They aren’t the kinds of tea parties my friends hang out at, these gatherings of so-called patriots who stand against taxes and for a true (read white) America, stoke the flames of conspiracy theory, and scream socialism, or worse, about all things Obama.
But unlike my friends, I’m less inclined out-of-hand to dismiss the Tea Party crowd as a bunch of nuts the American public will ignore.
Oh, they’re pretty nuts, all right, these Rush-loving, venom-spewing, right wingers. But this country’s well-educated moderates and liberals alike should think twice before they simply diregard them as a band of ill-informed True Believers without influence. The group’s origins were no accident, and its passionate members are taking on a grass roots’ fervor all their own as they work to roll back government to a time of buckskin and militias.
Yup, pretty nutty.
The trouble is as the Tea Partiers shriek from the sidelines, their message is creating enough static in the minds of the half-tuned-in political masses to keep some from focusing on facts.
Already, I believe, the Tea Partiers have gained some traction when it comes to health care. Much of the public remains confused; I believe that is at least in part because of the barrage of “death panel” nonsense that went on endlessly throughout the summer. embraced by the same crowd.
And like it or not, the Tea Party folks are the most passionate populist movement in the country right now in a political and economic climate ripe for populism. When Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota called on them to pull off an impromptu demonstration in Washington, D.C., days before the House vote on health care, they came by the thousands though the event had no discernible pre-planning. Compare that to a call a few days ago by MoveOn.org and labor unions for demonstrations across the county to celebrate the House health care vote. In Boston, maybe 100 people showed up, my students tell me.
I think a number of factors are coalescing to drive this Tea Party movement — fear (of change, of economic dislocation, of non-whites getting a foothold in the power structure of this country), a brutal unemployment rate that keeps climbing, a collection of wanna-be political and media demigods from Glenn Beck to Lou Dobbs, and the niche-focused megaphone that the new media revolution lends to any group that wants nothing more than hear its own views reinforced in an echo chamber.
If you’re still skeptical, just flip through some of the amateur YouTube footage from the Nov. 5, 2009, demonstration against the House health care bill. Like it or not, these folks seem filled with energy. Many of them, in a perverse twist of the ’60s, also seem to be having fun, waving their signs comparing the president to Hitler or screaming for whatever rubbish is coming from the speakers’ platform.
The world always has its share of fringe movements, and this country is no exception. The vast majority sputter or stay on the sidelines. Still, arrogance dismisses, wisdom watches.