Getting *over* the Tea Party

The debt-ceiling crisis gave centrist voters their first good look at what the Teahadis are really about. They didn’t like what they saw.

The Hill has, at least to my eye, a somewhat conservative slant. So when The Hill runs a story about how the country is getting over the Tea Party, that story is worth reading.

Simple version: The Teahadis, and their tame legislators, wanted us to default, and centrist voters didn’t like it.

Slightly longer version: It’s not hard to persuade low-information voters that the federal budget is full of waste, but they’re not actually on board with the Grover Norquist project of drowning the Federal government in the bathtub like an unwanted kitten.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “Getting *over* the Tea Party”

  1. The Tea Party may or may not be over, but the Tea Party phenomenon is not. Look for more decentralized single-issue swarms in the future.

  2. Shorter CharlesWT: Sure, we screwed the pooch on this but we reserve our right to have learned nothing.

  3. Perhaps I should have said, “Tea Party like phenomenon.” I’m talking about the phenomenon itself, not any particular ideology. Who knows? There might be a single-issue swarm on an issue dear to progressives at some point.

  4. What “single issue” is the “Tea Party” all about?

    As for “decentralized”, when I see a mob brandishing pitchforks and torches outside the castle walls, demanding tax cuts for the seigneur and a reduction in their own bread ration, I smell astro-turf — not grass roots.


  5. Without Koch sponsored bus tours and Fox hype to beat the drum there is no Tea Party. But those two elements are ready to be tapped when the bosses wish to pull the ugly rabit out of the hat. That is the time when we will see if rumors of the Tea Party’s death are exagerated or not. Let’s not underestimate the hunger to be a part of a TV reality show.

  6. Once again demonstrating that all it takes to look brilliant in your eyes is to tell you what you want to hear…

    Independents ARE the “low information voters”; They’re not the independent free thinkers they’re flattered as, they’re the people who can’t make up their minds what they believe in, and so are easily swayed by the propaganda of the day. So it’s not surprising that they’re responsive to anti Tea party propaganda, like the idea that Tea party elected Reps were trying to cause a “default”. (Which is just a Democratic party talking point, not reality.) Fortunately, they’re pretty flighty, and who knows which line of propaganda they’ll be sucked in by, by the elections?

  7. What “single issue” is the “Tea Party” all about?

    The presence of a Democrat in the White House. It happens every time.

    The John Birch Society was founded in 1958, but didn’t really take off until Kennedy was elected in 1960. Other more extreme right-wing groups (such as Robert DePugh’s Minutemen) also proliferated during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

    I don’t know about the Carter years; certainly the Posse Comitatus was growing during this period, but it may have been too soon after the Watergate crisis to inspire much of a mass anti-Democrat movement.

    With the arrival of Clinton in the White House, you have the whole Militia movement taking off. Anyone who was politically aware during the time period will recall the rants on right-wing talk radio about Janet Reno, “jack-booted thugs”, black helicopters, and a secret plot by the government to let the United Nations take over the country. Remember Jesse Helms warning President Clinton not to set foot in North Carolina because his life would be in danger?

    Eventually the militia movement went too far, and the combination of its paranoid extremism plus public revulsion over the Oklahoma City bombing led to its collapse. (In addition, the Republican victories in the 1994 midterm elections took much of the steam out of the movement, by opening other, more mainstream, channels for anti-Clinton activism).

    When a Democratic ticket won the presidency in 2008, it was bound to lead to another incarnation of this same right-wing anti-Democrat movement. It didn’t really matter what he did or didn’t do — the simple fact is that large numbers of conservatives are simply congenitally incapable of tolerating a Democrat in the White House.

    Following the GOP gains in Congress last November, it’s entirely natural for the Birchers / Militia movement / Tea Party folks to lose a bit of their shine … just as their predecessors did after 1994.

    I’m sure that, to the people who are caught up in enthusiasm over the Tea Party movement, it all must seem new and vibrant and meaningful … but it’s really just history repeating itself again. President Obama may be a cautious and risk-averse centrist, but the circumstances necessitate them turning him into some kind of Marxist Antichrist, so that’s what they did.

    If you’re able to step back, and distance yourself from the actual circumstances, it’s all wryly amusing in a way.

  8. I suspect that Dick Armey etc. are “getting over” the Tea Party, too. It is an astroturf movement that came to life and got away from them. These astroturf organizations are only supposed to look like ‘grassroots, rank and file’ populist movements, not take on a life of their own. It’s out of control and politically unpredictable, and has attracted the extreme right wing, alienating even more people from the pro-business GOP. Now, they need another re-branding effort to undo their last re-branding effort. And I don’t think Rick Perry is going to do it for them.

  9. This story isn’t descriptive, it’s prescriptive. Centrist voters have never wanted what the Tea Party claims to want; anyone who only noticed that now that the group is being scapegoated for the debt debacle wasn’t paying much attention. This is a “go home, show’s over, move along, nothing to see” that will be forgotten as soon as the next essential government action has to be blocked.

    But really, it’s very useful to have a group of crazies who make it “impossible” to pass legislation they don’t like. Because then either you pass legislation they like and you do too, or you pass slightly less crazy legislation that you like and can get a few democrats to sign onto.

  10. Are these the same experts that didn’t see the Tea Party coming, didn’t understand the impact they would make on the political system, characterized the impact as minimal, and now pretends to understand the movement enough to predict its demise? Seriously?

  11. The Tea Party is named for an acronym, T.E.A. – Taxed Enough Already. As long as a significant number of voters think that citizens of the United States are taxed enough already at the current tax rates, I expect that there will continue to be a Tea Party.

    There will be continuing pressure to eliminate national debt without raising tax rates beyond the current profile. It seems that can only be achieved by immediate significant spending cuts, or exceptional economic growth. Or both.

    Tea may be the beverage of choice for some time to come. It now seems better than the Kool-Aid favored by progressives.

  12. I have known since its inception that the TEA in “Tea Party” stands for Taxed Enough Already. I have no idea what fraction of self-identified teabaggers are aware of the acronym. What I have noticed is that self-styled Tea Party candidates typically do NOT say “I don’t give a damn about gay marriage, abortion, guns, or Muslims; my single issue is that we’re Taxed Enough Already”.


  13. Funny, Tony P – One of the Tea Party’s main credos, other than the tax issue, is to “get government out of your life, have government stop regulating so much stuff. I mean things will be better when gay marriage is outlawed and a constituional amendment is passed to define marriage as between one man and one woman right? So much for getting out of people’s lives. Oh yeah, you mentioned a few of the other issues that, surely since the Tea Party conservatives endorse them, MUST be good for the country? Like, say outlawing Sharia Law (as if Sharia law actually EXISTED anywhere in the US (hint – it doesnt and nowhere is it in imminent danger of passing). I’d say, if i wanted to follow sharia law myself, just on my own, that would be my private life, no? But there you go again – outlawing Sharia Law in any shape, form or fashion is NOT “getting government off my back”! Outlawing gay marriage and passing worthless constitutional amendments about it is NOT “getting government off my back”! Oh yeah – outlawing abortion is NOT “getting the government off my back”! (I’m a gun owner so, my position on guns should be clear already – thats why i didnt mention it.). Hell, the way i understand it, quite a few of you TeaBaggers want to setup a national religion anyway.

    So, why is it that the TPiers want these specific things that are clearly not “getting the government off of our backs” Why? What single thing ties together sharia law, muslim worship, abortion, gay marriage, nice and neat?? Why, evangelical christianity, thats what! These people (Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum – they are ALL evangelical Christians). And i got news for you America, this Taxed Enough Already, “get government off my back” lines are just a sham – their overriding motivational factor is to put big government and religion in the same pot, stir in a little TNT and light the fuse. The want to get the government off your back whenever its convenient for them, thats it. Watch out, everything else. Google Rick Perry’s Army of God for the scariest example but, plug in any Republican candidates name next to “evangelical christian” to Google search and let the fireworks begin – they are all pretty good talkers but they are covering up they’re real legislative agenda – outlawed abortion,national religion, outlawed sharia law, outlawed gay marriage – everything EXCEPT the one thing the country needs desparately – JOBS. The Republican led, Tea Party dominated congress has been around under John Boehner for a year and a half now – WHERE ARE THE JOBS, MR BOEHNER ? Other than the Debt Ceiling debacle and Michelle Bachman’s failed Light Bulb Choice Initiative, what have ANY of you Republicans done to get the country back to work? Again, I hear crickets, louder this time. What have you done to the President’s agenda which by the way, IS to get the country working and the economy moving again? What exactly, other than obstruct at every turn? This is treasonous of you because you want the US to fail for the sole reason that it will make President Obama look bad. If that entails disemboweling the economy of America and keeping 9% unemployment around for another year and a half, then so be it I guess. But from where i see it, it is treason, pure and simple. Mr Boehner, Mr Cantor, we’ll start with your trials.

    Egad, i never thought i’d miss RIchard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. And I’m a Democrat! (if we HAVE to have a Republican President, i’d rather it be Romney or Mccain over any of the rest). Of course, i’ll hold my nose and vote for Obama anyway but, the Tea Bagger Wing of the Republican Party needs to be outed, and fast.

    Yall go vote for PErry or Bachman or Palin – you’ll get your money’s worth, but it wont be for what you think unless you’;re in the most conservative 5% or so the party. Everyone else is gonna have to bend over before this is over, for a good royal screwing by the Tea Baggers. Debt ceiling is only the beginning.


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