Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 11:37 AM ET, 02/22/2011

The Tea Party still no big deal?

By Jennifer Rubin

E.J. Dionne responds to my post yesterday on the Tea Party, raising two objections. First, he contends that he really has not "vilified" the Tea Party on the grounds that it is racist. Second, he says he's not backing down from his assertion that the Tea Party represents "a minority view in our country."

As to his defense on race, he points to the portion of his column on the NAACP in which he cautions against using the race card. His advice in that column was strategic: "The minute you say there are racist elements in the Tea Party -- reflected in signs at rallies, billboards and speeches from some of its major figures -- the pushback goes from cries of persecution to charges that those who are criticizing divisiveness are themselves the dividers." But he certainly doesn't quibble with the notion that the Tea Party contains more than its share of racists: "The racists are the Tea Party's flag-burners. It's fair to ask the democratic left to condemn extremism. It's fair to ask the same of the democratic right."

E.J. has raised the race issue more than once in his criticism of the Tea Party, although he has used the caveat that the Tea Party isn't only about race. In this column E.J. argued: "So, yes, parts of this movement do seem to be motivated by a new nativism and by racism. But it would be a mistake to see the hostility toward Obama only in terms of race." Again, he's not saying they are all racists, just a bunch of them are. That's a frequent theme in E.J.'s writings. ("Part of the anger at President Obama among Tea Partyers does appear to be driven by racial concerns. Saying this invites immediate denunciations from defenders of those who bring guns to rallies, threaten violence to 'take our country back,' and mouth old slogans about states' rights and the Confederacy. So let's be clear: Opposition to the president is driven by many factors that have nothing to do with race. But race is definitely part of what's going on.")

At the Brookings Institute last October E.J. made clear what he thinks of the Tea Partyers' views on race. Jane Mayer of the New Yorker asked if the Tea Party wasn't a newer incarnation of conservative racism. E.J. commented, "I just want to give a one-sentence answer to Jane's question, which is, if you'll get their language, their references to the Constitution, their attitudes toward the peril the country faces as they see it, I think in so many ways the Tea Party is the old right with a cable network, a group of talk shows, social networking, some rather wealthy donors, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck."

It's not gone unnoticed among conservatives that one of the more prominent liberal pundits has repeatedly made the case that racism is a significant part of the Tea Party movement, although not the only thing animating the movement. He doesn't agree that amounts to "vilification," but in American politics accusations of racism, even with caveats, are just that.

As to his insistence that the Tea Party doesn't represent the views of a majority of Americans, the evidence is overwhelming that the small government, anti-statism, anti-debt philosophy that is the heart of the Tea Party ethos has taken the country by storm. John Judis writing months before the 2010 midterm tsunami in the New Republic put it well:

I can understand why liberals would want to dismiss the Tea Party movement as an inauthentic phenomenon; it would certainly be welcome news if it were. . . .But the Tea Party movement is not inauthentic, and--contrary to the impression its rallies give off--it isn't a fringe faction either. It is a genuine popular movement, one that has managed to unite a number of ideological strains from U.S. history--some recent, some older. These strains can be described as many things, but they cannot be dismissed as passing phenomena. Much as liberals would like to believe otherwise, there is good reason to think the Tea Party movement could exercise considerable influence over our politics in the coming years. . . .

There are no national membership lists, but extensive polls done by Quinnipiac, The Winston Group, and Economist/YouGov suggest that the movement commands the active allegiance of between 13 percent and 15 percent of the electorate. That is a formidable number, and, judging from other polls that ask whether someone has a "favorable" view of the Tea Parties, the movement gets a sympathetic hearing from as much as 40 percent of the electorate. . . . If the GOP wins back at least one house of Congress in November, the Tea Parties will be able to claim victory and demand a say in Republican congressional policies.

As 2010 progressed the domination of the Tea Party became even more evident. In September more polling emerged:

Once considered a fringe element that spoke only to the most disaffected, a new poll reflects broad support among Republicans for the Tea Party movement. A new poll released by Wall Street Journal and NBC News demonstrated the Tea Party's support among Republican voters. 71 percent of Republicans support the ideals expressed by the Tea Party, a significant majority that shows the Tea Party "isn't a small little segment, but it is a huge part of what's driving 2010," according to Democratic pollster Peter Hart in an interview in The Wall Street Journal.

The Tea Party did help sweep into power 87 new Republican House members and six Republican senators, who have sharpened the debate on spending restraint. Unless one believes that midterm voters didn't understand the political philosophy of those they were elected, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the Tea Party philosophy, if not the movement itself, embodies the most dominant strain in American politics today.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 22, 2011; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  Conservative movement  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Maybe putting a KKK founder on license plates IS a rotten idea
Next: Incivility on the left


Jennifer Rubin continues to be a breath of fresh air in the Washington Post.

Rubin's challenges to the writings of her more liberal colleagues at WaPo are proving enjoyable.

Posted by: pilsener | February 22, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

If racism isn't part of it, where was the tea party while George W. Bush and Karl Rove were torching all but the very wealthy? Where were they when surplus was turning into the Great Recession? E.J. Dionne is exactly right.

Posted by: danw1 | February 22, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

The liberals need to believe that they are the American mainstream. After all, they control the old media, the universities, government bureaucracies and other powerful institutions. The fact that only twenty percent of Americans self-identify as liberals doesn't seem to penetrate their sense of cultural dominance. Nor does the recent election when their politicians were widely repudiated.

Most Americans seem to understand that we are at the end of an era of metastasizing government programs. The "tea party" is just ordinary Americans who understand the fiscal crisis and value liberty above the nanny state. Most Americans share these concerns and values. Racism has nothing to do with it except in the fevered imaginations of liberals.

Posted by: eoniii | February 22, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I tend to think WaPo writers stage these little fights with each other as a way to draw page views. Otherwise, why would we care what EJ Dionne or Jennifer Rubin think of each other's opinions? It isn't as though it's particularly shocking that they disagree, or that each will cite to their own statistics/polling to back up their views.

Posted by: mustangs79 | February 22, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

The TEA party was a pre-formed, propaganda package funded by a couple of very wealthy, extreme rightwing conservative businessmen. The package was released the day after Obama won the nomination. racist? You bet!

An "active allegiance" of 15%? That's fringe in my book. The same percentage that believes GW Bush was a fantastic president.

They get a lot of press because they serve the needs of RepubliCorps. They distract from real discussion, offer simplistic slogans and good TV.

Posted by: thebobbob | February 22, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

..."where was the tea party while George W. Bush and Karl Rove were torching all but the very wealthy? Where were they when surplus was turning into the Great Recession? E.J. Dionne is exactly right."

Torching? A little exaggerated, are we?

The incipient members of tea party were indeed grumbling at the fiscal extravagance of the GWB mob. But that extravagance wasn't accompanied by a push to shove the whole country far left and apologize for America worldwide. And it was a mere quarter the size of that first vast looting of the till by the ARRA 'stimulus', for a giant payoff to Obama's political allies.

The tea party was organized precisely to oppose the breathtaking and partisan Obama government extravagance, and its obvious intent to plunder the citizenry and erect a 'social democracy', where a youngster's highest hope is to become an unaccountable bureaucrat - as in Greece today. And where the private sector aphids were now to be relegated strictly as obedient cash cows, to fatten up the government ants.

Economic liberty brought us here, and we're going to keep it, community organizers be damned.

Posted by: InsufficientlySensitive | February 22, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Well, Jen, I await with interest E.J. Dionne’s response, provided he has the nerve to.

And then there is this line: “It's not gone unnoticed among conservatives that one of the more prominent liberal pundits has repeatedly made the case that racism is a significant part of the Tea Party movement…”

ONE(!) of the more prominent liberal pundits?!?!?

I nominate this as the understatement of the year.

Liberals fling around the race card like confetti and are only slightly more circumspect about using the Nazi card. It is an amazing feat of hypocrisy that they can even think of criticizing other people’s incivility.

This whole liberal rubric reminds me of an old joke:

A psychiatrist shows some geometric figures to his patient with serious sex problems.

He shows the patient a rectangle and asks what he sees. The patient says “It’s a bedroom window, and you should see what is going on the other side.”

He shows the patient a triangle. The patient says “It’s a key hole, and you should see what is going on the other side.”

He shows the patient a circle. The patient says “It’s a porthole, and you should see what is going on the other side.”

A psychiatrist says: “Sir, you a simply obsessed with sex.”

To which the patient responds: “What do mean I am obsessed with sex; you are the one with all of the sex pictures.”

Substitute “race” for “sex,” and you should get the picture.

Posted by: nvjma | February 22, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer, no matter how much tea party butt you kiss, you'll never be accepted by them.

Posted by: Observer691 | February 22, 2011 1:18 PM | Report abuse

The relationship between the Tea Party and racism is that both draw from the same wellsprings of social forces: resentment, anger, a need for scaegoats, fear for one's future prospects and for the fate of one's perceived culture. These are the forces that have always driven racism, but racism is not the only thing so driven. Racism is one tool that is used to maintain disunity among the working classes, but it is not the only tool of its class and nature.

It is thus no surprise that the Tea Party should include racists, but that does not mean that all Tea Partiers conceptualize their emotional and intellectual pathologies in racial terms. All have turned upon the perceived Other in a frenzy, but their delusions entertain a diversity of definitions for the Other. For some it is brown people and/or immigrants. For others it is those who are better educated than themselves. They are desperate to interpret their limited stations in life as being due to a stab in the back, rather than the result of their own level of talent and creativity relative to others.

Posted by: PyotrZ | February 22, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

The race card is a crutch for those, such as EJ, who can no longer argue massive government deficits and social engineering through fiat on "the merits."
The country has been on the plastic way too long, and can no longer float. This became clear at the individual level, and has flooded up to the, um, er, "elite."
As for racism, the fact is that every ethnic and racial subgroup has their race-baiting scum...and each group should be just as ashamed and condemnatory of same.

Posted by: daskinner | February 22, 2011 1:27 PM | Report abuse


That's not fair to use E.J.'s quotes against him.

Posted by: mitchflorida | February 22, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I like these debates between WaPo's writers and bloggers and I enjoy reading the perspective that both sides provide.

Posted by: Fitz157 | February 22, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Bush’s profligate ways worried lots of folks who would later become Tea-Partiers, but they backed Bush 100% on what used to be called the War on Terror and did not want to do anything that would allow the left to end the war before it was won, whatever winning was.

They became irate with Bush’s last minute explosion of spending, the aid to GM, etc., so when Obama came into office, there was a fire smoldering already. Rick Santorelli’s on-air rant about the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan on February 19, 2009 served as the gust that ignited the Tea-Party wildfire and the rest is hysteria.

Some folks above continue to mischaracterize Tea-Partiers, folks I admire. They seem to be self-reliant folks concerned about the nation’s future finances and the mess being left their kids and grandkids. Note that they are not asking for handouts, but demanding that all handouts stop. They spend their own money contributing to candidates they trust will turn off the money spigot and size up each person as an individual, not by what s/he looks like, wears, or whatever. They seem to be reasonably polite and well-spoken, but generally distrust the political class and political parties. They don’t care about race, ethnicity, or anything like that as long as you do what you can to support yourself and yours.

Call then whatever you’d like, make fun of their simple, direct approach, but note that they’ve already proved themselves a force to be reckoned with.

Also keep in mind that he who plays the race card ain’t got a full deck.

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 22, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

The Tea Party and the GOP establishment = a distinction without difference.

It's just a re-branding effort.

Posted by: szickgraf | February 22, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Pyotr, your condescending tone toward people who think differently from you would be comical were it not so commonplace. Why do liberals, such as Obama, favor stereotypical sociological explanations of whites of a lower socioeconomical status than their own as "bitterly clinging" to their guns, religion and bigotry? Do you really think Americans who reject European-style social-democracy and who are concerned about endless trillion-dollar deficits are just racist rubes?

Fear of the "perceived Other"? Give me a break. That sounds like Noam Chomsky, Edward Said or some other left-wing nitwit. I suggest you get out more.

Posted by: eoniii | February 22, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

13-15% is not a majority of anything. By that estimate African Americans are a majority.

Posted by: DubiousAdvocate | February 22, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I think that any grass roots movement of any power that is NOT left wing would always be derided as racist.

If a right of center grassroots movement came into being focused on social issues rather than fiscal issues, that too would be called racist by the Make Believe Media.

It's the standard ploy of the left. It's fairly effective, but it's really intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: jmpickett | February 22, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

13% to 15% of the population represents a majority? Good grief if the right is this bad at math how can they ever hope to be taken seriously on fiscal matters.

Posted by: stevefox2 | February 22, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

eoniii, it is very interesting that you take a historically significant thinker like Chomsky and refer to him as a nitwit. A very fine example of the kind of anti-intellectual pathology I was describing. Some people, eoniii, possess mental gifts greater than your own and have devoted much of their lives to developing those gifts. If you find this threatening, then "rube" is probably too complimentary a term. But thanks for providing such compelling anectodal evidence on my behalf.

Posted by: PyotrZ | February 22, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

PyotrZ: Thank you for providing such a great example of the condescension and intellectual dishonesty that passes for intelligence in academia but bears little to no relationship with objective truth.

It is clear that your analysis of Tea Party members is based on descriptions provided by like-minded observers rather than any honest appraisal. Anger/resentment? I suppose but certainly no more and I would argue a great deal less than what has been displayed this week in Madison. A need for scapegoats? Hardly. Like the protesters in Madison, the Tea Party disagrees with the policies, rhetoric and actions of the left. Fear of one's future prospects? That one belongs to the unionists in Madison far more than Tea Party members who are much more concerned with the impact that the Obama/Reid/Pelosi spending spree will have on their children. Fate of one's perceived culture? I'd love for you to provide one real concrete example that this is a priority for the Tea Party.

"Turned upon the perceived Other in frenzy?" Do you really think the Tea Party views Obama any differently than it does Reid, Pelosi, Schumer, Durbin, etc? If you do, you can't even begin to provide any support for such a misguided notion. The only frenzy I see is from you directed at the Other - those with whom you disagree. And the anger displayed by the protesters in Madison is far more "frenzied" than anything you can show at a Tea Party rally.

And best of all, your characterization of Tea Party members as less educated or successful than those they oppose is just plain ignorant of the facts. It is a view that you cannot and will not support with objective facts rather than post-modern cant.

Posted by: paco33 | February 22, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

eoniii -

When PyotrZ offers a description like resentment, anger, a need for scaegoats, fear for one's future prospects and for the fate of one's perceived culture, he’s describing union and Democrat Party leadership, not tea party members. He’s using Chomsky’s tricks of misdirection, misquoting, and misrepresentation by employing generalities, double standards, and the like.

He’s having what he considers to be fun, so just treat him with the same respect he shows others.

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 22, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I am a tea partier but before I was a tea partier I was a hard working, tax paying, mother of 3 married to retired Sr MSgt that for the last 2 decades have watched the politicians destroy this country. Where were we while you leftist organized and implemented your job killing, freedom killing bureaucracy....I was taking my children to ball practice, helping them with homework after working 8 or 9 hrs a day and was happy when I was finally able to sit down and watch my favorite sit com!!! Man you guys need a new argument!

Posted by: themartinzoo80 | February 22, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Pyotr, I have great admiration for Chomsky's pioneering work in linguistics, which I have a slight familiarity with. His anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-Hamas rantings, not so much.

Posted by: eoniii | February 22, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Oh to be the fly on the wall getting that contact high when Noam, Thomas Szasz, and Jared Lee share one...

Posted by: aardunza | February 22, 2011 6:12 PM | Report abuse

The Tea Party is the malevolent Republican sponsored group of "retro-wishers" that do not accept losing power and want to be back pre-1964..period.

Posted by: RPLCO | February 23, 2011 7:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm fed up with this racist claptrap. The next time someone calls me or people like me a racist, I have a three-word reply at the ready:

Vote Allen West.

Yeah. Your worst nightmare, buddy.

Posted by: VideoSavant | February 23, 2011 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Is the Washington Post and Fox going to take action against Glenn Beck? ADL and the Tea Party - Is the Tea Party taking action with Glenn Beck against the ADL?

Fox News, Glenn Beck, what was his psyche thinking? What does Beck know about Judaism? His comparisons are a breach of sound journalism. Isn't Murdoch Jewish? How does he feel about Beck's programming on Fox?

Thomas Chi

Posted by: ThomasChi | February 24, 2011 3:58 AM | Report abuse

Is the Washington Post and Fox going to take action against Glenn Beck? ADL and the Tea Party - Is the Tea Party taking action with Glenn Beck against the ADL?

Fox News, Glenn Beck, what was his psyche thinking? What does Beck know about Judaism? His comparisons are a breach of sound journalism. Isn't Murdoch Jewish? How does he feel about Beck's programming on Fox?

Thomas Chi

Posted by: ThomasChi | February 24, 2011 3:58 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company