There has been a crush of interesting recent articles on the contemporary tea party movement, which I thought I’d highlight.
Today’s New York Times has a very long feature that tries to tie together the tangled strands of the movement.
These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.
The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure. Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What’s more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party.
But most are not. They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame.
That is often the point when Tea Party supporters say they began listening to Glenn Beck. With his guidance, they explored the Federalist Papers, exposés on the Federal Reserve, the work of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Some went to constitutional seminars. Online, they discovered radical critiques of Washington on Web sites like ResistNet.com (“Home of the Patriotic Resistance”) and Infowars.com (“Because there is a war on for your mind.”).
The Tea Party movement defies easy definition, largely because there is no single Tea Party.
Local Tea Party groups are often loosely affiliated with one of several competing national Tea Party organizations. In the background, offering advice and organizational muscle, are an array of conservative lobbying groups, most notably FreedomWorks. Further complicating matters, Tea Party events have become a magnet for other groups and causes — including gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, libertarians, militia organizers, the “birthers” who doubt President Obama’s citizenship, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and proponents of the sovereign states movement.
It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny.
Other articles of interest:
In the New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky observed the protests of September 12, 2009.
Earlier this month, Ben McGrath took stock of the tea party movement in a nice piece for the New Yorker.
On the Washington Post website, David Waters was skeptical that the Christian Right would join forces with the tea party movement (H/T John Fea).
In HNN, Jim Sleeper offers a cursory comparison of the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and today’s tea party movement, and (rather too optimistically) tries to link today’s tea party movement to anti-corporate sentiment. While there were anti-corporate elements in the original Boston Tea Party, as Thom Hartmann points out here, I think Sleeper goes too far in hoping that Sarah Palin’s Nashville audience will take up Hartmann’s cry.
Finally, at Jeff Pasley’s request, I’m linking to the videos of two lunchtime talks I gave at the Old South Meeting House in December 2009. John Fea kindly mentioned the videos on his own blog (which all of you should be following), but in any case here is the first talk and here is the second. The talks are called “Teapot in a Tempest: The Boston Tea Party of 1773,” in part because that’s what I thought the title of my upcoming book would be. The title has now changed, but I am happy to say that the manuscript is currently off to the press and due out in fall 2010.