April 23, 2010


Loose Tea (Richard Kim, April 21, 2010, The Nation)

But beyond the rhetoric and amid the crowd of a few thousand, the concerns were on a smaller scale--like about incandescent light bulbs.

That's what inspired one woman, Dot, to drive down from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Dot is concerned about the deficit and the healthcare bill that "nobody read," but most of all she is panicked about light bulbs. "The government is already starting to fine people if you have the incandescent kind," she said, "but if cap and trade passes, then you're going to have each home audited, and that information is going to be listed to real estate agents, and you won't be able to sell your house."

Dozens of tea partyers I spoke with repeated some version of Dot's tale of government intrusion, little lies laced with tiny truths. "With this consumer protection agency," one man told me, "the government is going to make it illegal for you to have more than two credit cards." A woman in a red-white-and-blue pantsuit said, "There's a charter school in New York City teaching children how to be political activists--Muslim activists." Each of these stories lurks in the substrata of tea party blogs, and many are simply warmed-over right-wing myths that predate the tea party itself. What impresses is the fine-grained obsessiveness with which these ideas are pursued; I came to Washington looking for Ahabs, but the tea partyers I met are preoccupied with chasing minnows of their own imagining, not hunting the great white whale of government.

What does this kaleidoscope of kookiness add up to? According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, tea partyers are richer, whiter, better educated, older, more male and more likely to be employed than the rest of America. In other words, they largely come from society's "haves," who now worry, as Thomas Edsall argues in The Atlantic Monthly, that "the competition for resources cannot be resolved by...economic growth," and so are rallying to hold on to their wealth, status, authority and autonomy. Or as one tea party sign put it, Your Fair Share Is Not in My Pocket.

Can't you just see them trying to tell The Gipper, Jack Kemp, or W that we're in decline and economic growth is a thing of the past?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 23, 2010 5:42 PM
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