The Tea Party in America:
Political Lunatic Fringe or New Face of the Republican Party?
Historians will one day write about one of the greatest crises to face the United States Government. That crisis occurred within just a few days ago when the country was on a catastrophic train wreck to oblivion. What happened was this: the government began to go into a tailspin with a partial shutdown of the U.S. government which included a catastrophic threat of financial default and ruin of the country’s credit status. In addition, there was a threat that the nation’s debt limit was not going to be extended beyond October 17, 2013. This chaos, in turn, would directly prevent the U.S. government from paying its bills and meeting its financial obligations.
The following is an edited version of an Associated Press article:
“Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy, and the Fitch credit rating agency had warned that it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for a possible downgrade.
President Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were the decisive victors in the fight, which was sparked by Tea Party Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. They prevailed upon skeptical GOP leaders to use a normally routine short-term funding bill in an attempt to “defund” the 2010 Affordable Health Care Law known as ‘Obama care.’
‘We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,’ House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded. He was given positive reviews from Republicans for his handling of the crisis, though it again exposed the tenuous grasp he holds over the fractious House GOP conference. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said the American people disapproved of how Republicans, and also Democrats and the president, handled the budget gridlock.
‘Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness,’ McCain said Thursday on CNN. The shutdown sent approval of the GOP plummeting in opinion polls and exasperated veteran lawmakers who saw it as folly. ‘It’s time to restore some sanity to this place,’ House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said before the vote.’[i]
Who Created the Economic Crisis?
The instigators of this crisis were a minority of congressmen in the House of Representatives representing just one political faction of the Republican Party. This political faction is known as the Tea Party.
Public polls during the crisis overwhelmingly condemned the Republican Party in general for holding the country hostage. But the Tea Party, as instigators, was blamed even more for their reckless, irresponsible, failed and ill-conceived plan, that in15 days into the shutdown had already hurt a million+ people nationwide.
Initially, it was their plan to use the shutdown as a bargaining chip in their desire to force concessions on the Affordable Care Act, and to cut federal spending. And this misguided extremism via extortion was attempted as a strategy in lieu of the normal legislative process. Such a deleterious plan, approved and executed by the Tea Party, gives the distinct impression that Tea Party members are “not-too-bright.”
It’s fair to say that Tea Party ultraconservatives are, as a result of their failure to implement a destructive financial meltdown and default of the United States government, earned the scorn of the American people, but are now the laughing stock of the nation. Because of Tea Party actions, the United States, at the very least, was embarrassed before the international community and our allies.
Now that the dust has settled (at least for a while in Washington D.C.) it’s important to learn more about what the Tea Party is really all about. Are they dangerous individuals who need to be tried for treason? Are they right-wing ideologues representing the values of the most extremist conservative viewpoints giving a great portrayal of a lunatic fringe? Do they actually represent a threat to the American people?
And finally, should people who cavalierly took the nation to the near brink of financial ruin, harming millions of people in their wake, be held accountable and charged with criminal acts and eventually punished accordingly? These questions should now be asked by people in government, the FBI, and the United States Department of Justice.
But first it is important to ask a set of less dire questions to get a correct picture of who these people are, including those currently (but perhaps temporarily) holding office in the House of Representatives. Ultimately, one needs to assess the facts by asking a set of simple questions:
- What is the Tea Party?
- What do they want?
- What are their Demographics?
- What’s Public Opinion of the Tea Party?
- Who is Funding the Tea Party?
What is the Tea Party?
The Tea Party movement is an American decentralized political movement that is primarily known for advocating a reduction in the U.S. National debt and federal budget deficit by reducing U.S. government spending and taxes. The movement has been called partly conservative, partly libertarian, and partly populist. It has sponsored protests and supported political candidates since 2009.
The name is derived from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, an iconic event in American history. Anti-tax protesters in the United States have often referred to the original Boston Tea Party for inspiration. References to the Boston Tea Party were part of Tax Day protests held throughout the 1990s and earlier. By 2001, a custom had developed among some conservative activists of mailing tea bags to legislators and other officials as a symbolic act.
What do they want?
The Tea Party does not have a single uniform agenda. The Tea Party generally focuses on government reform. Among its goals are limiting the size of the federal government, reducing government spending, lowering the national debt and opposing tax increases. To this end, Tea Party groups have protested the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), stimulus programs such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, commonly referred to as the Stimulus or The Recovery Act), cap and trade, health care reform such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, also known simply as the Affordable Care Act or “Obama care”) and perceived attacks by the federal government on their 1st, 2nd, 4th and 10th Amendment rights.
The decentralized character of the Tea Party, with its lack of formal structure or hierarchy, allows each autonomous group to set its own priorities and goals. Goals may conflict, and priorities will often differ between groups. Many Tea Party organizers see this as strength rather than a weakness, as decentralization has helped to immunize the Tea Party against co-opting by outside entities and corruption from within.
The Tea Party has generally sought to avoid placing too much emphasis on traditional conservative social issues. National Tea Party organizations, such as the Tea Party Patriots and Freedom Works, have expressed concern that engaging in social issues would be divisive. Instead, they have sought to have activists focus their efforts away from social issues and focus on economic and limited government issues. Still, many groups like Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Tea Parties, TeaParty.org, the Iowa Tea Party and Delaware Patriot Organizations do act on social issues such as abortion, gun control, prayer in schools, and illegal immigration.
Tea Party groups have also voiced support for right to work legislation as well as tighter border security, and opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants. After the Republican Party lost seats in Congress and the Presidency in the 2012 elections, they began to work at the state level to nullify the healthcare reform law.
They have also protested the IRS for controversial treatment of groups with “tea party” in their names. They have formed Super Pac’s to support candidates sympathetic to their goals, and have opposed what they call the “Republican establishment” candidates.
Even though the groups have a wide range of goals, the Tea Party places the Constitution at the center of its reform agenda. It urges the return of government as intended by the Founding Fathers.
It also seeks to teach its view of the Constitution and other founding documents. Scholars have described its interpretation variously as originalist, popular, or a unique combination of the two. However, their reliance on the Constitution is selective and inconsistent. Adherents cite it, yet do so more as a cultural reference rather than out of commitment to the text, which they seek to alter.
Several constitutional amendments have been targeted by some in the movement for full or partial repeal, including the 14th, 16th, and 17th. There has also been support for a proposed Repeal Amendment, which would enable a two-thirds majority of the states to repeal federal laws, and a Balanced Budget Amendment, which would limit deficit spending. Had the United States had such an amendment during World War II, the U.S. would have lost that war.
One attempt at forming a list of what Tea Partiers wanted Congress to do was the basis of the Contract from America. It was a legislative agenda created by conservative activist Ryan Hecker with the assistance of Dick Armey of Freedom Works. Armey had co-written the previous Contract with America released by the Republican Party during the 1994 midterm elections.
One thousand agenda ideas that had been submitted were narrowed down to twenty-one non-social issues. Participants then voted in an online campaign in which they were asked to select their favorite policy planks. The results were released as a ten-point Tea Party platform. The Contract from America was met with some support within the Republican Party, but it was not broadly embraced by GOP leadership, which released its own ‘Pledge to America.’
What Are Their Demographics?
The vast majority of the Tea Party Caucus comes from the West and the South. Whether by accident or design, the public faces of the Tea Party in the House of Representatives are Midwesterners.
But while there may be Tea Party sympathizers throughout the country in the House of Representatives, the Tea Party faction alone used the debt ceiling issue to plunge the nation into crisis. Overwhelmingly this faction is Southern in its origins.
Sam Stein of the Washington Post wrote an interesting article called: Tea Party Survey: Old, Conservative, Hate Obama, and Like Fox News.
According to Sam Stein:
“The individuals who make up the Tea Party movement are largely conservative and get their news from Fox; they’re generally old and of moderate to low income; and they’re fairly convinced that their taxes are going to rise in the next few years, even though they likely won’t.
Those conclusions are part of a new study put together by The Winston Group, a conservative-leaning polling and strategy firm run by the former director of planning for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. And they provide a telling new window on the political force that has revamped the Republican Party and altered the landscape of the 2010 elections.
In the course of conducting three national surveys of 1,000 registered voters, Winston was able to peg the percentage of the public that identifies itself with the Tea Party at roughly 17 percent. The group pledges that it is independent of any particular party (indeed 28 percent of Tea Party respondents in the Winston survey labeled their affiliation as such). But on pretty much every defining political or demographic issue, the movement lines up with the GOP or conservative alternatives.
Sixty-five percent of Tea Party respondents called themselves ‘conservative’ compared to the 33 percent of all respondents who did the same. Just eight percent of Tea Party respondents said they were ‘liberal.’”
Forty-seven percent of Tea Party respondents said that Fox News was either the top or second source of news they turn to, compared with 19 percent of the overall public who said the same thing.
More than 80 percent (81 percent) of Tea Party respondents expressed very little approval of Barack Obama’s job as President, which exceeded disapproval levels held even by Republicans (77%) and conservatives (79%).
All these data points suggest that the Tea Party crowd is comprised predominantly of conservatives. And, not surprisingly, the demographics of the movement seemingly align with those who traditionally vote for the conservative candidate as well. Fifty-six percent of Tea Party respondents are male; 22 percent are over the age of 65 (compared with just 14 percent who are between the ages of 18 and 34); and 23 percent fall in the income range of $50,000 and $75,000.
In another survey, Tea Party supporters are likely to be older, white and male. Forty percent are age 55 and over, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; just 22 percent are under the age of 35, 79 percent are white, and 61 percent are men. Many are also Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as “born-again,” compared with 33 percent of all respondents.”
The Tea Party Members in Congress
| Fiery Republicans known as the Tea Party Caucus are at the center of the debate over which version of a plan – if any – to cut spending and raise the debt limit should be adopted in Congress.These conservatives, many of whom were swept into office during the 2010 midterm elections, have made it their mission to rein in spending and shrink the size of government, even if it meant taking the country to the edge of default.
Here is the full list of the official Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, with the freshman representatives in BOLD:
Sandy Adams (FL-24)
What’s Public Opinion of the Tea Party?
The Tea Party is more unpopular than ever before, according to a Rasmussen poll recently released, with just three in 10 voters holding favorable views of the movement. Half of respondents said they view the party unfavorably. The Rasmussen survey used automated phone calls to survey 1,000 likely voters back in January..
The numbers obtained in the survey represented a considerable dive in support since the Tea Party’s heyday in 2009, when a majority of voters rated it favorably.
Many of the Senate challengers with Tea Party backing were defeated in 2012, and the movement suffered another PR blow after a falling out among the leadership of the Tea Party group, Freedom Works.
Although most members of the House’s Tea Party Caucus were reelected in November, the group had some high-profile losses, including the defeats of former Reps. Joe Walsh and Allen West. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, barely retained her seat.
The movement is now widely seen by the public as declining, according to the Rasmussen poll — 56 percent of voters said the Tea Party became less influential over the past year, and just 8 percent said they identified as part of the Tea Party movement.
Other polling conducted since the election has found similar results when looking at the Tea Party’s popularity, but with a larger number of people saying they agreed with or were part of the movement. A CNN/ORC poll conducted in November last year found that half of Americans viewed the Tea Party unfavorably, actually a modest improvement from the movement’s standing in late 2011.
A December poll from Politico/GWU found that 21 percent of likely voters identified with or considered themselves part of the Tea Party movement. Polls from CNBC in November both found that about 20 percent of adults were supporters of the movement.
In an article by Carol Forsloff titled, “Tea Party Demographics: White, Republican, Older Male with Money” reported,
“Several polls are now out, assessing the demographics of the Tea Party Movement that largely agree the majority of its members are Republican, largely white, above the mean in age and income and voted for John McCain.
So do Tea Party people reflect the average American as they represent themselves? Not usually if you are a middle-aged woman of Hispanic background, an African-American male or a union member in New England just scraping by, according to the polls.”
A conservative blogger examined this analysis of Tea Party members, citing CNN statistics declaring they are predominantly male, more college educated and higher earners than the general population at large, but not necessarily older or just from the South. A progressive blogger on ThinkProgress looked at the CNN statistics and relayed the same information as the conservative fellow, stating the following:
“Turns out that the ‘tea party’ movement sweeping the nation is disproportionately composed of individuals who have higher-than-average incomes. It’s also disproportionately composed of men. And disproportionately composed of white people. And disproportionately composed of self-identified conservatives. And disproportionately composed of self-identified Republicans.
In other words, well-to-do conservative white men don’t much care for Barack Obama’s policies. Which, of course, is something we already knew from the exit polls back in November 2008.”
Who is Funding the Tea Party?
In an August 30, 2010, article in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer said that the billionaire brothers David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch and Koch Industries are providing financial and organizational support to the Tea Party movement through Americans for Prosperity, which David founded. The AFP’s “Hot Air Tour” was organized to fight against taxes on carbon use and the activation of a cap and trade program.
In 1984, David Koch also founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, part of which became Freedom Works in a 2004 split, another group that organized and supports the movement.
Koch Industries issued a press release stating that the Kochs have “no ties to and have never given money to Freedom Works”. Former ambassador Christopher Meyer wrote in the Daily Mail that the Tea Party movement is a mix of “grassroots populism, professional conservative politics, and big money”, the last supplied in part by the Kochs. Mayer says that the Koch brothers’ political involvement with the Tea Party has been so secretive that she labels it “covert”.
Many organizations in society, including political organizations, engage in what is called sub-optimizing behavior. That’s when stated goals are not the real goals; they are simply stated goals.
The real goals of organizations, political groups, or individuals are often hidden and not stated publicly. Words from politicians often disguise their real motives. Beliefs and values dominate all our lives. And the Tea Party is no exception, especially when backed by Big Business and the Billionaire Koch Brothers and Koch Industries.
Based on the behavior of Tea Party members in Congress, my assumption these last few weeks is that the Tea Party in America is a lunatic fringe and is the new face of the Republican Party.
Currently only 8% of Americans identify themselves as Tea Party members. And, it appears the Tea Party in Congress has a stranglehold on other Republicans. It’s okay for people to cling to their values and beliefs. But when such values and beliefs threaten the United States with financial disaster and ruin, then it’s time for other stronger forces to counter such attacks on the integrity of the United States and its people.
As much as I’d like to see it, it’s unlikely these congressional reprobates will ever be tried for treason or brought up on criminal charges by the U.S. Department of Justice. The best thing the people can do is toss the Tea Party members out of Congress in the next election. Another option is to petition their immediate recall from office.
The Ongoing Problem of Gridlock
The vast majority of Americans are moderate “Middle-of-the-Road” Independents, Democrats and Republicans. When one has different values from their fellow citizens, it naturally creates tension, suspicion, distrust, and polarization. Since 2008 we’ve witnessed the worst of these political differences acting out as irreconcilable gridlock when it comes to carrying out the various duties of the government (passing a budget on time, passing legislation to help our citizens, properly defending the country, etc.). For several years now gridlock has created and prevented very little from being accomplished.
Politics has always been called, “the Art of Compromise.” This is an old saying that no longer appears applicable in modern day politics.
The primary function of politicians should be to honestly represent their constituency. But at the same time politicians need to make prudent, critical choices in the handling of scarce resources (taxpayer dollars). That latter function is an awesome responsibility that needs careful attention to detail. But the overriding responsibility of those in Congress today should be to help their fellow citizens live better, more prosperous lives.
Unfortunately, the legacy of conservatism or radical conservatism has never aligned itself with helping people. During the last 160 years, conservatives were opposed to the abolition of slavery, fought against giving women the right to vote, fought against integration, desegregation and later busing, opposed the New Deal during the Depression of the 1930s, opposed the Social Security Act in 1935 and later, minimum wage laws. They were a major voice against the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and were responsible for promoting racism and Jim Crow, particularly in the old South. During the 1970s conservatives also opposed affirmative action.
In more recent years, conservatives have opposed amnesty for illegal aliens. They also want to cut entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and now their strident attitude is to oppose the President’s Affordable Care Act that promotes universal healthcare. One way of characterizing all this political history is that, if legislation was going to help a lot people and improve their lives, conservatives were “hell-bent” to oppose it.
At this point in history the Tea Party has been at the center of Washington’s gridlock. The only real option for Americans in the 2014 and 2016 national elections is to terminate Tea Party conservatives and most Republicans from holding office in the United States Congress.
This doesn’t mean that creating jobs, cutting spending or raising or lowering taxes aren’t important issues; they certainly are. But Tea Party members who take a simplistic ideological viewpoint of how the economy works lack insight into the complexities of the economy and its business cycles.
Just remember these statistics from my last Blog:
“Since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Democrats hold the edge though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. In addition, over the past 50 years, Republican administrations oversaw the largest decline in wages as measured as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
If you really care about data and facts (not just value judgments), then it should be very clear to you who to vote for during the 2014 and 2016 elections.”
1 Associated Press Writers: Alan Fram, Jessica Gresko, and Connie Cass. “Government open again, Obama bemoans Damage”, October 17, 2013