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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wasn't The Tea Party Libertarian!?

The Tea Party is Anti-Tax? Well ... Obamacare IS a tax ...
Reader Dave notes of the Tea Party:
[The] original movement was very early on hijacked by several GOP politicians in what was (to me at least) a transparent grab at the group's ground-swell of populist energy. That hijacking resulted in a "Tea Party movement" within the GOP that immediately dropped the civil-liberties element, and ran with the fiscal/government restraint component.
Is this true? Is the 'Tea Party' today something different than the original movement? Did politicians like Ted Cruz take command and steer it off into the weeds? If so, what exactly is the psychology behind the Tea Party?

The Psychology of The Tea Party
If you punch that phrase into Google you discover the following:

It's All About The Purity
 And so on ...

The question you might ask is this: Why didn't I start with the Tea Party manifesto--their stated set of beliefs / goals--rather than their psychology? It's a good question.

Everybody Lies
On the House TV Show one of the axioms of the never-wrong Dr. House was this: everybody lies. In his world it was, namely, that patients, facing lethal and bizarre illnesses still kept secrets from their doctors. He had to employ 'medical detectives' to find the truth (these guys were young-gun doctors who, often, were dispatched to break and enter the patients' homes to look for clues to their conditions--I speculated that the recurrent plot-point might be why it was called House).

In real life, though, the "lies" we tell (and tell ourselves) are slightly different from willful dissembling. In the case of political activism the driver--the engine--is emotional. We don't join and fight for causes because of policy. That's the "lie" we tell ourselves ("I'm doing it to save the whales--not because I'm really mad at my father!"). As human beings we usually get involved with something and throw a lot of energy behind it because it fulfills some more basic inner need. Here's a picture:
What this shows (and Power Point Smart-Art never lies) is interlocking systems. In this case the large gear is the "engine"--the Emotion that powers the activity. Often this is pretty deep seated and something we might not admit to ourselves (much less anyone else).

What we see is the Behavior Gear going in one direction and the Stated Goals Gear going in the other. When this is the case--when the stated goals we espouse seem to be out of step with our behavior, it's usually because there is an underlying emotional driver we are not being honest about--a hidden agenda (sometimes even hidden from ourselves).

This is why I want to look at the Psychology of the Tea Party (and I think the Google links above are mostly bunk). When I look at the Tea Party I see a serious disconnect between what they say on paper and what they do in the voting booth (and on polls).

What We 'Know' About The Tea Party
Let's look at the printed material--both actual Tea Party stuff and polling numbers. The word 'Know' is in scare-quotes because, hey, polls and studies can be biased--but they're still better than "What I saw on CNN."

If you want one hard take-away truth from this post, it's this: A guy in a tricorn hat with tea-bags hanging from it makes for great copy. That's a way better lead in than some dude wearing a jacket and jeans.

Stated Goals
Let's use that Tea Party manifesto I linked to. It's as good as any of 'em.
  1. Protect the Constitution (each bill must cite it specifically)
  2. Reject Cap and Trade
  3. Demand a Balanced Budget
  4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform (single-rate tax)
  5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility
  6. End Runaway Spending
  7. Defund, Repeal, and Replace Government-run Health Care
  8. Pass an All of the Above Energy Policy
  9. Stop the Pork
  10. Stop Tax Hikes
This is pretty basic and straight-forward stuff (if a little goofy in places: no bill can be longer than the Constitution!). It's (probably) what reader Dave above was referring to. Stuff like that.

Visible Behavior
In the case of the Tea Party, the visible behavior is voting. Specifically voting for Tea Party candidates whether or not they have actual experience or even viability. But there's something about this that is worthy of special attention: often Tea Party candidates are neither small-government libertarians (of which there were at least a couple in 2012) nor are they "best fit" candidates who look like they could, say, accomplish five or six of the above points ... if not all 10.

Often they are candidates who any candid observer can see won't win a general election--even in cases where that victory is deemed crucial to policy concerns the Tea Party has.

In other words, many Tea-Candidates are self destructive to the Stated Goals.

In short, rather than electing the best candidate available to do the most of what I want, I choose a candidate who is a disaster in the general which will get me the least of what I say I want.

This is a clue that what I say I want ... isn't what I actually want.

Measured Beliefs
Let's go to the polls. Here are some stats from YouMorals, an online attempt to study morals and politics. This is their Tea Party Profile--and some graphs!
Retribution!?
The high score is on National Sovereignty. That would be Immigration. The low scores on Equality and Universalism are the lowest of anyone tested. These issues would be "social justice" and "general acceptance" of other cultures.
Below Conservatives on Same Sex Marriage?
They are as or more conservative than either libertarians or even non TP conservatives (scoring below them) on SSM and Immigration. And finally:
I Wonder If They Believe Boehner's a Muslim?
These numbers are pretty striking. Not the answers, per-se, but the numbers themselves: The Tea Party might be theoretically composed of Ending-Spending Libertarians but practically they are the hard-core anti-Obama contingent.

What else do we know? Well, they're more scientifically literate than the non-tea-party population. While that might surprise people, it doesn't surprise me: the Tea Party, while racially more or less matching the country (at least in 2010), skews older and more educated: successful white people.


Tea Party members were significantly more likely to believe Obama is a Muslim and were significantly more like to favor tougher immigration laws. They were also more likely to agree with a battery of questions regarding what it means to be fully American, indicating that whiteness, the ability to speak English well, and native-born status were very important.
However, the paper also finds that
[Those] who like the movement are driven by additional variables, such as unemployment, and symbolic racism. Moreover, whereas ethnocentrism is significant in the membership model, it is insignificant in the more general measure of Tea Party support. This variation clearly demonstrates that the “subterranean agenda” of the Tea Party may be different among members and among those who admire the general movement from afar. What the Tea Party means to its members and what it represents to the large public may, in fact, not be the same thing.
Note that this is referring to one of three measures of 'racism.'  On that count, as we noted before, while classic stereotypical racist statements are hard to come by today, negative beliefs about black people correlate with the Tea Party to some degree.

Shown a Black and White Guy With a Foreclosure Sign In Front Of Their House, Who was To Blame (The Guy or the Economy)?
Viewing The 'Big Gear:' The Disconnect Between Statement And Behavior
Trying to look at the 'big gear'--the emotional driver--is seen when looking at the gap between voting behavior (both at the polls and on surveys) and the stated goals. So, for example:
  • The manifesto doesn't say anything about immigration but it's a HUGE driver. The above survey gave a massive +30 point favorability of tougher immigration laws (such as Arizona passed) for Tea Party whites and non-Tea Party whites.
  • Being in the Tea Party statistically favors thinking Obama is a Muslim by more than 20 points. There's nothing in the manifesto or, indeed, high taxes or, say Cap & Trade that has any bearing on Obama's faith.
  • Negative beliefs about homosexuality and abortion aren't economic policy (not without gettin' deep, anyway) and are certainly nowhere in the manifesto ... and are counter to Libertarian views on SSM (which more closely match Liberals).
  • Tea Partiers more often cite Religion for their views on sexuality. In general Libertarians are not affiliated with the Tea Party and are not (87%) affiliated with the Christian right.
  • To my knowledge no Tea Party candidate has made item #1 (protect the constitution by forcing bills to cite passages) a platform priority.
And so on. What does this tell us?
  1. The emotional engine driving the Tea Party is an angry (avenging) response to a perception of 'Grand Theft America.' The golden America of their youth has been taken and ruined.
  2. The people 'stealing America' are immigrants, minorities, and communist liberals led by Obama (who is 'one of Them' in all ways that count).
  3. There is a Christian moral imperative to salvage the United States, a Christian nation from its genesis, from their clutches--or--
  4. To go down fighting if they have lost. And they have practically already lost.
So remember those candidates Dave asked about? The ones the Tea Party nominated? Those candidates are human hand-grenades hurled at the administration. The hidden emotional driver behind Tea Party votes is retribution: angry protest--punches thrown with cast ballots. Cruz isn't expected to actually reform healthcare in a positive way--not really. He's supposed to stick a thumb in the eye of Obama and do his best to cripple Obama's stolen government.

Which is exactly Cruz he did--he's no fool.

The Tea Party politicians have not hijacked the party--they've catered to it.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. Forwarding around to colleagues.

    ReplyDelete