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Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America

A surprising and revealing look inside the Tea Party movement - where it came from, what it stands for, and what it means for the future of American politics.

Or, as Times Books puts it:

The First Definitive Account of a Vastly Misunderstood Movement from the New York Times Reporter Who Has Covered Them More Than Any Other Journalist.

I read this book about a month ago. Let's see how the passages I highlighted then resonate with recent events.

*

She introduces us to the first Tea Partier, a young teacher with a pierced nose who lives in Seattle with her fiance, an Obama supporter.

Huh. And to think I once suggested that one consequence of Obama's phony image as a change agent would be to instill the deepest cynicism yet in young people.

*

"The legend goes that it all started on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Thursday, February 19, 2009. There, a financial news commentator named Rick Santelli proclaimed on CNBC that the Obama administration's proposed mortgage assistance plan was 'promoting bad behavior,' rewarding 'the losers' at the expense of people who had played by the rules. Surrounded by cheering commodities traders, Santelli invited like-minded capitalists to join him on the shores of Lake Michigan for a modern day Boston Tea Party in protest. 'We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July,' he ventured. WIthin days, it is said, millions of Americans sprang from their couches and desk chairs to take to the streets, and a movement was born. We the People, come to Take Back America.

"It would be a wonderful creation story, if only it were that simple. In fact, the first Tea Party had already taken place three days earlier in Seattle, led by a 29-year-old woman named Keli Carender. If a lefty West Coast city was an unlikely cradle for conservative protest, Carender was an unlikely avatar of a movement that would come to derive most of its support from older white men. Half-Mexican, with a pierced nose, she taught basic math to adults on welfare and performed with an improv company on weekends."

*

"Carender, like many conservatives, hadn't thought much of any of the presidential candidates. 'None of them seemed to understand what conservatives didn't like about Bush,' she said, 'that it was the spending' . . .

"But she hardly welcomed President Barack Obama, with his promises of change. As the new administration began preparing a $787 billion economic stimulus bill in his first weeks in office, Carender said, 'I started thinking, what are we getting ourselves into? It didn't make sense to me to be spending all this money when we don't have have it. It seems more logical that we create an atmosphere where private industry can start to grow again and create jobs.'

"She tried calling her U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats. 'It was like a brick wall,' she said. 'I mean, I'd call every day and the mailboxes would be full. I'd call in the morning and it would still be full. I'd call in the afternoon, it would be full. I understand: they had a lot of calls; it was just full. But I thought, maybe hire an extra person part-time to take down messages, or pay someone in the evening. That just seems like it's one of the most important things in a representative democracy, so it at least feels like you're getting through.'"

*

"The new street protesters had a powerful ally in Fox News, which had been searching out popular opposition to the stimulus bill. When Mary Rackovich protested in Fort Myers, Fox producers quickly got her to a local affiliate so she could be interviewed by satellite by Neil Cavuto, even though her protest had, by her own account, consisted of herself, her husband, and one other person."

*

"'It all started with TARP, then Mr. Obama gets in and he's fundamentally changing this country,' and he's changing it alright,' [Diana Reimer, 66, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania] said. 'The bailouts, the banks, AIG, and you see all the money these people are making and then all their bonuses, I mean, that's kind of ridiculous, who needs that much money? I just want to be able to pay our bills and stay afloat.'"

*

"Lots of Tea Partiers were just as angry at Republicans as they were at Democrats. For 12 years following the Republican Revolution of 1994, the party had held nearly unbroken control of Congress, but it hadn't worked out to be much of a revolution. Despite all the promises of term limits and cutting waste and paying-as-you-go that were contained in the Contract With America, spending still skyrocketed, government still grew."

*

"Nearby, in Bucks County, a perennial battleground district in a perennial battleground state, Anastasia Przybylski was just the kind of voter the two parties haggle over. A 35-year-old stay-at-home mother of three, she had voted for John McCain unenthusiastically in 2008. She had been a Democrat but had switched her registration to voe in local elections, where the critical choices were among Republicans. And she might have voted for Hillary Clinton, who had won the state's Democratic primary, had she been on the ballot in November . . .

"Przybylski left the meeting [of the local Republican committee] frustrated. She had changed her voter registration a few years earlier from Democrat to Republican so she could vote in a primary. 'What's the point of even being registered Republican and not Independent?' she said. 'If there's always an endorsement, what's the point, really? The parties have all done this the same way, and people didn't notice. We all thought we were voting and there was just one person to vote for.'"

*

"They believed that if anyone was guilty of Astroturf organizing, it was their opponents on the left, with the labor unions busing in protesters to rally for health care legislation, and they insisted that the most outrageous Tea Party signs were actually sent in by the left to make the Tea Party look bad. (There was little to prove this. The staff at FreedomWorks liked to point out, correctly, that the posters showing President Obama with a Hitler moustache were printed by the supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, the octogenarian political provacateur who had likened Obama's health care plan to the gas chambers of the Third Reich. 'LaRouch fruitcakes,' Dick Armey called them. 'And we all know who the LaRouchies are,' he added. 'They're Democrats!')"

*

"At its heart, the Tea Party movement was deeply divided. The people who held virulent signs at rallies were a very different group from those who sat through meetings about organizing local precincts, who in turn were different from those who stayed home but sympathized with the cause. Younger Tea Partiers extolling the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises had different priorities from the older Tea Partiers who wanted change but also wanted their Medicare left alone. Even the movement's harshest critics acknowledged a kind of 'good Tea Party' / 'bad Tea Party' divide. The liberal group Media Matters for America had devoted a great deal of time and effort to tracking the Fox News Channel's promotion of the Tea Partiers and debunking the movement's received wisdom, but when it sent a researcher undercover to the Tea Party Convention in Nashville, she reported back how 'affable and welcoming' her fellow conventioneers were. 'A nice surprise was the lack of violent language,' wrote the researcher, Melinda Warner, who described herself as an evangelical conservative-turned-progressive. 'The members who make those horrible signs and make violent and hateful comments either were not in attendance or kept their mouths shut and left their signs at home.'"

*

What Liberals Must Know
I'll just take one, from Zernike's press materials:

It's not about race. There are fringe elements; they are just that. (Saul Alinsky, too, wanted to "take our country back.") Liberals who dismiss the Tea Party movement as simply a collection of white racists do themselves a disservice by ignoring the economic and cultural motivations that have the potential to draw independent voters away from Democratic candidates.

*

What Conservatives Must Know
I'll take just one, from Zernike's press materials:

The Tea Party means different things to different people. There are people who want to make the Tea Party about immigration, English as an official language, and Obama's birth certificate, and then there are the purists, who think it should focus on economic issues only.

*

Common Misconceptions
I'll take two, from Zernike's press materials:

It's not about social issues. Tea Partiers may hold conservative positions on issues like gay marriage and abortion, but they don't want to talk about those issues. They think they are divisive and increasingly irrelevant.

*

They don't fall in line behind Sarah Palin. Many Tea Partiers don't think she is qualified to be president, and they don't go along with her endorsements. And she ticked them off by suggesting that the Republican Party ought to absorb the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party movement is determinedly "leaderless" and proud of the way it has mobilized electoral energy, and its loosely affiliated "members" are suspicious of anyone - even Palin - trying to co-opt that energy.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on January 17, 2011


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