Why the Left Doesn't 'Get' the Tea Party: Lack of Education?

Why is it so hard to understand what the Tea Party's about?

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The Tea Party seems to represent something different to everybody: the savior of the mainstream GOP; a threat to the mainstream GOP; a "totally understandable" revolt against big government; a rise of conservative extremism that deserves scorn; a division of the religious right; a grassroots movement that's swept up members of the iconic band Velvet Underground. Why is it so hard for political pundits to make sense of it all? Peter Berkowitz of the conservative Hoover Institution says it's a failure of education. Schooled at the best universities, where political science and history have morphed into quasi-mathematical disciplines, America's elites "lack a basic understanding of the contours of American constitutional government." As a result, he argues, they can't see that the Tea Party is really a call to return to the country's "founding principles." Is he right?

  • Why Liberals Don't 'Get' the Tea Party: Education  In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peter Berkowitz argues that liberals can't explain this conservative resurgence because their own educations are lacking. Prominent liberal columnists grasp for explanations, failing to realize that "the tea party movement is inspired above all by a commitment to limited government," not paranoia. This debate "lies at the heart of the American experiment in liberal democracy." Berkowitz laments that "our universities have produced two generations of highly educated people who seem unable to recognize the spirited defense of fundamental American principles, even when it takes place for more than a year and a half right in front of their noses."
  • No, It's Because the Tea Party Is Contradictory  Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times dissects one problem with understanding the Tea Party: it's inherently contradictory: "A bewildering variety of historical fantasists and eccentric political theorists who always are lurking on the political fringes have provided the tea party with a vocabulary of protest, though it's unclear which views the movement's adherents share. ... The problem, as political analyst and George Mason University professor Bill Schneider has pointed out, is that it's 'not just that tea partyers are anti-government.... They are anti-politics.' ... The tea party's internal contradictions are so numerous, it's difficult to see its coalition of discontent surviving a single Congress."
  • And the Tea Party Constantly Lashing Out at New Targets  Frank Rich of the New York Times traces the movement's evolution from a "wave of anger" at the bad economy to something  "less focused, more free-floating — more likely to be aimed at 'government' in general, whatever the location or officials in charge." This anger "was easier to parse at the Tea Party’s birth," when a CNBC host ranted against government intervention. Now, that anger has broadened, and is "more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage. This is a significant and understandable shift, if hardly a salutary one. The mad-as-hell crowd in America, still not seeing any solid economic recovery on the horizon, will lash out at any convenient scapegoat." Even if Tea Party politicians win in November, Frank says the "extremism and violence in our politics" won't stop. "The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis."
  • Liberals Actively, Deliberately Try to Misunderstand Tea Party  Jennifer Rubin of the conservative magazine Commentary says it's not only "historical illiteracy" that is at work in portrayals of the Tea Party. It's also that liberals "actively distorted and vilified it. ... The left understood all too well what the Tea Party was about, tried its best to strangle it in its political crib, and now has seen its worst fears come true." A blogger at the liberal site Daily Kos disputes the idea that the left is misrepresenting what the Tea Party is about. Liberals are simply "following the money trail from American Crossroads and Tea Party Express."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.