Polls show that, in addition to being predominantly white and Republican, tea-partiers are wealthier and better-educated than the typical American. The proletariat they are not.
Andrew Gelman's terrific book "Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State," documents the stark partisan division within the American upper class, which I think helps us understand what's really going on. Very roughly, churchgoing non-coastal rich people are Republicans, while the more secular coastal rich are Democrats. What we are now seeing is not a showdown between the vast non-ideological middle-class and some rising Acai-swilling, assortatively-mating bobo aristocracy, but a standoff between rival elites. The tea party is a movement of relatively well-to-do, relatively religious citizens aroused by the conservative identity politics of a handful of elite right-wing opinion-makers who seek to unseat their liberal counterparts.
It is a neat trick. Conservative elites pretend to be part of a marginalised cultural force while at the same time orchestrating an electoral bloodbath led by America's least marginalised people. The fact that this is working so tells us a lot about who the elites really are and where the power really lies.
What strikes me about so many intellectual conservative defenses of the current nihilist GOP is how tired they are. They are exactly the left-right, red-blue critiques of liberal elites made throughout the 1980s and 1990s, originating with Nixon. It is as if without this paradigm, they have nowhere else to go, and it sure beats actually formulating practical answers to the huge problems the country faces, at home and abroad.
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