WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “The Tea Party: Populism of the privileged” provides a clear-eyed case that the Tea Party is more a media creation than an authentic, new movement. Reporting on the findings of a CBS/New York Times poll released last week, Dionne’s explains:
…The Tea Party is essentially the reappearance of an old anti-government far right that has always been with us and accounts for about one-fifth of the country. The Times reported that Tea Party supporters “tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.” They are also more affluent and better educated than Americans as a whole. This is the populism of the privileged.
…This must be the first “populist” movement driven by a television network: Sixty-three percent of the Tea Party folks say they most watch Fox News “for information about politics and current events,” compared with 23 percent of the country as a whole..
As for the characterization by the easily-suckered segment of the MSM that the Tea Party is a ‘populist’ movement, Dionne cites “a tendency of Tea Party enthusiasts to side with the better-off against the poor” which “puts them at odds with most Americans.” Dionne adds,
…The poll found that while only 38 percent of all Americans said that “providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor,” 73 percent of Tea Party partisans believed this. Among all Americans, 50 percent agreed that “the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit.” Only 17 percent of Tea Party supporters took this view…Asked about raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year to provide health care for the uninsured, 54 percent of Americans favored doing so vs. only 17 percent of Tea Party backers.
And despite Tea Party supporters protestations to the contrary, Dionne notes that “race is definitely part of what’s going on,” citing the poll’s findings that 52 percent of Tea Party loyalists say “too much” is “being made of the problems facing Black people,” compared to just 19 percent of those who are not loyal to the Tea Party. Dionne adds that “A quarter of Tea Partiers say that the Obama administration’s policies favor blacks over whites, compared with only 11 percent in the country as a whole.”
The danger, says Dionne:
…Both major parties stand to lose if they accept the laughable notion that this media-created protest movement is the voice of true populism. Democrats will spend their time chasing votes they will never win. Republicans will turn their party into an angry and narrow redoubt with no hope of building a durable majority.
It’s a useful insight. Dems should not be deterred from their progressive mandate by the same old wingnut segment of the vox populi that has been around for many decades, all gussied up in tri-corner hats as a 24-7 Fox News ‘reality’ show.