Monday, July 19, 2010

Quit calling the Tea Party populist!

By Joan Walsh

Too many reporters have described the Tea Party movement as some kind of populist uprising at "elites" channeling economic anxiety about the recession. Sadly (because he should know better), the New York Times' Matt Bai is typical, writing just last month: "The only potent grass-roots movement to emerge from this moment of dissatisfaction with America’s economic elite exists … in the form of the so-called Tea Party rebellions that are injecting new energy into the Republican cause."

The latest Democracy Corps poll and report might make Bai and his editors think about a correction — or at least a follow-up. From a database of 2,600 interviews between April and June, in which "strong supporters" of the Tea Party supporters made up a quarter of respondents, Democracy Corps concluded that Democrats should be worried about the Tea Party's role in the 2010 midterms, but warned, "Don't mistake it for a populist rebellion."

Far from an uprising against Wall Street and big business, Tea Partiers are among the most pro-big-business segments of the electorate, the poll found: 54 percent rate big business warmly; only 20 percent coolly.

And they are likewise far from the independent, nonpartisan movement some in the media seem to believe they are: The Tea Party is strongly affiliated with the GOP: 86 percent of movement supporters and activists either identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and 82 percent say they will vote for the GOP candidate in the November 2010 midterms; only 9 percent say they won't. That margin is actually higher than it is among self-described "conservatives," where it's 72 to 18 percent.

Appallingly, the movement is united by the false belief that Barack Obama is a socialist: 90 percent of Tea Partiers polled call our centrist corporate-Democratic president a socialist. The authors write:

The driving force behind their negativity toward Obama is the belief that his actions and goals are un-American. Throughout the focus groups, people repeatedly invoked “Obama’s Socialist Agenda” — with the occasional communism comment thrown in. Participants said it is this socialist agenda — which underlies all of Obama’s policies seeking to make citizens more dependent on the state — that has put people over the edge and launched a movement that has been percolating for a long time...............................................................

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