federal spending benefit the undeserving, and particularly the young, the poor, and minorities — above all, unauthorized immigrants. This is when I tended to hear quite cruel stereotypes. BUT — sometimes people surprise you. Among programs that people defended to me, unasked, were Medicaid (from a doctor), national parks, aid for foster children. More than one person said they would *pay higher taxes* if the money stayed in the Social Security system. They are not all Grover Norquist or Dick Armey — though their activism has empowered those people.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 81

I found, in general, that there is a minority segment in local Tea Parties that were Ron Paul fans. (Interestingly, also met some of those folks at Occupy Boston.) They tended to be the younger members of the group. But most TPers are social conservatives, even if they try to put those issues aside to organize for right wing economic goals. Ron Paul doesn’t quite appeal to that kind of base. Though they were quick to say that these people were unelectable, our interviewees were fans of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, etc.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Ms Williamson, just a note to say you’re doing very well in this admittedly free-wheeling format, with questions hurled at you in the center of the ring from all directions.

Carry on.

eCAHNomics December 11th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’ve also read about TP polls that distinguish as follows:
Do you think welfare is bad: majority yes.
Do you think there should be govt programs to alleviate poverty: majority yes.

Ditto many other Qs asked in the same value-laden word or more neutrally worded ways.

IOWs TPer are internally incoherent.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

A long-time example of this is the right’s hugely inflated sense of non-war foreign aid.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 82

You are exactly right about the Glenn Beck/ Cleon Skousen/anti-Progressivism connection. And yes, I absolutely think the Tea Party brand has more or less outlived its usefulness for the political and media elites who loved it in 2009/2010. They re-energized the Republican base when the party had gotten slammed in 2008, they delayed and diluted “Obamacare,” and they moved the Republican Party to the right in 2010. They need to appear moderate to win in a general presidential election. The “Tea Party” isn’t going to help make that happen.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Thank you! I’m doing my best. :)

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

So, basically, the TP is light on the Libertarian side, and, heavy on the Social Conservatism…?

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Question from DiMaggio. For some reason, Tony’s questions are not making it up on the site. So he just sent me this via yahoo:

‘here’s the last comment I had, which won’t get posted for whatever reason:’

‘ “We focus equally on activists, conservative media, and well-funded DC
elites, and show how these forces worked together to push the Republican
Party to the right.” ‘

‘I agree the TEa Party has pushed public discourse to the right and that it
must be taken very seriously as a political phenomenon. Do you agree,
however, that it’s power is at times very exaggerated? politically
speaking, the tp caucus is a very small minority of all members of the
House and Senate. they’re not dictating terms to anyone, republicans or
democrats alike, in terms of voting power, on issues like the debt
ceiling. also, recent ADA scores suggest the difference between TEa Party
republicans and non TP republicans is more one of degree than substance.
neither group has voted any differently from the other when it comes to
repealing “obamacare,” when it comes to reauthorizing the patriot act, in
terms of voting for cut, cap, and trade, etc. etc.’

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Did you find, though, that the “Take Back Our Country!” demand is, at its heart, a race-based response to an African-American being elected president?

So much of what the Tea Party claims as grievances — debt, entitlements, federal meddling — vastly increased during the Bush Administration. Where do these folks say they were then? Or was dissent unpatriotic then, because we were in the presidency that began Our Glorious Foreign Adventures?

Terri December 11th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

It’s curious that the Ron Paul crowd can find a home both in the TP and OWS!

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 88

This phenomenon is not unique to the Tea Party. Americans are, in general, philosophically conservative (answering positively when asked about “small government” and “the free market” and “individual responsibility” and so on), but operationally liberal (answering positively to a vast array of social expenditures on the environment, the poor, the elderly, etc).

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 92

Yes. Not only do they seem to dominate numerically, but they also seem to hold the leadership positions in local groups. You’d see a lot of efforts to cross the divide — calling cutting funding for women’s health clinics a budget measure, for instance.

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 88

IOWs TPer are internally incoherent.

Bob Altemeyer’s classic book The Authoritarians points out that Right Wing Authoritarians are exactly this. He says it’s like their opinions are all on individual file cards that after they say one they will put it back in the case and pull out another. At no time to they “merge” the information on the different cards. I thought this was a great way to understand how they could have views that were just not consistent from one area to the next.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to terridi @ 95

Yes. Although those at OWS seemed concerned about government defending business, while those at the TP seemed more concerned to defend money as speech.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Good question ?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 93

Yes, the entire Republican Party has been moving right for decades, and the Tea Party is only the latest iteration of that. But I think the primarying of comparatively moderate Republicans did really scare some Republicans and push them to the right. Orrin Hatch, for instance. The other thing I’d note is that in 2008, the Republican presidential candidate had previously cosponsored bills at least nominally addressing campaign finance and global warming. That seems basically out of the question today. So the party has moved, and I think the “Tea Party” phenomenon, at the elite and local level, deserves some credit.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I want to say that I am also a bit skeptical of “the Tea Party pushed the GOP and America to the right” narrative. The GOP has been moving in a radically regressive extreme direction for 3 plus decades and indeed the whole party system has been shifting to the right (see Hacker and Pierson’s book Off Center) over the same period basically in accord (Hacker and Pierson argue) with the growing concentration of wealth and power in the neoliberal era. “The Tea Party” is part of the broader history it seems to me.

Here is a good quote from John Judis at New Republic earlier this year: “Over the last four decades, “the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.”

The New York Times editors got something right last summer during the deb ceiling crisis (which really hurt the T.P. BTW)in an editorial titled “Race to the Right” (NYT, August 6, 2011). It is “far too simplistic,” the Times’ editors wrote “to blame the loose coalition of Republicans known as the Tea Party for the debt-limit debacle. It was not the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party that dragged the economy to the brink — it was its center. The party has moved so far to the right that there is little difference between fringe and mainstream..The Tea Party did not come up with this strategy. Although several of its elected members said they would never vote to raise the debt ceiling, it was John Boehner, the House speaker, who in May devised the fatal formula that President Obama would have to agree to cut more from spending than the amount of the debt-limit increase..”

As the Times editors added. “To understand the Republican Party in the House, it is better to consider the Republican Study Committee, 176 fiscal hard-liners who make up two-thirds of the entire caucus (including many of the Tea Party members). Its chairman, Jim Jordan of Ohio, was one of the biggest obstacles to a deal and refused to support it.”

“It is this larger group that Mr. Boehner and his lieutenants fear the most. The Tea Party alone could not topple the speaker. But the Republican core could.”

That is exactly right. Consistent with the Times editors’ take, DiMaggio notes that there are almost no significant differences in the voting records of “Tea Party Republicans” and “establishment” Republicans when it comes to key political-economic issues.

northwestbynorth/F.Campbell December 11th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Some of these people, many VN veterans as you state, are a reflection of the issues of class concerning the Vietnam War–little opposition until the privileged kids were asked to participate in this unjust war of the MIC (which many of their parents participated in) and the rage that ensued when it came to them supporting Daddy & Mommy’s war.

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

There has been a lot of questions by people watching the OWS movement about what they will do next as well as what should they do next. I’m one of the people who want to see actions that effect change, not just great media coverage.

Which actions did the Tea Party people take that had the greatest impact on the nation?

I know you aren’t a OWS expert, but could OWS have the same kind of impact or would they require the kind of money and old line infrastructure backing that the Tea Party did?

Knut December 11th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 92

So, basically, the TP is light on the Libertarian side, and, heavy on the Social Conservatism…?

Would you say ‘national and socialist’ as in National-Socialist? It seems to me that we are looking a very much the same kind of clientele.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 100

Yes, excellent question. I do think that the appeal of the Tea Party brand, with its Americana, came in part from the race of the President (and foreign parentage, remember Islamophobia is very real among TPiers) — a symbolic way of declaring him inadequately American. (For what it’s worth, his background as a liberal academic didn’t help him either when it comes to be portray-able as not a “real American.”) But you should remember that any Democratic president was going to get attacked from the right. There was a relatively widespread rumor that President Clinton had *actually killed people.* They attacked him on family values/moral grounds, too. They would use whatever was available.

RevBev December 11th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Is there a typical TP view on gays & those issues?

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to spocko @ 104

Great thought, and here is my gut reaction: One thing that is very true about media coverage of the Tea Party is that coverage increased at the same time that Republicans of long standing started to dominate the message. Mainstream media stopped covering protests and starting interviewing Dick Armey and Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. The Tea Party was suddenly the most important thing ever when Scott Brown got elected – but he had only tenuous ties to local TP groups. But he got 300k from “Tea Party Express” a Republican PAC that had changed its name after 2008. So I’m not sure there’s an example in the Tea Party for institutionalizing the protest in a way that doesn’t just allow for elite dominance.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 102

I think you have to go back further than that. Things started to change with the JFK administration that the actions he took vis-a-vis civil rights in the south. And gained momentum with the equal rights/civil rights amendment.

A lot of the republican party now is what was Dixicrat back in the day. The hard liners are very much anti-equal rights.

The day of the moderate republican went away in the late 1960s. Gingrich is the prime example, I would say.

As long as minorities were tertiary citizens at best, they were OK with taxes and some progressive legislation.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to Paul Street @ 102

Yes, rising income inequality is the fundamental political issue of our time, and it is central to any understanding of American politics. I highly, highly recommend Winner Take All Politics — I think the book we wrote explains a chapter of that larger narrative.

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to RevBev @ 107

It wasn’t the focus of our interviews, so I couldn’t really say. The local activists worked very hard to avoid talking about those kinds of issues, because it was perceived as divisive.

BevW December 11th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

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

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

Paul, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Vanessa’s website and book

Paul’s website (PaulStreet.org)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Vanessa – we are throwing a lot at you so please no worries about falling behind. I’ve been on your side of this exercise and it can be very daunting. I think you have done a wonderful job. I also wanted to say that you and professor Skocpol found very many things that Tony and I also found with our own somewhat different methods and interpretation particularly:on demographics; on partisan identity (yes they are loud and very right but partisan Republicans [we used a term from a Bloomberg poll: "super Republicans"] who will grumble but vote for Romney at the end of the day…and yes they are NOT centrist Independents); on subtle racism towards blacks and Latinos vs. more explicit racism toward Muslism; on FOX News dependence; on their contradictory positions vis a vis government; on the differences between the political positions of what you call “grasoots” Tea Partiers (we don’t use the term grasoorts vis a vis the Tea Party)and the ambitions of the Koch brothers and Armey et al at the elite level; on the role that the TP phenomenom played in the 2010 elections and more.

Paul Street December 11th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you Vanessa, Bev and all!

Vanessa Williamson December 11th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thank you so much!

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
In response to Knut @ 105

Would you say ‘national and socialist’ as in National-Socialist?

*heh* I won’t violate Godwin’s Law, but…! ;-)

Terri December 11th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

We have seen Establishment framing of OWS as The Tea Party on the left — a political frame I reject. But there is a popular/common notion that the TP is (grassroots political action [I realize it's not, I'm just speaking to how it's framed] on the ‘right’ and OWS as an independent grassroots movement on the left. Your book, however, focused in part (it seems) on emphasizing age (older citizens). Could it be then that a new frame could emerge and that is that TP is viewed predominately as the movement of/for/by older citizens and OWS is the independent grassroots movement of young people. The divide then would not simply be the corporate media’s R/L divide…but rather a young/old division. If such a frame trends, what do you see as the benefit to The Establishment with regard to electoral politics? How would you envision the D’s and R’s each using that [age/generation division] to their [political/electoral strategy] advantage?

Terri December 11th, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Oops! too late :)

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 4:05 pm
In response to terridi @ 117

IMHO…it most likely is old/young, which is the…uhum…oldest divide we have.

spocko December 11th, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Thank you for mentioning the Tea Party Express. I tracked them as they traveled the country raising money for…The Tea Party Express! Of course they needed to pay for all the bus fuel and their tolken black conservatives (the two black people traveling with them were paid)

The Tea Party Express did NOT pay for their use of public venues or for the police security that was provided in places like LA, San Diego. For example I found out that their half day in Griffith Park cost the city $5,000 for police overtime on a Sunday. They paid under 50 bucks for permits for their fund raising tour, where as if they were treated like another organization that was using the public venue for entertainment and fund raising they would have to pay thousands. (Specifically their venue in San Diego that is often used for that purpose).

I always found it ironic that they were using public venues paid for by tax payers, public security paid for by tax payers while complaining about taxes. They sold T-shirts, books and CDs and they didn’t collect state or local taxes on those items that they sold in a city’s park. So they didn’t even put anything back into the local tax base after using the local facilities.

CTuttle December 11th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa to all for another outstanding Book Salon…! *g*

northwestbynorth/F.Campbell December 11th, 2011 at 4:10 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 119

From a book I read once on generational dynamics, this is part of the Baby Boomer and GI generation script. Other, generations, my Xer included, have never experienced this antipathy based on age that was the experience of Boomers and their parents.

There is no “don’t trust anyone over 30″ mantra to be heard now.

Terri December 11th, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Right. And I’m wondering if something akin to that will be making a comeback.

northwestbynorth/F.Campbell December 11th, 2011 at 4:20 pm
In response to terridi @ 123

Well according to the book (whether or not it’s right) there are 4 types of generations and basically when your generation is in old age and close to death, a generation of your type is just being born. Xers are supposed to be like the Lost Generation, and I know many of us relate to that generation.

Boomers were supposed to be like FDR’s generation who realized their greatest accomplishments as old men and women.

Generation Y is supposed to be very similar to the GI generation.

Interestingly, Obama is an Xer. Probably most despised by his own generation, who are the largest contingent of Independents. We recognize him as our own. A total gamer, now others are catching on since he has no new town to run to to play the con again.

cmaukonen December 11th, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Maybe not young->old but maybe still old->young.

northwestbynorth/F.Campbell December 11th, 2011 at 4:27 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 125

Boomers by and large seem to be very protective of their children, and grandchildren. Hopefully, when they realize that unless they act their children will be fed to the chipper, they will act, and be their best selves.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I think the Tea Party also pushed some Democrats (Nelson, McCaskill) to the right as well. Not that they aren’t much happier there themselves, but by occupying the space they see as the “center” there’s less electoral real estate for a right wing firebrand to stir up their constituents, e.g. Rand Paul.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Which also supports the argument that none of this is “new” in the GOP: they did it to Clinton, as fringe views became Mainstream under the aegis of “it’s out there (thanks, Cokie Roberts!) and they did it to Obama.

Associating Democrats with the perceived current ‘enemy’ is not new, but it’s quite a bit of projection when you think about Pete King’s associations with Sinn Fein, Richard Nixon’s Anna Chennault shenanigans in 1968, and Team Reagan’s October Surprise hostage-release delay.

Teddy Partridge December 11th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Great Book Salon!

Please drop by Firedoglake anytime these or any topics are on offer, Author & Host (well-matched, as usual, by our remarkable BevW.

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