Angry white racist rednecks filled with rage and fear

There is a common narrative surrounding the Tea Parties which goes something like this: Obama was elected and now a bunch of angry, ignorant white folk afraid of the fact that they are being displaced by immigrants and liberal elites are making a whole lot of noise and calling it a Tea Party.

There may be some truth to this notion.  There are some angry white people in America, even a few very racist ones – but I think this particular narrative is mostly wrong and is based largely on a sort of trendy prejudice. I call it a “trendy” prejudice, because it’s exactly that – a prejudice that is very in vogue among critics of the Tea Parties or critics of those awful, no-good Republican obstructionists.  It’s also trendy in that nobody in the political-correctness crowd really sees it as a prejudice.  It’s just fine to think of the Tea Partiers as “teabaggers” and snicker at them because, well, look at them!  They are surely deserving of mockery and disdain….

It’s very much the sort of arrogant opinion you might find Bill Maher espousing as he derides Christians for their nonsensical faith or those stupid, ignorant rubes clinging to their guns when – if they were of the enlightened class – they could be wondering about the carbon footprint their assault rifles were leaving instead.

Naturally many of the more vocal components of the Tea Parties or the American right do themselves no favors in disabusing us of these notions.  The Michele Bachmanns of the world lend some hint of truth to accusations of paranoia.  Glenn Beck is a little wild-eyed at times. 

But I wonder, have rural whites (i.e. angry rednecks) really been in power for decades?  And what do we mean by “in power” anyways?  Is it possible that people in general have simply been more in control over their own destinies in the past, making most of their decisions at a local or state level? Then, as the federal government becomes increasingly stronger and more pervasive, that local and community control becomes more and more diminished?  This isn’t a question of power over others, then, but one of power over ourselves.


This may or may not translate into feelings of rage or impotence or resentment toward immigrants, but it is certainly a valid concern.  Maybe you just don’t want the feds to come up with your kids’ school curriculum.  I know I don’t.  And while I have a certain disdain for populism, I’m loathe to write off populists as simpletons filled with unquenchable anger who are only doing it because they’re ignorant saps.  Populism may not be the right approach, but that doesn’t make populists themselves unworthy of basic respect.

Take healthcare reform, for instance, which has raised many a heckle.  There is something sort of frightening about it when you think about it for a while.  People are hearing that they may be forced – mandated – by the federal government to purchase with their own money (and possibly some federal subsidies) insurance from a private company.  They may be forced to spend several hundred dollars a month on something that previously they would not have purchased.  They will have to do this on a government-regulated exchange.  They will be fined if they choose not to.

People are just supposed to like this and shut up about it?  Those who gripe or protest must want millions of people to die.  Or maybe those who oppose big spending aren’t allowed to (ever again!) because Bush spent like a drunken sailor.  Obama just inherited his penchant for spending when he inherited all that other bad stuff from his predecessor.

Look, just because the wonks and the central planning committee think that forcing people to purchase insurance with their own money in order to not be fined for living in the country of their birth is a good idea, doesn’t mean that the entire country will leap for joy at the thought. 

Same goes for climate change advocates.  Even if you’re right, that doesn’t mean your solution to the problem is the only one or that it will even work.  Science may show that warming is happening and it may point to mankind’s involvement in that – and it may even help predict what that means for our future – but it doesn’t predict policy results.  Simply because some people disagree with that solution does not make them “traitors of the earth” or enemies of the state.  Nor do skeptics of a relatively young scientific hypothesis with inevitably limited data (if widespread consensus) deserve those labels. 

Indeed, all of this disparaging talk is awfully reminiscent of the way anti-war protestors were treated during the run-up to the Iraq War.

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116 thoughts on “Angry white racist rednecks filled with rage and fear

  1. I reckon that much of this has to do with a dualistic viewpoint of the world.

    Hey, I know that “we” aren’t in charge… therefore *THEY* must be in charge!

    The problem is that “they” aren’t a monolith despite all of “them” being opposed to “us”.

    We understand this with regards to football. We know that we shouldn’t assume that you are a Raiders fan because you are not a Broncos fan. Indeed, you could be a Vikings fan. Or, snicker, a Chiefs fan.

    In politics, however, it just feels like there’s a left and there’s a right and if you ain’t on the side of the angels, you must be on the “other” side.


  2. The problem is that fundamentalist politics has become the normative form of politics practiced by American politicans, think tanks, and their associated feeder organizations. Everything is black or white. Good versus evil. As the other commenter stated: us or them. Political discourse has become polarized where there is little room in the middle. There is very little compromise. Either I want the bill to go my way, or “no way!”
    In fact, these politicians are afraid to compromise because they’ve backed themselves into a rhetorical corner with their constituents, who themselves have now become marinated in the juices of fundamentalist politics. Even if a politician wanted to be a middle-of-the-road centrist, they would be hard pressed outside of Maine or Vermont.
    This is my complaint against the Tea Partiers. They have an Us versus Them rhetoric which belies a similar mentality. In truth, I agree with some of their concerns and would willingly vote with them on several initiatives. But not all of them. Therefore they push people like me away who would otherwise be nominal allies on certain issues.


  3. Honest question–what sentence in your paragraph about health insurance couldn’t apply to car insurance as well? I suppose you could make an argument that car ownership isn’t strictly mandatory, but I suspect a lot of people (especially those who don’t live in urban areas) would disagree with you. And yet you don’t see people rising up in protest against the Geico Gecko.


    • A few reasons:
      1. They are contingent on purchase (and use) of a motor vehicle on publicly owned roads (making them more akin to a requirement by a private company).
      2. Car insurance mandates are a state-level requirement.
      3. Probably most important, a health insurance requirement is significantly more expensive than a car insurance requirement. Even in NJ, the state with the second-highest average premiums in the country, you’re only looking at about a little over $100 a month, give or take (2005 statistics). Plus, one needs to be wealthy enough to own a car before insurance can even be on the table. Health insurance premiums, however, are about 3 times as expensive just to cover one adult, and even more when you start talking about family coverage. So the comparative hole in the wallet is a lot bigger and it’s a hole that everyone needs to step into.


    • Re auto insurance: The STATE (not the federal gov) only requires you to buy LIABILITY insurance (which covers the other guy and his car, not you and yours).

      Ergo, auto insurance mandates are Not A Good Analogy to the proposed health insurance mandates.


  4. This post curiously doesn’t address the minor fact that many of these conservatives believe demonstrably untrue things–that abortion will be free with HCR, that illegal immigrants will get preferential treatment, and of course death panels–that are much more difficult to rationalize than opposition to the individual mandate, which I can sort of understand. But point taken. Lord knows that there are plenty of extremists on the left that are just as bad as anything you see on the right. Go read Jim Carrey’s HuffPo autism articles or the FDL “firebaggers” if you have any doubt about this. Bill Maher is a particular bete noire of mine, a smart-but-ignorant type who will mock religious people but buy into vaccination conspiracy theories. Bill Frist owned his ass during their debate a few months ago. In my opinion, the major difference between the two sides is that most people on the left want to keep their extremists at arms’ length, while conservatives can’t wait to embrace the “authentic grassroots uprising” that happens to be on their side.


  5. I had some hopes for the Tea PArty stuff when it started. Our biggest problem is our general apathy and lack of knowledge about what goes on. I hoped that if people got energized enough to participate and educate themselves on the issues, we could make some improvements. My hopes are pretty much gone now.

    All I see is anger that is still unfocused. I see no sign that people are learning the issues. What I mostly see are people who want things to go back to the way they imagine they used to be. On top of that, the movement has been co-opted as far as I can tell.

    Since you mentioned health care, what is the Tea Party approach to it? Nothing, except rejection of anything offered by the Dems. Suppose they win, as I have predicted all along. We are left with the status quo. There is no Republican, other than Ryan, who has been willing to spend political capital on HCR. We will be left with the same system heading for a cliff. When we get close enough or start falling we will see sudden, potentially catastrophic changes occur.



    • My take on the Tea Parties (from

      Ultimately, I think the Tea Parties are a waste. Forget the lack of a single, coherent message for a moment. Right now, there are a number of problems with the right: an aggressive, hypernationalistic foreign policy mindset; a self-defeating economic policy; a cynical elite that doesn’t keep its promises and manipulates its followers, just to name a few. The Tea Party people could have generated leaders to make a specific and thorough critique of the conservative movement and to try to change it. Instead, they have mostly been captured by the elites that know them so well, and been made to serve mostly as examples of GOP media narratives. The GOP does not believe in cutting spending or shrinking government, and if they regain power they will certainly not do these things. But they will almost certainly blame this on the Democrats and get their voters to the polls by frightening them with stories about the American flag being burned or what have you. The Tea Parties could use leaders that see the world clearly, figure out what needs to be done and articulate their message well, like William F. Buckley. Instead they have Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio. The extent of their message is anger, and while that plays now it will not last forever.


  6. And just because some of us want national health care doesn’t actually make us traitous socialists, etc etc. there are plenty of nasty slurs and strawmen around.

    Did you ever notice how much press the tea parties get? Certainly much of it is a crude caricature, but did you hundreds of reporters or the MSM crawling over the Netroots conventions like they were at teh recent tp convention. Ummm no. Do Daily Kos or other liberal blogs get treated as national players who must be listened to. no again.


      • well i just got back from Florida…..oh wait that probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for.

        But I will look back at all the MSM reports and front page stories about people working for HCR over the past decades…oh wait those were just central planners and wonks and such ….not good ol muricans.


    • I seem to recall Kos on MTP two sundays ago, Klein is a mouthpiece for the white house every other week or so, and I seem recall the President taking flack for inviting HuffPo to a press conference and allowing them to ask a question.

      See also, Paul Krugman.

      *sweeps some straw…*


      • i don’t recall hundreds of reporters going to the annual netroots conferences. i don’t recall msm pondering the left blogosphere as a phenomenon the way the tp’s have been declared to be. but yes some liberals get on tv, which wasn’t my point.

        My point is that the tp’s have become a force partly because the media has fed them while other liberal movements have not got the same fawning, and occasionally contemptuous, coverage. even looking just at the summer town halls the ones with loud tp freak outs got coverage but there were plenty of town halls with no screaming and fussing that didn’t get coverage.

        the tp’s have simply got a mega ton of coverage which has helped them while other movements/groups haven’t. Partly that is just the way things go. but it is also about what is exciting and good video as opposed to covering boring wonk sessions and actually policy details.

        if you think klein is a mouthpiece for the white house then you must not read him that much. he’s critisized the wh plenty.


        • I believe you said, “Do Daily Kos or other liberal blogs get treated as national players who must be listened to. no again.”

          So if by national players who must be listened to you didn’t mean the premier inside the beltway sunday morning talk show, the White House, or the astounding number of people who respond to and respect Paul Krugman, what did you mean?

          CNN? Maybe Kos should be State of the Union? The decentralized blogosphere? Who from the blogs is truly considered a national player who must be listened to?

          I read Klein plenty and plenty of the Washington access crowd criticize the White House. Dana Milbank has on occasion, yet somehow I doubt he wrote his “it’s not rahm’s fault” column based on conjecture. Ditto for Marc Ambinder.

          I really fail to see what the point of your point was. The media covers sensationalist opposition movements? I seem to remember some pretty outsized MSM coverage of Cindy Sheehan and her merry men.

          Indeed, using a quick google news timeline search, there’s a solidly large amount of coverage of the first and early netroots nation/YearlyKoz meetings that happen to correspond with the progressives being both out of power and hosting their first convention. A comparison that is rather appropriate for the first ever tpc convention.

          Has the media fueled the rise of the tea party, undoubtedly you’ll get no argument from me there. I challenge your insistence in saying that somehow liberal voices are ignored, not taken seriously by the MSM, or somehow less influential.


  7. ” The Michele Bachmanns of the world lend some hint of truth to accusations of paranoia. Glenn Beck is a little wild-eyed at times.”

    Well there’s the rub right there E.D. These phantom liberals who you are talking about (which you don’t actually name, and make specific references too either, because if you did, it would help your argumen) may just be making arguments based on the evidence that they see.

    Also I am really unaware of the assertions that you make that liberals are so incredibly found of the federal government to the detriment of the local kind. From my Calfornian liberaltarian p.o.v. (yes, I said liberaltarian and no I’m not dead) it seems that many liberals are for ‘good government’ in all it’s forms, on every level. for instance , if you read Yglesias on thinkprogress, he will talk a lot about local zoning laws, urban planning and local transit systems – there is definitely an interest in “good” government at the local level for sure . I don’t think he is alone in this interest of local government either, far from it. For many liberals, it’s not federal government, centralism all the time like I think your blog post implies.


  8. there’s a huge difference between the fed. govt actually becoming more invasive, and the perception that it is doing so. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have made themselves quite rich pounding on the perception of an all-intrusive Uncle Sam. But is that really the case? The most recent expansions of federal power — Homeland Security and No Child Left Behind — were massively popular, bipartisan and signed into law by a Republican president. Obama’s been in office just 1 year and somehow the commie/socialist demoncRATS (what’s Bob Cheeks’s precise formulation?) are leading this country straight to perdition. Fearmongering works, but there’s much less to fear than people perceive.

    BTW, we already have an indirect obligation to have health insurance; it’s the federal law requiring all emergency departments to provide care regardless of ability to pay, plus the federal support — funded out of federal general revenue — paid to hospitals for uncompensated care.

    I share your outrage in being obliged, merely as a condition of being an adult citizen, in holding insurance issued by a private company. That’s why I supported a public option. Citizens should at least have the choice of paying the federal government the moneys required by a federal mandate.

    Oh wait. Which party killed the public option?


  9. Francis hit on a main point that has to be taken into consideration with any discussion of the Tea Party. They are as mad at Republicans as they are at Democrats. Actually, they might be a little more mad, because they think Republicans have betrayed their stated small government philosophy. That is what they are all about, reducing government, or at least reducing government growth, and low taxes. Any other single issue is merely ancillary to that.

    True, at the end of the day, the Tea Party crowd are for the most point going to vote Republican. A few might vote third party, probably Libertarian. A few might stay home. The number who will vote Democratic you can count on the fingers of one hand, minus the thumb and one or two other digits.

    But the main reason it is important to remember this is we could be heading for a showdown for control of the GOP, between the “beltway elite, country club Republicans”, and the Tea-Party crowd, who are really a disparate group to begin with, made up of some social conservatives as well as libertarian conservatives.

    The GOP knows it ignores them at their own peril, and so they try, in my opinion vainly, to rein them in. I don’t think its going to work. The whole movement could end up doing more harm than good in the short run, but in the long run, the real revolution will take place in the upper echelons of power at the RNC.


  10. I don’t know if it’s trendy or not, but I noticed a while ago that, whenever a conservative of any sort first appeared in the public eye, I would hear liberal friends say, “Honestly, this guy scares me. I mean, I’m okay with some conservatives (not sure which ones), but this guy… I think he’s really a (racist/religious fanatic/sexist/warmonger/etc).

    The other side of it is relatives of mine who are hyper-Republican (and, honestly, pretty racist), who respond to every new liberal figure by muttering angrily, “I can’t believe Americans are letting this guy get away with this!”


  11. 1) They called themselves teabaggers first.

    2) Some of them, many if we’re honest, did — do — in fact carry racist signs and chant racist slogans. Though obviously not all of them did that or have such beliefs, when you are in a group and you allow people in your group to do that, they will inevitably become the most visible among you — unless you make a point of marginalizing and ostracizing them — and their bigotry will come legitimately to color public views of your movement.


        • Which is to say, whatever things some Democrats have actually done that have colored your view of the party overall, I see such coloring to be completely your right, and even legitimate on your part (which still wouldn’t necessarily make your overall resulting view right), and I’d never write a long, whiny post complaining about it using the words of someone like Bill Maher to stand in for your impressions.


        • LOL, okay. But surely I don’t need to post a boatload of links that prove the point. If the signs of a number of Tea Party people concern you so much then it should logically follow that you would also be offended by racist remarks or behavior of others, including Democrats. Or isn’t such consistency to be bothered with?


          • At one of the anti-war rallies, there were a couple of dudes carrying a sign that said “We support our troops when they shoot their officers.”

            I think that assuming that people who oppose the war need to somehow defend this sign, or attack the people who held it, or make hemming and hawing noises about the right to peaceful assembly and free speech/press would be exceptionally unfair.

            Once you get a movement together that has more people than could easily fit around a poker table, you’re going to find jerks and crazy people there, some of whom have access to Hobby Lobby.


            • The racists sign were numerous at every rally, and located at the front and center of each one. There were too many to give an example of what just one sign said. Those who carried them were the most emotionally engaged, most visible parts of the rallied. Those are the objective differences.

              Then there’s the simple fact that rallies against the launching of an illegal war simply have no business being compared to rallies against the ordinary functioning of government in addressing domestic problems. I would hope the emotions run higher at the former.

              That said, the fact that that sign was tolerated probably does indeed say something about those who turned out at that particular rally.


              • “The racists sign were numerous at every rally, and located at the front and center of each one. There were too many to give an example of what just one sign said. Those who carried them were the most emotionally engaged, most visible parts of the rallied. Those are the objective differences.”

                Dude. Seriously.


              • Let me reiterate this. While I thought those who used such signs to actively question the patriotism of anyone in the country who opposed the war — which was done — I absolutely do in fact believe that those who carried signs saying “I support the troops when they shoot their officers” did their cause a profound disservice, and that anyone who looked at such rallies and saw that and had their view colored by it, and perhaps even quietly questioned the patriotism of someone who would carry a sign like that, and of those who would let them do it in their midst, and indeed by extention of the activist anti-war movement itself would be justified in so doing.

                Let me hasten to add, however, that at no point have I argued in either case — war protesters or Tea Parties — that any conclusion reached through that questioning, ie Tea Partiers are just redneck racists or ant-war partiers are anti-Americans, is accurate. Obviously, such conclusions, like any others, are subject to a simple comparison with reality, let the results be what they may. But having one’s view of such groups colored by what one sees them tolerate in their midst is perfectly normal and legitimate behavior for observers to engage in.


                • They consistently had these people at all the early rallies — yes, that were covered. But I believe most of the early ones were covered, and covered fairly. As I mentioned, I rather stopped paying attention after that, and so my statement of “each rally” was exaggerated. Each rally during the period in which people’s opinion of them was rightly formed. I think everyone here who denies how widespread this type of display was at these rallies before they were substantially cleaned up due to bad press is being deeply disingenuous. This was not an isolated sign here and there. It was representative of the character of the early events.


            • “Any Tea Partier”?

              Too many people talk about the Tea Party based on a few TV pics and some media slant. I suggest you get the facts rather than rely on such scattershot “evidence.”


              • Yeah, that’s what I said: I find Strom Thurmond’s racism more disturbing than any Tea Partier’s. Are you saying that I underestimate just how profound the racism of some small number of the Tea Partiers actually is? I admit that is possible.

                And just where is it I should access these true “facts” about the Tea Parties, if not by using the “media”?


    • “Though obviously not all of them did that or have such beliefs, when you are in a group and you allow people in your group to do that, they will inevitably become the most visible among you — unless you make a point of marginalizing and ostracizing them — and their bigotry will come legitimately to color public views of your movement.”

      Really? The idea is that, first we have to make sure that the other party is at least marginally acceptable on racial issues and if so then we’ll talk to them. The world has changed in the last fifteen or twenty years and this, IMO, is one of them. I don’t think that idea holds much water any more though a lot of liberals still think this way.


      • You think if someone is carrying a racist sign at a rally the purpose of which you both agree upon and are allied around, and you don’t challenge that person, and that rally gets covered in the media, you think that fact doesn’t say something about you?


                • If I had to guess, I’d say it changed when people argued furiously that the anti-War protests ought not be judged by their association with ANSWER, people flying Hamas flags, and people carrying signs that said “we support our troops when they shoot their officers”.

                  Personally, I think it’s even sillier to get upset at a Tea Party/anti-War rally in (city X) because people in (city Y) held a Tea Party/anti-War rally and a person in (city Y) held up a sign that compared Obama to Bush.


                  • Let’s note that, in cultural matters, guilt-by-association can work. The MoveOn Betray-Us business was in a lot of ways the turning point of the Iraq War. It just doesn’t necessarily work in the ways that Michael hopes.


                    • The Betray-Us ad is a fairly good comparison, I agree (though nowhere near as bad on the merits as racist signage). Though it did come from the top of the org, so it is probably more representative of MoveOn’s official view than Tea Party racism, I will admit.


                  • A rally or even an ad-hoc movement against a particular policy is rightly judged much less loosely than a movement seeking to have a corporate political existence going forward, as the Tea Party movement does. If the Tea Parties, as I initially thought they were, were just ad hoc gatherings of very tax-averse citizens, I would be much more forgiving of who was accepted in their midst. But they’re not that anymore. The Tea Partis are a corporeal political movement in the making at least, in some cases forming official local parties unto themselves, and moreover represent an increasingly fully formed political identity, not a mere association of disparate viewpoints converging around one policy point, as Iraq protesters were. The Tea Parties in no way have racism as a central tenet of their program, and most are of course not racists, but the inconvenient fact is that a small fraction of their committed adherents are racist, and vocally so. This will be a serious problem for the movement, as it will have to struggle with how to contain or eliminate that element if it is to present a serious political alternative to increasing numbers of Americans, which is its clear aspiration.


                • For at least two reasons. First, the juice in accusations of racism has gone way down because people have heard them often enough from people such as yourself who want to manipulate them for political purposes. The Boy Who Cried Wolf, etc, &c.

                  Second, demographic perceptions have changed a great deal in the last decade or so, especially as it relates to the United States. Ie, ethnic relations in general used to be viewed through a black-white lens. Now people have had to create space in their heads for the cultural impact of Islam, India, China, etc. etc. Whatever we think about such people, it doesn’t fit in the easy categories liberals want to use. We have to come up with “new normal” to describe our place in the world. The whole narrative of “white people dominant, black people oppressed” doesn’t have near as much oxygen as it used to.


                  • Okay, so it’s a function of race. I thought you were saying the semiotics of protest had changed — ie what it meant to be at a protest at which messages were conveyed that were not necessarily what you believed.

                    The difference I see between Tea Party protests and war protests is that that while the Tea Parties seek to be a cohesive force in politics across a range of issues — a political party proper in some cases — war protesting was really nothing more than an ad hoc reaction to one very specific policy. By nature, you will have a far more motley grouping at a single-issue rally. The Tea Parties, on the other hand, are explicitly seeking to form a corporate political existence of their own, and this to me makes the question of whom they tolerate in their midst much more germane to understanding who they are at large. There was never any formation of an anti-Iraq-war party attempted, and no one expected the protesting to form a coherent group that would last over time. A couple of years later, no one was surprised when the anti-war movement was scattered and demobilized. If the Tea Parties are scattered to the four winds in a couple of years, a lot of people will be surprised and disappointed.


  12. It would help, you know, if you didn’t caricature my argument, or insert terms I didn’t use. Indeed, the point isn’t that they are redneck or that they are racist, but rather that they are, like all people who have found themselves leaving a position of political privilege, scared and angry. That you can’t take that as anything other than racism reveals again that you are a poor student of history, Erik, and you act out against those who call you on it.

    At some point, there’s just got to be an acknowledgment of this bare fact: all of these soi disant dissident conservatives, bohemian libertarians and reform Republicans– they are not like the Tea Partiers. And you know they aren’t. What’s the biggest tell? They don’t live where the Tea Partiers live. How many of the self-styled defenders of the Tea Party movement live where the Tea Partiers live? How many conservatives writing for The Atlantic or libertarians at Cato live in rural Texas or the Mississippi Delta? When do you think the last time was that your average boho DC blogger had a real Tea Partier over to their home? How often does your average pomo conservative or libertarian go out for beers with a genuine Tea Partier? What percentage of the real Tea Party protests, do you think, are from New York and DC?

    Ah, you say, that just goes to show how close minded you are! But it doesn’t, though. It shows how close minded they are. Because they have explicitly and consistently defined themselves culturally. You can ask them. It’s all over their signs and literature. What did they say about Sarah Palin in the proto-Tea Party moment? They said, “She’s just like us. She’s one of us.” She wasn’t– she was always rich, and now she’s downright wealthy–but she plays the game by hating the right people and defining herself against the right people. You really think that all that talk of the “real America” didn’t mean anything? You think that doesn’t have anything to do with how this country is changing? Or did you just ignore that like you ignore everything they say, so that you can foist more and more virtues onto them that they don’t possess and don’t want. What do they have to do to convince you that they are serious when they say that they don’t like who they don’t like? How many signs does it take? How many slogans?

    That’s the bottom line here: there are an awful lot of fantasy going on. You throw on so many wonderful virtues to people who are not like you, because you are using them. They are a symbol for you, a political mass to be exploited. They are telling you they are not like you. I assure you, when they constantly attack the “college elite” or whatever is their preferred euphemism at the time, they are saying, among other things, “we don’t like people who write thought provoking blog posts on the Theogony.” What planet do you live on where that is not the case? Ask yourself, Erik, really ask yourself, what percentage of Tea Partiers would slur Andrew Sullivan and his husband in a heartbeat if they had a chance? 50%? 60%? You’ll rush to deny that there’s any element of homophobia in the Tea Parties, but I’ve read their signs. I’ve read their literature. I go to their websites. I don’t have the time for pleasant fantasy.

    I don’t have the time, and I won’t permit myself, because the beginning of respect, the precondition for respect, is listening to people and extending to them the right to self-define. That’s the laurel I’ll give them that you won’t. I’ll actually extend to them the courtesy of listening to them, rather than inventing some idealized version of them for my own ends. And it’s because I listen to them that I don’t respect them. I don’t respect their incoherent political platform. I don’t respect their fear mongering. I don’t respect their conspiracy theorizing. I don’t respect the hundreds– hundreds– of flat out offensive signs and images that you and I have both seen at their rallies. Me, personally, I’d rather be disrespected for who I actually am and what I actually say than respected as a symbol or a fantasy.

    What the Tea Partiers tell me, in so many ways, is that they are my enemy. And so they are.


    • Freddie:

      So the people that Obama mocked as clinging to their guns and religion are the same ones that have been in positions of power? The corrupt city of Chicago has more power than most of Appalachia.


      • In a way, I would say that the stereotyped group (unfortunate though the stereotype is–i will daringly assume that the president was referring to conservative voters-no offense!) has indeed been in a position of power. If one looks at the demographic shifts at work in the United States over time, it is clear that mid-western states, generally heavily conservative, have suffered enormous declines in population relative to the sun-belt and coastal states–all while retaining their two senators per state. Speaking very generally, the states with larger populations are more liberal than those in the mid-west (example, CA, population 37 million, Wyoming, population, 500,000). In a Senate where the filibuster is gaining increasingly routine use as a political tool, a very small, and generally conservative slice of the electorate is therefore capable of exercising disproportionate influence over national affairs through their Senators. Now, it is beyond a doubt that at least in principle, this is what the senate was designed to do–however, in a very urbanized America with such an uneven distribution of the population, this state of affairs is beginning to ossify national politics, rendering the government incapable of taking pressing decisions –held hostage by the most polarized politicians.


    • Could I rewrite this and make it a rant against the anti-war protesters?

      Could I talk about sympathies for Hamas, and Mumia, and people walking past “BUSHITLER” signs without flinching? (And, let’s face it, it’s not like if you took a cross-section of any given protest, it wouldn’t look exactly like the Republican caucus up-to-and-including the whole “HERE’S A PERSON OF COLOR QUICK PUT HIM IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS” thing).

      I’m under the impression that it wouldn’t take a whole lotta effort to do so.

      Indeed, all of this disparaging talk is awfully reminiscent of the way anti-war protestors were treated during the run-up to the Iraq War.


        • The arrow that I use (for both sides!) is that they’re protesting as a form of therapy.

          The anti-war protests reminded me of nothing so much as a bunch of people who actually cared about the topic who got invaded by a much larger bunch of millennials and late gen-Xers depressed that they missed out on the Vietnam War protests and, finally!, they had their chance to march and yell “THE PEOPLE”

          This was the main reason that the protests were always so disjointed. There were the people there to protest the war… but there were also the people who showed up to hang with folks they considered “like-minded” and start yelling stuff about Rachel Corrie.

          And, of course, when the media shows up, they never look at the sweet-souled, gentle Unitarian Minister (as well as all of the other sweet-souled people who went there to support him and the effort) who gave such a moving speech… they look at the guy wearing a bandana Sandinista-style screaming about revolution. He makes for better television, after all.

          The worst part is that you saw this up close when you were part of the movement. You saw what the media did to your message.

          And now you watch the media cover the tea parties and you drool like Pavlov put Big Ben in your ear.


    • Freddie, this is just delightful! However, I do think you’re just a bit hard on Erik, but I’m not sure why other than a ‘feeling’ and that makes me guilty of thinking like a commie-Dem. So I plead guilty of enjoying your comments and of course you are right, we are indeed political enemies on most levels. Not that that’s a bad thing. I have to go..Glenn Beck’s on the radio.


    • A few things:
      1. If the Tea Partiers take the Sarah Palin route as a whole, then the movement will not succeed, and your argument is correct. There is, moreover, a very strong likelihood that this is the route they will take. But maybe not – a substantial percentage of the movement is not the same as saying that it’s the defining characteristic of the movement.
      2. The data available makes clear that your assumption that the Tea Party movement is entirely a regional phenomenon is incorrect. While Tea Partiers are slightly less likely to come from the Northeast than other regions, it is not significantly so. 23% of Americans live in the Northeast, compared to 16% of Tea Partiers. By comparison, 32% of Americans live in the South, compared to 37% of Tea Partiers. Moreover, the West – where Erik lives – has 24% of Americans, but 29% of Tea Partiers. In other words, it’s the area where Tea Partiers are most over-represented (though over-representation is still only relatively slight). Compara this fairly even regional distribution with the regional distribution of Birther-ism, which really is almost entirely a Southern phenomenon (

      Income-wise, Tea Partiers are about the same as the average American and as educated as the average American (see data below).

      3. The Tea Partiers are in fact lily-white. This is a problem, and a big one at that. To the extent that Sarah Palin becomes the movement’s de facto leader, this will not change and the movement will be everything you claim it to be. It will also, however, break up from its own incoherence. If it avoids the Palin trap, it may well wind up focusing purely on fiscal issues, and I think the race-consciousness will get largely marginalized.

      4. I have, in fact, spoken with my share of Tea Partiers, some of whom I count as close friends, others of whom I’ve actually interviewed on this site. I don’t consider myself a Tea Partier, and I’ve still got a lot of mixed feelings about the movement, even as I’m sympathetic to it to the extent it is centered on fiscal matters. If it goes the direction that the Stephen Gordons of the world want it to go, then the Tea Parties could be something that will be a real force for good (at least what I consider good) in the world. If they take the direction that the Sarah Palins of the world want to take it, then it will become pretty much the new Dixiecrats.

      5. Ultimately, though, their motivations don’t much concern me. What concerns me is whether or not I’d find their actions, were they ever to achieve power, to be better governance (or at least significantly less-bad) than the existing establishment.

      Data available here:;contentBody


      • An excellent post, Mark. I’m not a member of any Tea Party movement, but, as I’ve mentioned previously, I have attended a few of their protests. In my limited experience, I can say that the Tea Party in my area is not lily white, although certainly a large majority of participants is. As for the Sarah Palin influence, I hope it will not be deciding. As some of the regional TP “leaders” have stated, the movement is not intended to be top-down, one-leadered. It wants to continue to be “led” by the grass roots. That may not make for a organizationally coherent and easily orchestrated movement, but it, if it prevails, should help preserve its authenticity and perhaps its independence.


        • The Sarah Palin route is, in my mind, just a return to the standard-issue conservatism that has dominated the last 30 years, and especially the last decade. My problem with Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s uniquely stupid or anything like that. To the contrary, my problem with her is that she really is “just another” (to use Jaybird’s words), but with folksier rhetoric and an inexplicable ability to drive liberals batty.


            • That depends on how you define “success” for the Tea Party movement. If success means a rebirth of CPAC-style conservatism, then sure – but don’t expect me to cheer. If it means creating a real constituency for genuine (rather than selective) fiscal restraint, then a rebirth of CPAC-style conservatism would not be success.


              • Yeah, it’s a little surprising to me the extent to which libertarians (and others, but especially libertarians) haven’t been able to bend their head around the idea that GWB was an outlier in the party even when he was President (or Presidential candidate).

                It’s also worth noting that the TP agenda, such as it is, goes beyond fiscal conservatism, though that’s definitely a part of it. The Al Haig thing is definitely the most important thing imo.


        • See the poll I linked to above. Those who self-identify as Tea Partiers are 95% white. I don’t give much credence to the TV news attempts at pigeonholing the movement (hence why I thought it particularly important to show that the movement is not purely a Southern thing), but it’s tough to get past that polling figure.


    • “They don’t live where the Tea Partiers live. How many of the self-styled defenders of the Tea Party movement live where the Tea Partiers live? How many conservatives writing for The Atlantic or libertarians at Cato live in rural Texas or the Mississippi Delta?”

      You must have been snoozing during tax time last year. Everyone in the US lives where the Tea Partiers live. (Besides, how many conservatives write regularly for The Atlantic? I count Megan McArdle as half; is there anybody else?)


  13. E.D. – one of your favored rhetorical turns is to package a contestable claim with a fairly agreed upon claim. Most commonly this takes the form of “Medicare and Social Security need to be reformed” the first unquestioned, the second contestable on the face and if true not within an order of magnitude of the first part of the phrase.
    In this post, there is nothing “narrative” about the whiteness of the Tea Partiers. They’re white – whitity whitey white white white. Tea Party gatherings are whiter than Portland, OR. This is a fact and bundling it with the caricatures doesn’t change that. One of my cousins recently visited Nashville (my home) for the Tea Party Convention – nice guy, not angry, college educated, and white as a bleached sheet. Everyone has heard they are going to be forced to buy health care – so why do only white people show up at the Tea Party rallies? What is prejudicial or bigoted about saying the Tea Party is a white movement? The assumptions that may follow (they’re a bunch of dumb racist hicks) is prejudicial and dismissive, but the Tea Party movement is very much a white thing.


    • I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with the TP being predominantly white. But as I write above, I will note for the sake of accuracy that in my area, at least, it is decidedly NOT all white.


  14. Pingback: Respect the Tea Partiers; Take Them at Their Word « The United States of Jamerica

  15. Does this post in fact refer to any particular things that have been said about Tea Partiers other than by Bill Maher? Are you seriously asking anyone other than Bill Maher to be responsible for things that Bill Maher says?


  16. Pingback: Respect the Tea Partiers; Take Them at Their Word. « PostBourgie

  17. There is a better American Middle East politics comparison for this argument than the behavior of Iraq War protesters: the Israel lobby. The way we are asked here simply not to see the evident racism — not universal, but nevertheless evident and present — in the Tea Party movement is very similar to the way in which the Israel lobby insists no one discuss the influence it has on the policy questions it seeks to influence. You must say black is white. That’s what this is.


  18. Watched the Bill Maher clip. Why is Bill Maher arrogant? What he says about religion makes perfect sense. Isn’t it possible that religion is something that is man made, a story, a fantasy? Of course it is.

    And Maher is so right on about when someone says “that’s my faith” that the discussion is supposed to end and we’re supposed to accept it.

    Sorry, but to question this mass hypnosis that so many fall under is to be an intelligent being. Like Stewart, I understand that faith brings comfort. But like Maher, I also believe that most wars are fought at their base as a result of not just religious belief, but religious insistence (“our way is the right way and the only way”).

    Watch the clip again and tell me that his points, though delivered in a fashion too sharp for many, are not worthy of discussion.


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