Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tea Party Patriots, Who They Are

Shortly after a Kamikaze pilot in Texas drove his plane into building occupied by the Internal Revenue Service, leftist bloggers began to speculate, on very slender evidence, that the pilot may have been connected with Tea Party protestors. His obvious preference for communism over capitalism in a sign off letter he left behind soon spoiled that hastily constructed thesis. But the faulty thesis begs the question: Who are these people who call themselves Tea Party Patriots.

In an effort to arrive at an answered to that question, the National Review Institute commissioned McLaughlin & Associates to study two separate groups of Tea Party Patriots: the “6 percent of the 1,000 likely voters polled in mid-January who told McLaughlin that they had participated in tea-party rallies and the additional 47 percent who said they ‘have not participated in a tea party protest but . . . generally agree with the reasons for those protests.’”

The results of the study are certain to disappoint those on the left who feel constrained to demonize the group as a negligible fringe phenomenon.

The study demonstrates that tea partiers are not driven by racial animus. One third of the group who participated in the rallies said they approved of Obama’s performance in office, and a fifth of the group said they voted for him in 2008. Of this group 5 percent were black, 11 percent Hispanic. Neither are the tea partiers unpopular. While most voters do not consider themselves well informed about tea party groups, they have a favorable view of them.

According to the study, those in the Tea Party movement are not irrational proto-Nazis. When likely voters were asked which characterization of the tea party movement they leaned towards – an “anti-government, fringe organization that is driven by anger” or a group of “citizens concerned about the country’s economic future” – a 57 percent majority chose the less severe characterization; only 19 percent disagreed. A majority of self-identified liberals chose the more favorable characterization.

The study showed that while tea party supporters were concerned with the deficit, they did not favor defense budget cuts. A small majority, 52 percent, believed taxes should be cut to spur growth; only 37 percent agreed that the deficit made tax cuts unaffordable; and a mere sliver, 7 percent, wanted tax increases to reduce the deficit.

It has been said that tea partiers are populists hostile to Wall Street and Big Business. It is undoubtedly true they oppose the bailouts of financial firms. However, when likely voters were asked whether a new tax should be “imposed on banks because they have benefited so much from bailouts and need to be reined in,” or whether they thought “bank customers would end up paying the tax and the economy would suffer,” anti-taxers proved to be a majority in the poll by 52-38 percent. Both tea-party participants and tea-party sympathizers fell on the anti-tax side by even greater numbers.

In some polls, the tea party movement, unstructured and unorganized, is more popular than either of the two major parties, cause for alarm among some that a new spoiler party may arise from the inchoate Tea Party upsurge. That is what happened just prior to the Civil War, when the Whig Party of Henry Clay was replaced by the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. However, the McLaughlin poll confirms that only a minority of tea party participants and sympathizers would vote for a tea party candidate, while a plurality would back Republicans. If tea partiers were to put up a candidate, the polling demonstrates, Republicans would suffer the loss, and the resulting division in Tea Party ranks would harm its cause – smaller more accountable national and state governments.

Accountability is the first unbreakable commandment of tea partiers, a group that reacts favorably to authenticity and judges politicians not on their words but on their deeds. Fool the tea partiers twice and they will shame you -- publicly.

None of this is surprising, the National Review piece observes, because:

“The tea partiers are, for the most part, Republicans. Specifically, they are a highly engaged, but not highly partisan, segment of the party. A majority self-identify as Republicans and as conservatives. A full 68 percent of tea-party sympathizers voted for John McCain in 2008 — which was, it need hardly be noted, low tide for the GOP. Some of the tea-party activists take pride in their movement’s independence from the Republican Party, and Republicans reaching out to them need to be mindful of that fact. But it’s also true that they’re not going to have to reach very far.

“The tea partiers are already part of the Republican party, and all they want is its recommitment to its own cause of reducing the size and scope of the federal government. They are not unpopular and their views are not extreme.”
John Larson, a Democratic U.S. Rep. in the impregnable 1st District caught a whiff of the animating spirit that has given rise to the Tea Party movement when he visited a group of seniors recently at the Berlin Community Center

Scott Whipple of the New Britain Herald recorded the bruising but telling moment for posterity.

“It may not have helped,” Whipple noted, “that he was late for his 1:45 p.m. meeting, detained by an interview with radio host Colin McEnroe.

“A group of 30 retirees cross-examined Larson about “Congressional dealing,” health insurance coverage, doctors’ reluctance to accept Medicare patients, the president’s apparent lack of veracity in dealing with the public and more.

“At one point in the session, John O’Brien, 62 and out of work, observed that, ‘(Harry) Reed and (Nancy ) Pelosi tried to push their policies behind closed doors. That’s why we have the tea parties.’"

Larson, perhaps catching the whiff of grapeshot in the wind, replied, “I think the tea parties are doing a great service to the country.”
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