Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Whine in Old Bottles

Abe Sauer at The Awl spent two years following the Tea Party and lived to tell about it.

When I started going to Tea Party meetings two years ago, I was sympathetic. Just after attending one in North Dakota in August of 2009, I wrote: “Most tea partiers are not bad people. They’re just mad. In many meaningful ways, today’s Tea Party attendees’ lives have gotten consistently worse for the last 20 years, regardless of which party was in power.” I concluded that trying to figure out what they wanted was a dead end because what they wanted was simply to complain—that the Tea Party “is not a group of listen and respond; this is a group of respond and respond.”

Two years of Tea Party functions later, and I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.


The Tea Party is no longer about economics, not that it ever solely was. At the larger rallies and for the cameras (CNN or laptop), they hold forth about founding fathers, liberty, spending, deficits, TARP, kicking cans down roads, taxes, living within means and fiscal responsibility. But when the lights are off, it’s all about Jesus, with “God” thrown in, on occasion for Israel.

Back in 2009, the movement appeared genuinely stumped with a conundrum of its key documents. Subservience to the Constitution of the United States of America was paramount, but then what to do about the Bible?

So they’ve engineered a backstory that essentially proves the nation’s founders were just conduits for God. Essentially, the Constitution is just the word of God passed down through guys who wore wigs and snazzy cuffed jackets.

That the Tea Party is just a way to repackage the religious right has no better proof than Ralph Reed. Reed has taken the tenets of the 1990s Christian Coalition that he directed for the “Faith and Freedom Coalition,” which is now a major player at Tea Party events.

As is the case with a lot of fads, like Cabbage Patch Kids and Pet Rocks, a lot of the early followers of the Tea Party have lost interest and moved on to other things.

In the last year or so, in addition to going to meetings and rallies, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time on the websites, Facebook pages and social networks of Tea Party organizations and those sympathetic to them. While many are still active, many others have not been updated for months and months. Many appear to have fallen off in activity in December, just after the elections. Event calendars are barren. “Latest updates” are months old and unanswered. Those that are active are often just ugly RSS feeds, just a string of links to news items on Breitbart sites or Newsmax.

What’s left are those people who are in it who are, for lack of a better term, the “professional right.” The folks like Dick Armey who were once in Congress promoting the Contract With America twenty years ago latched on to the Tea Party, reshaping their message to fit that particular fad. They’ll do it again when the next new thing comes along. Meanwhile, you’re left with the same bunch of hard-core right-wing gay-bashing Jesus-shouters that have been a part of the political landscape from time out of mind, and soon you’ll be able to buy “Obamacare = Communist” t-shirts on E-bay like you can with Beanie Babies.