Regardless of the loud rhetoric and the signs carried, the tea party crowd remains something of an enigma. The rhetoric and the signs can be confusing. If these represent the tea crowd’s views as purported, they are a weird bunch. But journalists and pollsters are continuing to study this group to see if their identity and their perspective can be better understood.
The first and continuing impression from what one sees displayed in the media is that of a rowdy, ignorant crowd of uninformed and misinformed people who think they know it all. That is the face appearance of the group at its gatherings. But is there something more involved than meets the eye?
Ignorance, or perhaps denial of reality, is a major characteristic of the group. Busily objecting to being taxed, only 2% of those tea party people polled are aware that their taxes actually went down. In the general population 22% are aware of this. Not a very high number there either, or we would hear more public backlash on the tea party slogans. Over 90% of our citizens got tax breaks this past year, and average tax refunds are up 10% this spring.
While fear of increased taxes may be motivating the multi-millionaires who fund the tea party behind the scenes through groups like Americans for Prosperity or the Club for Growth, there is no merit in average people thinking they are being more heavily taxed under the Obama administration, when the reverse is true. A spokesperson for the Brookings Institute said: “It is hard to understand the tea party’s anger about taxes when these are lower than they have been in decades.”
When one gets into personal feelings and attitudes, some of their outbursts become more understandable, but no more justifiable. Three fourths believe that President Obama does not share their values, and a like number think he favors the poor. About the same proportion think he does not understand their problems, or listen to them. But, then, only 1% of tea partiers are black, and 1% Hispanic, and the poor are not well represented.
A large majority reports anger with Mr. Obama. Their reasons are: too much spending, health care reform, and opinions unrepresented. Ninety percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and 92% headed toward socialism. Two thirds believe Mr. Obama was not born in this country, and about the same number think he is Muslim. Although it would affect only 2% of the population (over $200,000 income), eighty percent oppose a tax to support health care.
Most blame Congress for the problems with the economy, and not the profligacy of Mr. Bush, deregulation of financial institutions, wars, and his tax cuts where most Americans look. And, 57% of tea partiers have a favorable view of Mr. Bush, while 57% of the general voter population has an unfavorable view.
Only 6% blame Bush for deficits, although his tax cuts benefitting the top 5% resulted in $3.9 trillion in deficits and his Iraq War added $1.8 trillion. But then, 80% identify themselves as republican, and only 5% are self-identified as democrat.
When half of the tea party group is 55 or over, half of them have incomes of $50,000 a year or more, and a third have attended college, it is hard to understand participation and support of a group with so little validity in truth. While nearly all favor leaving Social Security and Medicare alone, 90% think Mr. Obama is socialist and heading the country wrong.
Then there is the huge outcry for “taking my country back.” When one-fourth of tea partiers think the President favors blacks over whites, there is some tinge of race involved. However, anger over losing the last election, and the longing for “the good old days” of republican control may loom as larger influences.
Most of the issues claimed by the tea party folk do not hold up to logical scrutiny – hence the enigma surrounding this group. It appears to be a mixed group of ordinary people who have been fed a steady diet of distortions by the television and radio channels to which they attend. It appears that these folk have swallowed the republican party talking points hook, line, and sinker, without bothering to question these critically. They have been stirred by party leaders into becoming a highly emotional crowd of ignorant, misinformed, and even delusional people with inflammatory rhetoric and dangerously loose control.
Further, the tea party people have been manipulated and organized by wealthy business tycoons who have a personal interest in preserving their own personal tax privileges obtained under the other political party’s rule.
The tea party is populist only to the extent that it is no longer uncommon for ordinary people to be uninformed and misinformed, and to be gullible to emotional rhetoric and schemes of one kind or another. Neither is it uncommon these days for individuals to become politically active in causes that are not in their own best interest. Obviously, it is so with the tea baggers. Perhaps that is the enigma.
Nevertheless, at this posting Mr. Gingrich seems to have solved it all for us by declaring that there is no separate tea party, and that what we see is only the right wing of the Republican party. By golly, he may have something there.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate