What Tea Party Movement?

The Washington Post tries to contact every single activist group and finds very little actual activism.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

After a months-long investigation attempting to get a hold of the hundreds of Tea Party groups across the country, The Washington Post found the much-hyped movement is actually "not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process." The newspaper could verify and contact just 647 of the 1,400 Tea Party groups it identified. Some groups consist of a single person, or a handful of family members, and 70 percent have done zero political campaigning. Only half the groups said they wanted to shrink government size and spending, and the culture war was off their radar.

  • This Is No Civil Rights Movement Steve Benen at Political Animal writes, "the reason I put 'movement' in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it's an amorphous group of activists with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no real areas of expertise. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they're talking about. ... There can be little doubt that these activists exist, and that the political world takes them quite seriously. But beyond this, groups and members of this 'movement' don't necessarily even agree with one another about their priorities or beliefs."
  • The Media Needs to Calm Down Prairie Weather observes, "There are two tea parties. The one we've known most about has been concocted largely by media and corporate money. The other is consists of something that looks like a widely spread but thin wind cloud hovering over parts of America, virtually invisible in some areas, more visible in others. Their conservatism, such as it is, ranges from desultory mainstream to radical." But given that few have actually done any campaigning, "do we know how many will vote and who they will vote for?"
  • Meanwhile, Lefties Still Trying to Figure These Guys Out Slate's David Weigel reports from a Berkeley conference, featuring Nixonland author Rick Perlstein and various academics and activists, for liberals trying to figure out what these Tea Partiers are so angry about. "This crowd, steeped and marinated in radical politics, is struggling to understand the Tea Party. And part of their problem is that the wider world either doesn't think their analyses are novel, or derides them as slander. It's a strange place to be in. These are the people who watched Barack Obama spend a year fighting back against the charge that Bill Ayers had indoctrinated him in the ways of the Weather Underground. Then, once he came into office, they watched Obama enact an agenda that disappoints them every day but that the opposition—and sometimes the media—calls 'socialist.'"
  • Not So Fast The larger movement may be little more than a barely-organized network of drinking buddies, but the national Tea Party groups are still a force to be reckoned with. The Tea Party Patriots "is planning a multipronged campaign that includes advertising, polling, hundreds of rallies, and a summit of newly elected members of Congress early in 2011," The Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Levitz and Douglas A. Blackmon report. The group hopes to raise $2.8 million to draw attention to the littler tea parties before April 15--tax day. Tea Party Patriots is also aiming to fund polling, four conventions, and college clubs, as well as push back against any legislation from the lame-duck Congress after midterms.
  • It's Still About Racism argues Marco Roth for n+1. Regardless of all the small-government talk, Roth says, the culture of white victimization is what fuels the Tea Party. "It can be tempting to write about America the way our newspapers often write about foreign countries, where ancient resentments or archaic tribal structures still determine the course of modern politics. Even though we’ve mostly done away with outright racial violence, the memory of violence survives in the symbolism of  the Shirley Sherrod affair, the signs at Tea Party protests that say 'the zoo has an African Lion and the White House has a Lyin’ African,' and the 'open carry' demonstrations sponsored by the NRA, descendant of the Confederate gun clubs, at the town hall meetings for national health care. ...The most enduring behaviors of nations, like the hardest-to-break habits of individuals, are those we are least aware of. The new racists — that is to say, 'concerned citizens' of Caucasian descent — seem only dimly conscious of past American racism, an ignorance no doubt unconsciously maintained, but more potent for that. Journalists for supposedly liberal publications like the Times and the New Republic have sought 'actual racists' in the Tea Party movement and, because no one would say the N-word on the record, duly exonerated the Tea Partiers of racist intent. In exchange, Tea Party spokespeople acknowledge that the odd unreconstructed crank might turn up at one of their rallies. It’s a free country."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.