A Populist Tea PartyComparing Social Protest Movements in American History
The Tea Party Teens January 5, 2010By DAVID BROOKSThe United States opens this decade in a sour mood. First, Americans are anxious aboutthe future. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according tothe latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. Only 27 percent feel confident thattheir children’s generation will be better off than they are.Second, Americans have lost faith in their institutions. During the great moments ofsocial reform, at least 60 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thingmost of the time. Now, only a quarter have that kind of trust.The country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are indisrepute and confidence in Congress is at withering lows. As Frank Newport of theGallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, “Americans have less faith in theirelected representatives than ever before.”Third, the new administration has not galvanized a popular majority. In almost everysphere of public opinion, Americans are moving away from the administration, nottoward it. The Ipsos/McClatchy organizations have been asking voters which party cando the best job of handling a range of 13 different issues. During the first year of theObama administration, the Republicans gained ground on all 13.The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with theeducated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about globalwarming is on
the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shiftingagainst them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to guncontrol is mounting.The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, soisolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew ResearchCenter survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number ofAmericans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea partybrigades have all the intensity.The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who aredefined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of theeducated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and theaffluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloatedgovernment, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is nowmore popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall StreetJournal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea partymovement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democratsand only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussenorganization asked independent voters whom they would support in a genericelection between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The teaparty
won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. TheDemocrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.Over the course of this year, the tea party movement will probably be transformed. Rightnow, it is an amateurish movement with mediocre leadership. But several bright andpolished politicians, like Marco Rubio of Florida and Gary Johnson of New Mexico, areunofficially competing to become its de facto leader. If they succeed, their movement islikely to outgrow its crude beginnings and become a major force in American politics. Afterall, it represents arguments that are deeply rooted in American history.The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaderswith professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve thecountry’s problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertiseor in the political class generally.Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades ofAmerican history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; theChristian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionateoutsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could bethe ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate.But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-diprecession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other majorscandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only thetea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.Personally, I’m not a fan of this movement. But I can certainly see its potential to shapethe coming decade.
G.O.P. Grief and Grieving January 9, 2010By CHARLES M. BLOWThe attack on the Republican establishment by the tea party folks grabs the gaze like areally bad horror flick — some version of “Hee Haw” meets “28 Days Later.” It’sfascinating. But it also raises a serious question: Are these the desperate thrashings of adying movement or the labor pains of a new one?My money is on the former. Anyone who says that this is the dawn of a new age ofconservatism is engaging in wishful thinking on a delusional scale.There is no doubt that the number of people who say that they are conservative hasinched up. According to a report from Gallup on Thursday, conservatives finished 2009 asthe No. 1 ideological group. But ideological identification is no predictor of electoraloutcomes. According to polls by The New York Times, conservative identification wasslightly higher on the verge of Bill Clinton’s first-term election and Barack Obama’s electionthan it was on the verge of George W. Bush’s first-term election.It is likely that Republicans will pick up Congressional seats in November partly because ofthe enthusiasm of this conservative fringe, democratic apathy and historical trends. Butmake no mistake: This is not 1994.This is a limited, emotional reaction. It’s a response to the trauma that is the GreatRecession, the uncertainty and creeping suspicion about the risks being taken inWashington, a visceral reaction to Obama and an overwhelming sense of powerlessnessand loss.
Simply put, it’s about fear-fueled anger. But anger is not an idea. It’s not a plan. And it’snot a vision for the future. It is, however, the second stage of grief, right after denial andbefore bargaining.The right is on the wrong side of history. The demographics of the country are rapidlychanging, young people are becoming increasingly liberal on social issues, and rigid,dogmatic religious stricture is loosening its grip on the throat of our culture.The right has seen the enemy, and he is the future.According to a Gallup report issued this week, Republicans were more than twice aslikely as Democrats and a third more likely as independents to have a pessimisticoutlook for the country over the next 20 years. That might be the fourth stage of grief:depression.So what’s their battle plan to fight back from the precipice of irrelevance? Moderation?A stab at modernity? A slate of innovative ideas? No, their plan is to purge the party’smoderates and march farther down the road to oblivion.Erick Erickson, the incendiary editor of the popular conservative blog RedState,appeared on “The Colbert Report” on Monday and said that “no one really knows whata Republican is anymore.”Split hairs about labels if you must, but the Republican brand already has begun a slowslide into obscurity. And turning further right only hastens its demise. Quiet as it’s kept,many in the party know this. That, alas, is called acceptance
Questions to Consider• According to David Brooks, why has the decade started with the United States in a “sour mood”?• How does Brooks define the Tea Party movement and compare it to past movements in American history?• In what way does Brooks believe the Tea Party movement will be transformed? How does Brooks believel the movement will shape and influence politics over the next decade?• How does Charles Blow interpret the Tea Party movement? How do his views compare and contrast with Brooks’?• How does Blow describe anger? Why does he believe the right is on the wrong side of history? Why does he use the analogy to the stages of grief throughout his piece?
Examples of ProtestMovements• American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life---David Brooks• social movement, loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values•What are some examples of social movements you can think of?
VISUAL INTERPRETATIONUse the images in the slides that follow to help you complete portions ofthe chart in the last slide
Comparing Social Movements• Populist Party Platform• Rise and Fall of the Populist Party• Free Silver Movement• Campaign of 1896• Tea Party Slogans• History of the Tea Party• Tea Party Leaders• Tea Party Platform• Use any additional resources you may need to complete the chart
Movement Populism Tea PartyTime PeriodPolitical Context in which themovement aroseTenets/BeliefsOrigins of the movementPopular slogansVisual SymbolismMethods/TacticsLeadersMedia Portrayal