With so much coming out about "Tea-baggers this..." and "Tea Party that..." I thought it might be a good idea to try to get a cross section view of what is and is not considered to be "Tea Party."
From what I have read, so far the main thread that seems to run through it is dread terror. It is Hunter Thompson's "Kingdom of Fear" writ on a scale the good Doctor all too presciently imagined. Here is wisdom:
"There is an eerie sense of Panic in the air, a silent Fear and Uncertainty that comes with once-reliable faiths and truths and solid Institutions that are no longer safe to believe in..."
P1. A Little Knowledge...
In her tremendous post of 10 July, the mighty Digby, writing about the formal investiture of a "Tea Party Caucus" in the House of Representatives breaks down some of the known demographic data about the tea bagger phenomenon:
- 86 percent of Tea Party supporters and activists identify with or lean to the Republican Party.
- 79 percent identify as conservatives.
- They are among the most pro-big business segments of the electorate: 54 percent rate it warmly and 20 percent cooly.
- The Tea Party movement is not particularly blue collar. Tea Party
supporters are slightly less likely to be college-graduates than the
likely electorate (41 percent, versus 45 percent), and the activists
more so (48 percent). And 85 percent of the supporters are white. [emphasis mine, ed.]
That's some good data, but what's the information? Let's start with that last bit; education level of most self-identified tea baggers*. There seems to be a fair amount of college education in the tea bagger ranks, although, to my mind the number I want to see is tea baggers "with some college education not resulting in degree."
The Gallup Poll study of the Tea Party Movement last April revealed that 34 percent of respondents claimed "some college," with numbers falling within the margin comparing them to the American society at large.
What the hell is going on in our colleges?
Well, lest I get mistaken for a tea bagger, let me tell you. Remember these people come from a mainly conservative background that is rooted in a deep mistrust of intellectualism and academia, so it comes as no surprise that combining the simplistic world view of the movement conservatives with "a little knowledge" can produce people who believe that Denver's push for more bicycles on the road is "a United Nations plot to destroy the country."
It's the most dangerous kind of thinking there is; knowledge without context, the half-read book, the cliff notes, the lazy thinking and grasping at easy answers.
P2. WalMart is Your Friend
Back to Digby's stats for a moment. A hefty 54 percent of these people heart them some big business. Why is that, when the demographic data from Gallup places them squarely in the lower to middle rungs of the middle class being soundly rogered by big business?
Large corporations aren't stupid. Take WalMart, for example: Even though a majority of tea partiers are in the middle class, and that probably represents a moderate to high number of entrepreneurs and small business owners, their unremitting love for companies like WalMart, which is driving their businesses under, is unabated.
WalMart and other companies have started directly marketing to the demographic they want to indenture. The Exception Magazine had a piece on the new strategy being employed by WalMart to capture more tea bagger dollars:
We've noticed that the company's marketing team has purchased the terms "Rand Paul" and "Tea Party" as part of its Google Adwords campaign. In Google's online advertising program, a business such as Walmart bids on key words and if a user is reading about those terms on a Google page or one of its partner sites, the business's ad may automatically appear next to that relevant content.
The ad's headline says "Rand Paul, Tea Party" and the copy says
Read Book Ron Paul Calls Crucial
Save Money. Live Better.
If you click on the ad, it takes you to a page on Walmart's site to buy the book "Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics," a $10.54 tome by Henry Hazlitt, a libertarian economist who passed away in 1993.
They know what these folks want to hear and are more than happy to supply it to them.
P3. Fear and Loathing
Let's take a look at the numbers again: 86 percent conservative Republican, 41 percent college educated ("some college" and "degree" combined). That says a couple of things to me.
The general conservative mindset is above all a fear of change and "the other." A fear based partly in the scarcity principle and partly on societal notions of ranking (i.e. "we" are better than "them.") Next, for the past 30 or 40 years, the movement conservatives have waged a non-stop war on traditional American democracy and pluralistic society.
As conservatives, they are used to having the received wisdom conferred on them by "The Authority," whether that's church, FoxNews, hate radio or Newt Gingrich... Second, as Conservatives there is an inherent mistrust of authority.
There's a bit of cognitive dissonance in that paradigm that keeps tea baggers living on the extremes. Which is to say they trust the authority that already reinforces a particular world view and they accept that authority without question, while simultaneously mistrusting and hating anything that is "different" or authority that does not jibe with their world view.
The problem is that their world view is being shaped by people who don't necessarily have their best interest at heart, and to point that out to a tea bagger is to invite the worst kind of invective.
Think of the harshness of the health care debate. Those talking points originated out of large insurance companies, but were promulgated by the conservative "authority." Therefore: "healthcare reform is death panels and Obama is a socialist bent on destruction of the American way of life."
We all used to get a kick out of the ads on NewsMax and Rush for "Buy Gold Now Against the Coming International Economic Collapse" and "The Cure for Cancer the Government Doesn't Want You to Know About"...
These are examples of how the fear peddling skull farmers of the right work. This model has been adopted, wholesale, if you will, by the same forces that brought us the anti-health care reform propaganda and who are using it to sell mainstream commercial Americana to the tea party rubes.
But their not doing it through traditional ad memes.They are using the political process as a market creation tool to feed on the fear of these people.
The world seems complex and hostile to tea baggers, and the institutions in which they place their faith have turned out to be their enemies and how do you know who you can trust in this day and age... we have to make sure we have ours first before we can worry about anyone else, and in fact, anyone else who says different is clearly out to get us.
This has lead to a certain bunker mentality among the movement conservatives and tea baggers. It was the same for the liberals of the late 70s and 80s, and to an extent of the the Bush/Vader years. But the bunker mentality has not "taken a hold" of the tea party movement. That's where these folks have been living from the beginning.
It's only now, that they are finding that they are sharing bunker space with far more people than they thought, and even that is leading to infighting among the tea partiers, since their basic default is to trust no one but the guy on your left and your right, unless they are darker than you, believe in a different god or no god, voted for the other guy, have better fashion sense, and even if you make the grade, they are down to measuring the length of their crew cuts...
So I've tried to get a demographic glimpse of the tea party movement here and tried to glean some useful information. I'm not sure I've succeeded, but I think at least I've got the beginnings of a picture starting to form... hope this helps...
*I know, I keep sarcastically using the phrase "tea baggers" to describe these people. I am expecting any day to get a letter from the "National Association of Testicle Play Advocates" or some such saying "hey, you asshole, stop calling those people tea baggers. We may have a non-traditional sexual kink but those people are truly dangerous political perverts!"