And unfortunately, crumpets and finger sandwiches are not served.
The Tea Party stems from the following : this so-called conservative resistance is plainly white Americans who borrow from several historical trends like the Boston Tea Party of the 1770s, but perhaps more importantly from the Know-Nothing Movement of the 19th century. But today add to the equation the reality that traditional White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) along with their close cousins the Scots-Irish feel under siege. In the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII, they began to feel their position erode: ethnic minorities like the Irish Catholics, Italians and the Jewish community secured a firm and effective socio-economic and political status equal to the WASPs. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon narrative began to crumble: the America of Currier and Ives and Saturday Evening Post was increasingly a nostalgia trip.
When JFK won in 1960, the rise of white ethnic Catholics increased. Moreover, the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s unleashed a ‘people of color’ activism: Blacks primarily as well as Latinos, Native Americans and Asians, who sought to gain more recognition and fair treatment. Subsequently, the murders of JFK, RFK and MLK along with the Watergate Scandal and the military fiasco (retreat) in Vietnam profoundly questioned American ‘exceptionalism’. The American traditional power elite was shell shocked. This so-called exceptionalism had been a White Anglo-Saxon rich and a poor Scot-Irish narrative, which depicted these so-called original Americans as stewards of the American experience. For over 175 years, these inheritors of this narrative have extolled the American way of life and suddenly in the late 1950s and through the 60s, they began to grow wary of a central federal government that promoted or protected this perceived erosion of exceptionalism. This included: urban riots, busing, affirmative action, integration, civil rights, feminism, pro-choice, gay rights, environmentalism, rise in crime, anti-war protests, anti-poverty programs, welfare, gun control, immigration and growing narcotics use. These were all demonized and perceived as threats to the American narrative.
One result was the increasing awareness of the diluting of the traditional core WASP position in American society. The feeling among this dominant group was of being challenged by non-American cultural threats like the increased use of the Spanish language and the increasing migration of ‘non-whites’ (Latinos, Asians and Muslims) into the US. The most defining event was the passage of the Public Accommodations portion of the Civil Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson which was even more disturbing to this first among equals group. President Johnson presciently noted at the time that this legislation created a White stampede out of the Democratic party. The South, the Mid-west and the Mountain states as many of the suburbs of the Northeast and the West Coast became solidly Republican. The GOP was no longer the Episcopalian Church at prayer. Its mild-mannered conservative demeanor was pushed aside by the arrival of poor and middle class southern whites and white ethnics (Reagan Democrats) along with other beleaguered whites. These included the affluent or middle class and poor religious, rural and laboring whites and non-WASPs. Politically they referred to themselves as “Middle America.”
This embattled group of mostly European-Americans are not unlike formerly powerful minorities around the world who have found themselves undone by unsettling demographic realignment and a radicalized, shrinking political base. True, in the short term everything is in their favor. However, in the mid to long term, the numbers and resulting politics spell their decline. See the Africkaners. They fell prey initially to political isolation, followed by marginalization and even repudiation on the world stage.
Additionally, the abortion debate mobilized the Catholic Church as well as the more fundamental religious sects and many of their faithful (mostly former Democrats) now found solace in the GOP. Hence, Civil Rights and abortion were the two defining ‘wedge’ issues that attracted the vast majority of whites into the GOP fold.This new ‘emerging majority’ as the Nixonites labeled them began to promote the GOP as the God-fearing party of traditional ‘winners’ and not the Democratic party of ‘losers’: non-whites, the underdogs, the poor, the gays, the minority poor, the egg-head intellectuals and artists, and unions. Hence, this spawned culture wars which increased class distrust. Moreover, patriotic friction ensued with the GOP hiding behind American soldiers, defending the second amendment and attacking the ‘un-American’ position of these ‘new threats’ to traditional America. And the Democrats almost disoriented rallied around (or hid behind) the poor, feminists, victimized groups, unions, gays, environmentalists, entertainment industry, anti-war protesters, and other aggrieved minorities.
Eventually, political reality caught up with both parties. The GOP’s automatic support of virtually any military expenditure or war created enormous cost. This cost has been mostly ignored by the cowed Democrats. At the same time, the GOP clamored continuously for reducing the tax burden and deregulating the economy while the Democrats readily supported a vast array of costly social programs and set asides. Additionally, the response to the 9/11 terrorist act increased massive federal spending as did the grotesquely expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a deregulated (predatory) financial sector came the economic bust in 2008 on top of an already ailing economy. This became the Great Recession of 2008 with increasingly widespread unemployment. The balanced budget of the Clinton years was no longer an economic virtue. The US economy no longer ‘unfolded’. It unraveled. The spending spree continues by both political parties, but it seems to have slowed down. The challenge is that discretionary spending is virtually non-existent in the budget. Everything seems to be recurring or fixed entitlement programs. Hence, the Tea Party phenomenon appeared within the GOP in 2010.
At first glance, the Tea Party is a relatively disorganized movement, but it is plainly spurred on by the horrific deficit spending, the debt growth, and the direction of the GOP: fiscally in disarray. It also seeks to neutralize the Democrats. Upon closer examination, it consists mostly of the white traditional nostalgic inheritors of the American narrative who seek to thwart the central (federal) government from empowering those ‘unnecessary’ recipients and threats. Thus, their grand design or scheme is to eliminate the funding for this ‘monstrous’ government apparatus. Hence, in short, one can readily detect the panic among the deteriorating traditional class of ‘first real’ Americans and their determination to make suspects of all perceived threatening groups (ie. non-whites) and defend the local government structure which preserves the American narrative. Borrowing its name from an American revolutionary event protesting Britain’s unfair taxation, the Tea Partiers’ tactics often resemble the ‘Know-nothings‘ from yester-year. They now appear to be creating serious dissension within the traditional GOP coalition. Security Republicans fear cuts in the defense establishment. Social conservatives want more religious values reflected in government and legislation. The Tea Party members at first glance may come across as fiscal Republicans, but there lurks a threatening anarchic element among the activists. ‘Shut the government down if necessary: who needs it?’ seems to be their motto. They do not seem to be concerned with the Latino or the poor people’s plight in economic terms nor do they seek a solution or comprehensive reform of immigration. In fact, if a serious consideration of immigration reform does emerge, the enormous cost involved in processing 12 million undocumented will certainly antagonize and re-energize the Tea Party. As the 2012 Presidential elections draw closer, these social, fiscal and security conservatives will coalesce but be pulled and tugged in different directions. Not any current GOP hopeful is able to bring them together cohesively. But then again, as always, the whole national economic, security and social discussion in general US elections revolve around capturing or winning this white nostalgic Middle America vote. Many observers might be tempted to say that this formerly governing class of whites find itself in a political death throe. Close examination of this group’s electoral behavior and the political appeals to them reveal that these so-called Tea Partiers together with the regular white coalition are the real swing vote in the US…..not African-Americans and certainly not Latinos…for now!