Summary: This is the fourth in this series about the new politics now emerging in America, in some ways different than anything in our long history. Here we look at the new GOP and its shock troops, the Tea Party Movement. When reading the many articles describing it as crazy, ignorant, and doomed — remember that they are the dominant force today, dragging the political spectrum to the Right (due to the length of this post, supporting material about this is in the comments).
- Introduction to our new politics
- The historical evolution of our new politics
- Our political parties are stronger than ever
- This crisis was planned, but not by the Tea Party
- Understanding the people of the New Right
- Other posts in this series
- For More Information
- Flashback to a prophetic note from August 2011
- The 2 parties agree on so many key issues
(1) Introduction to our new politics
While the shutdown and debt crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the many crises that lie ahead. The two great lessons:
- Our government’s structure is exceptional because it is flawed, and so copied by few other nations. Part two discussed this.
- The two Tea Party and Evangelical factions of the GOP have allied, becoming a powerful force in US politics. This crisis shows that they have become a disruptive due to their alienation and unwillingness to compromise.
The first is the dynamite, the second the detonator. But the problem was inevitable, and would eventually have emerged, during this crisis or some future crisis. The Founders hated and feared “factions”, but made few provisions in the political system for their management.
Today we discuss the second factor. The US political system has matured into ideologically coherent parties, with both having an extreme that provides shock troops. It’s the logical evolution of our system, remarkable only in that it took two centuries.
The Republicans, as usual, do this much better than the Democrats. Elements in the GOP coalition have built the Tea Party movement into a powerful grassroots activist network. Surprisingly, with its powerful backers the Tea Party Movement has come to dominate the GOP, yet another of the historically commonplace instances of a tribe emerging from the margins to dominate the group.
Here are some articles that describe this new force, and how it fits into the politics of the New America now under construction.
(2) The historical evolution of our new politics
“Tea Party radicalism is misunderstood: Meet the Newest Right”, Michael Lind, Salon, 6 October 2013 — “Our sense of the force currently paralyzing the government is full of misconceptions — including what to call it.” Excerpt:
Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right. …
(a) … the Newest Right can be thought of as being simply a group of “extremists” who happen to be further on the same political spectrum on which leftists, liberals, centrists and moderate conservatives find their places. But reducing politics to points on a single line is more confusing than enlightening. Most political movements result from the intersection of several axes — ideology, class, occupation, religion, ethnicity and region — of which abstract ideology is seldom the most important.
(b) … the Newest Right or Tea Party Right is populist. The data, however, show that Tea Party activists and leaders on average are more affluent than the average American.
(c) … the Newest Right is irrational. The American center-left, whose white social base is among highly-educated, credentialed individuals like professors and professionals, repeatedly has committed political suicide by assuming that anyone who disagrees with its views is an ignorant “Neanderthal.” Progressive snobs to the contrary, the leaders of the Newest Right, including Harvard-educated Ted Cruz, like the leaders of any successful political movement, tend to be highly educated and well-off. The self-described members of the Tea Party tend to be more affluent and educated than the general public.
The Newest Right, then, cannot be explained in terms of abstract ideological extremism, working-class populism or ignorance and stupidity. What, then, is the Newest Right?
The Newest Right is the simply the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right, adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances. While it has followers nationwide, its territorial bases are the South and the West, particularly the South, whose population dwarfs that of the Mountain and Prairie West. According to one study by scholars at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas:
While less than one in five (19.4%) minority non-Southerners and about 36% of Anglo non-Southerners report supporting the movement, almost half of white Southerners (47.1%) express support…. In fact, the role that antigovernment sentiment in the South plays in Tea Party movement support is the strongest in our analysis.
The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.
Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables — the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.
These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.
… The political strategy of the Newest Right, then, is simply a new strategy for the very old, chiefly-Southern Jefferson-Jackson right. It is a perfectly rational strategy, given its goal: maximizing the political power and wealth of white local notables who find themselves living in states, and eventually a nation, with present or potential nonwhite majorities.
Although racial segregation can no longer be employed, the tool kit of the older Southern white right is pretty much the same as that of the Newest Right:
- The Solid South. …
- The Filibuster. …
- Disenfranchisement. …
- Localization and privatization of federal programs. …
It is perfectly rational for the white local notables of the South and their allies in other regions to oppose universal, federal social programs, if they expect to lose control of the federal government to a new, largely-nonwhite national electoral majority. Turning over federal programs to the states allows Southern states controlled by local conservative elites to make those programs less generous — thereby attracting investment to their states by national and global corporations seeking low wages.
… Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.
While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole — from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures — represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them.
They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.
Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.
For more about the new GOP, and what makes it tick: “It’s Not Ideology“, Jonathan Bernstein (political scientist), 2 October 2013
(3) Our parties are stronger than ever
“Party Strength and the Shutdown“, Jonathan Bernstein (political scientist), 2 October 2013 — Excerpt:
The parties – both of them — are strong in the sense that almost everything in US politics runs through the parties.
That hasn’t always been the case. In the nadir of party strength, which was roughly in the postwar era, much of what happened in US politics didn’t run through the parties at all.
… Now most campaign professionals and a large number of governing professionals are party people — not (usually) from formal party organizations, but people who have made their careers working within one political party, usually for a series of candidates and party-aligned groups. The party-aligned press is strong, especially on the Republican side. Candidates raise most of their money from party donors, often through party-aligned groups of one kind or another.
Because (or at least probably because) most of this party growth has taken the form of informal networks of party loyalists rather than under the control of formal party organizations, it’s meant that our contemporary strong parties are not inherently hierarchical.
For more about this: “Does the Government Shutdown Reveal the Parties’ Strengths or Weaknesses?“, Seth Masket, Pacific Standard, 3 October 2013
(4) This crisis was planned, but not by the Tea Party
The Tea Party is a powerful force in the GOP, acting as shock troops. But shock troops lead the way into battle; they are not the leaders. Political leaders often work behind the scenes, especially when arranging unpopular but potentially effective actions.
“A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning“, New York Times, 5 October 2013 — Excerpt:
Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.
Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.
It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.
“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”
(5) Understanding the people of the New Right
“Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans“, Democracy Corps, 3 October 2013 — Summary here by MathBabe. Opening:
If you want to understand the government shutdown and crisis in Washington, you need to get inside the base of the Republican Party. That is what we are doing in the Republican Party Project and these focus groups with Evangelicals, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans. All the passion, nuances and divisions found expression when we conducted this work in the summer.
Understand that the base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in DC let him get away with it.
(6) Other posts in this series
- Most of what Democrats say is wrong about the Republicans’ recent actions in Congress
- Let’s learn from this inevitable crisis, which results from flaws in our system
- About the crisis: The GOP is right. So is Obama. That’s why it’s a crisis.
- A new political party for a New America: the Tea Party GOP
(7) For More Information
(a) To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
(b) About the Tea Party Movement:
- Are the new “tea party” protests a grass roots rebellion or agitprop?, 1 March 2009
- More examples of Americans waking up – should we rejoice?, 10 October 2009
- Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”?, 27 January 2010
- The Tea Party movement develops a platform. It’s the Underpants Gnomes Business Plan!, 8 March 2010
- About the Tea Party Movement: who they are and what they believe, 19 March 2010
- The Tea Party Movement disproves my recommendation for the path to reforming America, 20 April 2010
- At last we see a Tea Party political platform, 13 May 2010
- Kinsley – “My Country, Tis of Me – There’s nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots”, 15 May 2010
- Why has wild man Mark Williams become a top leader of the Tea Party movement?, 13 June 2010
- More people participating in politics: is this good for America?, 20 June 2010
- God and the Tea Party Movement, 30 March 2012
(8) Flashback to a prophetic note from 10 August 2011
From the always insightful Tom Tomorrow:
(9) Remember: the 2 parties broadly agree on many key issues
Talk of political polarization often masks the agreement of the two parties on many key issues, such as domestic surveillance, our foreign wars, government support of banks (in good times and bad), and many aspects of macroeconomic policy.