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While reading about the Tea Party activists as radical rightists, I had the sense that these critics and I see the world very differently. The New York Times and then the Lancaster papers, on April 16, released polling data that offers a revealing picture of these activists. Most of them believe that their current share of taxation is “fair” and they watch Fox-news as their major source of information. 57% of those responding to last month’s New York Times poll believe that George W. Bush was an excellent president, and an even higher percentage identifies itself as Republican. Most of those interviewed are also high on social security and Medicare. The fact that most of them are at least middle-aged may help explain their predilection for these entitlements.

With due respect to the New York Times’ characterization of these activists on April 15 as “driven more by ideology than financial anxieties,” what I’m seeing here are middle-aged Republicans. They seem to belong to a Republican offensive, featuring such now conventional Republicans as Sarah Palin and retreads from the Bush administration, who are being presented as anti-government revolutionaries. Karl Rove has been conveniently reinvented for Tea Party gatherings, as a political outsider, and lest former Bush-McCain supporters act out of turn, FOX is there to coach them.

A difference between these Tea Parties and even such a modest event as the transition from Ford to Reagan is the lack of any changing of the guard. When Reagan ran for president, he let it be known that under no circumstances would he appoint those who were responsible for the foreign policy of the Nixon-Ford administration. Reagan was on record rejecting the Nixon-Kissinger policy of détente with the Soviets, and he stressed that he was breaking from what he considered Republican politics as usual.

It would be nice if the Tea Party activists insisted on such a break. But of course they won’t because for the most part they are McCain-Bush supporters or else Democrats, who are upset with Obama’s health care plan. In his syndicated column (April 22), Jonah Goldberg has addressed the charge that the Tea Party activists are Republicans by another name. Some of their critics have noticed the Tea Partiers were not up in arms when Bush expanded the federal sector; and this has been interpreted to mean they are Republicans in eighteenth-century wigs. Contrary to this opinion, Goldberg argues that the Tea Partiers represent a “delayed George Bush backlash.” These people put up with Bush because he was attacked from the left. “Besides, where were conservatives supposed to go [in the 2004 election]? Into the arms of John Kerry?”


Although Goldberg now subscribes to the view that Bush and “Republican ward-heelers” opened the door for Obama and the Democrats by mismanaging the federal government, neither he nor Byron York of the Washington Examiner, whom he quotes in his column, took much time off from slamming the Democrats to go after Bush as a disguised liberal. In fact the GOP media were downright nasty to rightwing critics of Bush who failed to support his war policy. And FOX, which employs Goldberg and York, took the lead in applying this policy of exclusion, before it began to coach the Tea Partiers.

Even more importantly, Goldberg fails to explain Bush’s continued popularity among the majority of the small-government advocates aligned against the Obama administration. If these activists were engaged in a backlash against Bush as well as Obama, why do they continue to praise Bush while castigating his successor? And if they are really saying a plague on both your houses, why does a majority continue to identify itself as Republican?

What are at issue here are two different conceptions of the welfare state, both with rival advocates. The Tea Partiers favor a massive welfare state, providing that entitlements are aimed at them. They oppose the increased use of revenues and above all, the increase of taxes to finance a different welfare state, one designed to accommodate low-income minorities, government workers, and amnestied illegal aliens.

These are the groups that are likely to benefit most from the present Democratic revamping of the public sector. They are also groups that will propel Democratic victories in the future; and what such legislation as national health care, and the bill to amnesty illegals, now under congressional consideration, will do is create a more solidified Democratic constituency. But the Tea Party advocates on the other side are not small-government Republicans. They are the rivals of the Obamaites for welfare state favors. But as Pat Buchanan and my colleague Wes McDonald have both noticed, the result of this rivalry has been to ignite ethnic and social tensions. Different groups are fighting for government services and payments; and the fallout may become nasty. None of this should surprise a perceptive critic of our democratic welfare state. Such a gift-bearing regime always lands up producing squabbles among the gift-recipients.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Republicans, Tea Party 
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  1. R J Stove says:

    A reader on the Chronicles website recounts his experiences concerning any suggestion that the Tea Party brigade might regard Confederate symbolism as legitimate:

    “I had an unfortunate conversation with a Tea Party zealot who attended the Tax day protests regarding a person who brought the Confederate Battle Flag to a gathering in Texas. This person was escorted out of the event by police at the request of the organizers. I questioned the wisdom of bringing the flag to the event where the media were prowling for anything they could misconstrue, but I also pointed out the hypocrisy of the organizers and the lack of spine in the face of PC pressure. I was told they, the Tea Party, did not want any such symbols at their gathering that can be taken as racist and extreme. We defenders of Dixie were by in large ignorant,stupid, racists and we should either should shut up or stay away as to lessen their chances of getting rid of Obama and advancing Conservatism.”

    Business as usual.

  2. Marc says:

    R J Stove,

    I think that this had more to do with how they knew the media would gleefully react at the presence of a Confederate flag than their actual feelings toward the flag. The PC culture has set the ground rules for debate. Not that I like it but this is the way things are. As soon as Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann spots a Confederate flag then it’s “see, see, I told you that they are a bunch of racist.”

  3. Marc says:

    I don’t know if the Tea Party is a real force for freedom but the fact that they are supporting people like Rand & Ron Paul and Deborah Medina tells me that they are headed in the right direction.

  4. tz says:

    I’m wondering when Goldman Sachs will take Tea Party Inc. public in an IPO.

    Meanwhile, those who distrust government aren’t riding the cattle cars to the faux protests.

    Yet the sentiment against big government and the cronyism is quite real.

    Apparently Hannity has been caught doing the jet-setting lush life for those concerts and books, and a few pennies go to the scholarships and other support of the troops.

    And if Rush keeps up the support of Goldman Sachs, he will damage his own brand. They escaped bankruptcy – being foreclosed upon from their own mistakes – by government largess that would embarrass a mercedes driving welfare queen.

  5. Exit polls conducted after the Texas primary showed that about 80% of self-identified tea partiers voted for either Perry or KBH. Deborah Medina got about 20% of the tea party vote. And Rand Paul is looking more and more like a crypto-neocon and Israel firster. There is a healthy libertarian element in the movement, but it is a small minority. Most of the partiers are simply the same old militaristic, big government Republican base. Their greatest accomplishment to date has been getting the liberal Scott Brown elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.

  6. MattSwartz says: • Website

    Tea Party organizers, if they hope to make any long-term impact whatsoever, need to change the very nature of the events they hold. Right now, the rallies seem to be organized to emulate, in equal parts; rock concerts, protests, and campaign rallies.

    That model is great for getting people hyped up, but nothing comes from it. A better model would be a combination of speeches and resolutions, which the assembled could vote upon.

    People have lost the habit of doing this sort of thing, and regaining it would be the biggest single improvement we could make to the level of discourse today. And liberty without discourse is impossible. People who gravitate towards hype and enthusiasm will eventually settle for any kind of hype whatsoever (Sarah Palin this year, Ed Schultz next year), but people who know what they believe and why are much better equipped to deal with things.

  7. TomT says:

    “While reading about the Tea Party activists as radical rightists…”

    (leads the author to conclude Tea Party People are)

    “…rivals of the Obamaites for welfare state favors.”

    “…The Tea Partiers favor a massive welfare state”


    And you got a lot of your buddies to agree with you? Sounds incestuous. You are spouting nonsense.

  8. Tom, I disagree, at least here in the Northeast the Tea Parties are mostly Republicans spouting the same partisan, anti-Democrat and pro-war bromides.

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