Friday, January 22, 2016

Additional Reading Notes for The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism

For books that engage me and make me think deeply, I often take additional notes on points I wish to remember. I usually include those notes in my reviews. However, this book packed so much that I felt a need to write out a second post on it to put out the additional concepts and thoughts I wanted to remember and reflect upon. You may want to read my review of the book first before you keep reading here in order to get the full picture.

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The Tea Party is not really that "revolutionary":

"When we explore the passions of Tea Partiers in detail, we will see that they are new variants of long-standing conservative claims about government, social programs, and hot-button social issues" (11). 

The media, especially right wing media, basically inflames and helps keep the Tea Party alive, even with misinformation:

"From Fox News to right-wing radio jocks and bloggers, media impresarios have done a lot to create a sense of shared identity that let's otherwise scattered Tea Parties get together and feel part of something big and powerful. Media hosts also put out a steady diet of information and misinformation--including highly emotional claims-- that keep Tea Party people in a constant state of anger and fear about the direction of the country and the doings of government officials" (13). 

This is a book written by social scientists. It is written in accessible language, but it is still grounded in evidence. The evidence includes public records, news reports, national social surveys, and questionnaires to Tea Party members as well as extensive field interviews with tea partiers.

Traits of Tea Party members (the majority of them), according to the book:

  • Middle aged or older, often seniors. 
  • Better, well-off economically, but not "wealthy." 
  • White.
  • Many are regular church goers and more likely to be evangelicals. 
  • At least some college education.
  • Many are or were small business owners or other professional occupations. Many are retired. 
  • Given that they are disproportionately older whites, they tend to have higher incomes than typical Americans. 
 And tea partiers could not really care less about reaching young people. They see themselves (arrogantly so, I might add) as "older and wiser."

"Despite occasional efforts at intergenerational outreach,  Tea Partiers do not seem anguished about their upward-tilted profile" (25). 

The Tea Party does often use violent rhetoric, and as a result has attracted some extremists into its midst, which the rarely if ever repudiate. This can include the presence of Oath Keepers and members of the John Birch Society. However, fiery rhetoric and extremists aside, most tea partiers are fairly ordinary other than using aggressive language and activism (let's label it of the gadfly variety for the sake of being charitable).

While a lot of tea partiers are evangelicals and social conservatives, a good number are libertarians. However, as secular as they claim to be:

"In our fieldwork experience, the many rank-and-file members who hold heartfelt Christian conservative views set the tone for the Tea Party as a whole. Libertarian members tend to accomodate the social conservative view, at least to some degree" (37).

So libertarians in the Tea Party, much like in real life, are pretty much useless and worthless. This accommodation, which if you think about it means sacrificing many of their "principles", does allow the Tea Party to survive a bit longer.

Now tea partiers hold reverence for the U.S. Constitution, but it is clear that for all they flaunt it, they have barely read it. Heck, they barely understand it and more often than not are ignorant of the document's history and context:

"Despite their fondness for the Founding Fathers, Tea Party members we met did not make any reference to the intellectual battles and political compromises out of which the Constitution and its subsequent amendments were forged, let alone to the fact that key Founders were Deists, far from any branch of evangelical fundamentalism. Nor did they realize the extent to which some of the positions Tea Partiers now espouse bear a close resemblance to those of the Anti-Federalists-- the folks the Founders were countering in their effort to establish sufficient federal authority to ensure a truly United States. The Tea Partiers we met did not show any awareness that they are echoing arguments by the Nullifiers and Secessionists before and during  the U.S. Civil War, or that their stress on 'states' rights' is eerily reminiscent of dead-ender white opposition to Civil Rights laws in the 1960s" (50).

This collective ignorance also goes along with their cherished idea that anyone can read and interpret the Constitution. The above evidence clearly points to the contrary. Add to this their anti-intellectualism and disdain of experts, and this makes a recipe for national disaster.

And for all their anti-government whining, there is this piece of irony:

"Ironically, many organizers and leaders of local Tea Parties are supported in part by Social Security or veterans' pensions, and also enjoy health benefits from Medicare or veterans' health care programs. U.S. taxpayers subsidize their incomes and well-being, and hence give them the time and capacity to organize protests and Tea Party groups" (93). 

This also goes along with their selfish mentality where they "earned" those benefits while everyone else is a "moocher." It is flat out selfish hypocrisy.

Bottom line, their tent can be so big at times to include all sorts of extremists and other right wing idea pushers because of hating on enemy:

"If an organization seems to be against Obama and liberals, Tea Partiers are trusting to the point of gullibility" (118). 

Clearly, critical thinking of any kind is not happening among tea partiers.

More bottom line:

"All in all, Tea Party citizen engagement in the democratic process-- a positive thing-- is married to a level of out-group intolerance and refusal to contemplate compromise and give and take that are surely worrisome for U.S. democracy" (201). 

This is where I do not agree with the authors. Tea partier engagement has not been a positive thing. Their bigotry and intolerance of diversity, outright ignorance, and often aggressive violent rhetoric are not positive things, and if anything, have added to the toxicity of the political environment in the United States. People who would readily take away the rights of those who they see as different are not worthy of applause just because they "engage in the democratic process." If anything, they pervert that process to the detriment of the nation as a whole. That is far from "a positive thing."

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