The Tea Party is frequently described as a new phenomena in American politics, but as Kevin Drum notes in a piece for Mother Jones, the opposite is true; like the John Birch Society or Arkansas Project before it, the Tea Party is the latest instance of a right-wing reaction that happens whenever we have a Democratic president:
The growth of the tea party movement isn't really due to the recession (in fact, polling evidence shows that tea partiers are generally better off and less affected by the recession than the population at large). It's not because Obama is black (white Democratic presidents got largely the same treatment). And it's not because Obama bailed out General Motors (so did George W. Bush). It's simpler. Ever since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.
Drum points out three things that distinguish the Tea Party from its predecessors: its size -- more than 5 million Americans have participated in Tea Party events or given money to Tea Party organizations -- its rapid pace of growth, and its growing influence within the GOP. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 71 percent of Republicans count themselves as Tea Party supporters, to say nothing of the Tea Party candidates that have successfully challenged the GOP establishment.
Drum credits the modern media environment for the Tea Party's success -- " tea partiers can rely on Fox News and Facebook" to get the message out -- but we can probably count demographic changes as among the contributing factors; the Tea Party is partly a product of status anxiety among older white people, with the size of their backlash related to their declining share of the population. I think Drum is right to say that this backlash will die down soon, but the next backlash for the next Democratic president is likely to be far larger.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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