Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Omnivore Explains: The Tea Party

As per Facebook discussion today we're taking a look at the Tea Party: small government freedom fighters or racist terrorists? I report, you decide. Like Fox News, The Omnivore has never retracted a story! So let's go!

On The Right
If you ask the Tea Party what they stand for you'll get a few canonical answers: There is no "Tea Party"--there are numerous autonomous groups that are structured around a few guiding principles. I looked at TeaParty Patriots and for some guidance here.
FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY means not overspending, and not burdening our children and grandchildren with our bills.
CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED GOVERNMENT means power resides with the people and not with the government. Governing should be done at the most local level possible where it can be held accountable. 
FREE MARKET ECONOMICS made America an economic superpower that for at least two centuries provided subsequent generations of Americans more opportunities and higher standards of living. 
And ... (
  • Limited federal government
  • Individual freedoms
  • Personal responsibility
  • Free markets
  • Returning political power to the states and the people
So okay. There you have it--straight from the horse's mouth. Of course if you trust what people say about themselves then you think Obama is a US Born (Hawaii--are we expected to believe that!?) Christian who believes in America. Now, you know, he might be a special case of super lying--but still, we're clearly not just going to take things at face value.

Here is a big list of Tea Party slogans which, for the most part, are not that offensive.

On The Left
If you ask a lefty what the Tea Party stands for, after they've recovered from the sedation darts the police have used to stop the rampage, you get something like this:
When you peel back the nonsense of the Tea Party and look under the hood so to speak, what you actually see are a bunch of selfish morons who basically dislike our President (or possibly any non-white person), want to pay little to no taxes, and want to cut social and welfare programs to anyone other than themselves. Much like the Republican controlled Congress who recently implemented new ‘spending controls’ that were designed to cut ‘wasteful’ Democratic spending, but just so happened to contain exemptions for pretty much anything they wanted to spend money on.
Here is a list of the ten most "offensive" Tea Party slogans someone put together.

So Which Is It? 
What's correct? Well, let's "go to the tape." In this case that means looking at some numbers. We will start with the Pew Survey.

So, uh, whatever else they are, according to the numbers they:

  • Oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons
  • Oppose abortion in all/most cases for religious reasons
  • Are more opposed to a path to citizenship than most Republicans
  • Clock in fairly closely to Republicans on economic issues
Let's ask a Tea Party guy about the religious thing:
Sarah Palin is a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Israel evangelical Christian. Senator Jim DeMint is a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Israel conservative Presbyterian. Congressman Mike Pence is a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Israel, former conservative talk show host, third highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, evangelical Christian. Christine O'Donnell is a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Israel, former "values movement" activist, conservative Catholic.Michele Bachmann is a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Israel evangelical Lutheran. Combined, these individuals represent the Tea Party's de facto leadership in the political realm.
A survey of Tea Party members was conducted with these being some of the findings:
Perhaps Not Surprisingly They Found More Whites Supported the Tea Party Than Non-Whites

And That Means ... What?
The Facebook poster, when asked why, if the Tea Party was basically fiscal-conservative refused to embrace Ron Paul suggested that it was because Ron Paul's foreign policy was "batshit crazy."I could accept that as an explanation (it does come up a lot, after all) but it does not explain why the Tea Party didn't endorse, say, Gary Johnson who is certainly less interventionalist than many would like--but will not, for example, abandon Israel. You'd think that would be a perfect fit, right?

I know the FB poster knows who Gary Johnson is. Maybe I should've opened it up first? He also acknowledged that the Tea Party, despite wanting fiscal responsibly also wants to leave senior entitlement programs untouched--which is paradoxical. So I'll give him points there.

But I think, ultimately, people who give the Tea Party the benefit of the doubt on this stuff are making a very, very human mistake:
Specifically, You Want To Believe They Think Like You: They Do, If You're White And Over 65.
The truth is that the emotional drivers for the Tea Party are pretty straightforward: Look at the demographic break down between the 2008 election and the 2010 Tea Party election ...
image (3).png
Old People's Election
The gender breakdown didn't change much. And nor did the racial breakdown. But the age of the electorate changed dramatically: Seniors went from 16 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2010, while voters between 18 and 29 fell from 18 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009.
In other words, what was the big issue that drove the 2010 Tea Party surge? Oh, come on--you know it--ObamaCare ... wait, wait--that's the text--what's the subtext? Oh, come on, you know that too--it's the other, other care. No, not Romney Care--Medicare. Twenty-Ten and the Tea Party was about the Democrats hitting the 3rd Rail: they scared Medicare seniors and the response was the Tea Party.

Seniors--white seniors--as you know--also happen to be more socially conservative and more right-wing religious than the population at large. This also explains why they don't want Ron Paul or Gary Johnson: those candidate's attack on entitlement systems would possibly hit seniors and that's why Paul Ryan had to readjust his plan so that people over 55 were safe! Want to talk about "free stuff?" Ryan promised seniors the entire burden of re-aligning the US healthcare system and safety net would be borne on the backs of the (comparatively) young.

It was a vote getter. Maybe Romney was on to something after all?

So What Do I Think?
I think you can make a compelling case that the Tea Party is the party of Old White people who are afraid that the Obama administration or its economic policies will take their safety net away and responded predictably. They are not:

  • Clear-eyed hard core fiscal conservatives
  • Libertarians who believe that social conventions should be left up to individuals
  • A group that prioritizes fiscal policy over social policy
  • A group that has much / anything to say about foreign policy except as it relates to immigration

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