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The Tea Party's Illegitimate Reactions to Perceived Failures of Society

In: Social Issues

Submitted By vishnuv1228
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Vishnu Venkateswaran
Writing 140: Section #64330
Rory Lukins
November 15th, 2013
Assignment #4
The Tea Party’s Illegitimate Reactions to Perceived Failures of Society Signs that read “revolt against socialism”, arguments racing across the floors of Congress, and meddling in the electoral process to protest against the Democratic agenda are just a small number of the Tea Party’s activities. The Tea Party is a movement spurred on by CNBC’s Rick Santelli whose angry rant rouse the fervor of many a conservative. (Skocpol & Williamson, 1) In particular, he argued against the economic stimulus package introduced by the Obama administration in 2009. Shortly after, the official commencement of the Tea Party movement began with a rally of the fiscal conservative. It started out as a grassroots movement and later evolved into a widespread local and national organization. With generous funding from conservative billionaires and large political organization committees, the Tea Party grew exponentially from state to state. Tea Partiers called for a cut in taxes and public spending as well as deregulation of business operations to lower the national deficit. These individuals started their protest by conventional rallies with signs denouncing Obama’s policies. This later escalated, however, into endorsing candidates into the GOP and reforming the Republican Party. The Tea Party’s activities have contributed towards the recent government shutdown causing scorn amongst many in American society. A legitimate use of the existing democratic institutions, for example, is to lobby against current fiscal policy in an effort to amend laws in the movement’s favor. Another example is creative direct action in the form of protest. Through nonviolent means, Tea Party supporters can advocate change without dipping their toes into the tides of the electoral system. Yet, the Tea Party’s activities prove illegitimate because of their aggressive action in placing their supporters within the GOP. This effectively cripples the means of compromise between the Republican and Democratic Party. The Tea Party’s reactions towards high taxes and increased public spending as perceived failings of democratic and capitalist society, such as endorsing candidates in the GOP and mobilizing supporters, are illegitimate because they sow discord within the government and contain a significant inconsistency in one of their central demands.
The Tea Party’s protest against government stems from anger towards a number of failings in society, especially towards a misuse of public spending in a time of negative economic conditions. Gervais and Morris outline the Tea Party movement’s agenda as “characterized as united by fiscal conservatism and a belief that “out of control” Washington spending has strayed far from the Founder’s constitutional principles.” (Gervais & Morris, 246) The constitutional principles referred to in Gervais and Morris’s statement is one of the 28 principles of the founding fathers: “The highest level of prosperity occurs when there is a free-market and a minimum of government regulations.” (Smith, 1) Adam Smith’s famous quote supporting free-market ideals and fewer regulation on business underscore a primary motive behind Tea Party’s protests against Obama’s stimulus package. The Tea Partiers disdained “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” which invested $800 billion to improve upon a number of sectors in society. The Tea Partiers, disgruntled with increased public spending in the midst of high government debt and an economic recession, protested through formal rallies and protests, which later intensified to endorsing candidates in the electoral process. Gervais and Morris, in an extensive survey research methodology, support the notion that Tea Partiers are upset by increased government spending: “Our analysis also strongly suggests that voters’“anger,” which is widely presumed to drive the movement, is not so much a reaction to desperate economic circumstances but a reaction to government spending in response to the economic downturn.” (Gervais & Morris, 249) The reactions that eventually created the Tea Party movement was caused, according to Gervais and Morris, by heightened government spending in harsh economic times. It was a perceived failing of government that produced mass protest and a call for changes within fiscal policy. According to Tea Partiers, society’s failings not only relates to increased government spending, but also focused on Obama’s health care reforms. Shortly after the initial call to rally and protest against the government, the passage of new health care reforms excited Tea Partiers to further their efforts. According to Acreneaux and Nicholson, “The debate surrounding health-care reform in late 2009 and early 2010 further energized the movement, as grassroots Tea Party organizations turned their ire on politicians who supported Democratic-backed reforms.” (Arceneaux and Nicholson, 700) As the Tea Party continued to take a stand against the failings of government pertinent to Obama’s agenda, they turned their attention to endorsing candidates within the GOP in an effort to replace Republicans whose ideologies were lenient towards Democratic reforms. By serving to lower the cost of health insurance to lower-income families, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” yet again used government spending that contributed to the national deficit. With an increased cost in the maintenance and issuance of health care, the Tea Partiers rallied against another Obama policy.
Tea Partiers are also concerned with another central failing of government: taxes. The Tea Party consisting of white, upper class, and middle-aged citizens strongly believes in fiscal conservatism. (Skocpol & Williamson, 1) This means that they want government to cut taxes and reduce government regulation on business. Through these means, the economy can follow the free-market model with little to no government intervention thereby strengthening an economy experiencing recession. Thus, Tea Partiers believe that another failing of society is the progressive tax system where the more income an individual makes, the more tax that person pays in turn. Tea Partiers advocate a flat-rate system, which sets an equal standard for citizens of all classes allowing upper-bracket income families to pay less taxes. The Tea Party’s primary response to the failings of government is to endorse favorable candidates to represent the movement’s interests within the GOP. This reaction is not only motivated to offset the efforts of the Democratic Party, but also to cleanse the Republican Party of moderate Republicans to represent far-right leaning representatives. “In its endeavor to block Democratic efforts and “cleanse” the Republican Party, the Tea Party drafted and supported GOP primary challengers for numerous national and state offices.” (Gervais & Morris, 246) With generous support from a handful of “roving billionaires” and elitist organizations, the Tea Party had the ability to offer money incentives for candidates to support their cause. If a candidate were to carry out the ideals of the Tea Party, he would receive substantial funding in his campaign and heighten his chances of getting into office. This mutually beneficial relationship between the movement’s supporters and the candidate prove effective in expressing ultra-free-market ideals into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. According to survey data from Arceneaux and Nicholson, the Tea Party’s endeavors to propel effective change within the electoral system was successful. “By late 2010, the loosely organized Tea Party movement endorsed 129 candidates for the US House of Representatives and nine candidates for the US Senate, winning 39 in the House and five in the Senate.” (Arceneaux and Nicholson, 700) In addition to endorsing candidates within the GOP, The Tea Party grew to encompass national organizations and conservative elitists who further expanded the organization to mobilize potential supporters. The Tea Party movement started off as a local grassroots movement whose only form of protest was a conventional show of cardboard signs. Yet, the fervor and ardent spirit of protesters created solidarity over a divided Republican Party. Elitist conservatives and major organizations took advantage of the enthusiasm of the movement in order to follow a revised agenda of not only opposing the actions of the then prominent Democrat Party, but also reforming the Republican Party. This required an increased support base for the Tea Party. “From February 2009 on, right-wing organizations and elites scrambled to orchestrate activism where possible, and also tried to leverage the loyalties, votes, and checkbooks of Tea Partiers and their sympathizers.”(Skocpol & Williamson, 12) By collecting votes and loyalties and by supplying funds towards the movement, the Tea Party grew in power creating local chapters in nearly every state. As soon as the first rally was underway, a group called the Tea Party Patriots emerged as a grassroots-run umbrella group. The TPP has hundreds of connections to local grassroots organizations and hosts webinars to discuss the Tea Party’s future agendas. They swap information and attempt to organize large national campaigns to increase their “nationwide capacity and to raise funds from Tea Party participants.” (Skocpol & Williamson, 17) These reactions to the failures of society created an amalgamation of a local grassroots movement and a nation-wide political reformation
The Tea Party’s demands contain an inherent contradiction that suggests that their reactions to society’s failings are incoherent and thus illegitimate. As mentioned earlier, Obama’s stimulus package introduced in 2009 catalyzed the Tea Party movement that, in response, demanded lower taxes, deregulation and a cut in public spending. Yet, an incongruity exists in one of their demands. The stimulus package calls for one of the largest tax cuts in the nation’s history. According to U.S. News managing editor for opinion, Robert Schlesinger, “The compromise stimulus plan includes $282 billion in tax cuts over two years.” (Schlesigner) Although their argument against increased public spending is sound, asking for further tax cuts seems too excessive. Either these protesters demand extreme action that no administration has taken or they are ignorant of the underlying tax cuts. The failure to recognize the efforts of the Obama administration to lower taxes bodes an anti-Democrat sentiment amongst Tea Party supporters. “Now consider the Tea Party movement, whose foremost demand of a president who in his first month passed one of the biggest tax cuts ever...is for tax cuts.” (Whatley) Whatley suggests, in a sardonic tone that the incoherence between what the Tea Party protests against and one of their principle demands proves to be an illegitimate reaction.. After an in-depth contextual overview of the Tea Party, I believe that the movement, as a whole, expresses an illegitimate reaction to the failings of democratic and capitalist society. Although the Tea Party’s actions are legal, their aggressive actions to attain their goals sow discord within Congress and are now publicly scorned. I concede, however, that the Tea Party’s goals are legitimate to an extent. The government should cut down on the amount of public spending as the debt ceiling draws closer and the national deficit continues to increase. Although their demands towards the failings of democratic and capitalist society are legitimate in strengthening the economy, the Tea Partiers play a twisted game of politics to further their agenda. “Tea Party endorsements and candidates adopting the Tea Party label significantly increased their vote share in Republican primaries. Since the 2010 election, Tea Party-linked representatives wield a great deal of power in the Republican Caucus and have constrained the ability of House Republican leaders to compromise with Democrats.” (Arceneaux and Nicholson, 700) As Arceneaux and Nicholson have stated, the GOP representatives who are Tea Party supporters share significant power within the Republican Party due to their generous funding. Their ultra-conservative opinions divide the Party and lead the government into disarray. These two tactics, electoral intimidation and refusing to cooperate in government, are the Tea Party’s illegitimate reactions to government failings. Electoral intimidation allows the Tea Party to control the actions of certain candidates whom they support. In an effort to offset the Democratic agenda, these Tea Party-backed representatives negate the flow of meaningful discourse that may lead to compromise and instead, hamper progress as highlighted by the government shutdown. The Tea Party conservatives halted productive political discourse between the Democrats and the Republicans over the budget of “Obamacare”. The failure to compromise put a stop to government operations and created a newfound public disdain towards the Tea Party. The Tea Party, protesting against high tax and public spending through meddling in the electoral system and expanding their connections, express illegitimate reactions by causing a lack of compromise in government and demanding an unreasonable reduction in taxes. The Tea Party’s popularity after the government shutdown has reached an all-time low yet their ultra-conservative agenda remains unchanged. Even at the peak of public disapproval, The Tea Party continues to hamper government proceedings. This is an indication that radical conservatism has made its way through the Republican Party. It will be interesting to see the impact or lack thereof that the Tea Party will make in the future. Will they spiral out of mainstream popularity and have little to no influence in politics or will they thrive and reform modern-day politics? In the future, signs may read “down with ultra-conservatism”, Congress may debate endlessly never passing a single bill, and radical leftists may throw themselves into the brawl for political supremacy.

Annotated Bibliography:
Bryan T. Gervais and Irwin L. Morris (2012). Reading the Tea Leaves: Understanding Tea Party Caucus Membership in the US House of Representatives. PS: Political Science & Politics, 45, pp 245-250. doi:10.1017/S1049096511002058.

According to Gervais and Morris, the Tea Party movement formed after the introduction of the 2009 stimulus package as a grassroots antigovernment organization. It began as a series of rallies and protests and later splintered into a number of umbrella organizations as a force of election mobilization. They note that the movement called for a rooting-out of members who aren't considered conservative enough. The Tea Party is highly critical of Obama and his agendas. To challenge Democratic efforts and achieve their own goals, the Tea Party supported GOP challengers. GOP candidates also joined the Tea Party caucus to take advantage of their enthusiasm. The focus of the group, Gervais and Morris state, centered on fiscal conservatism. They consist of older, wealthier white males. Lastly, they suggest that the legitimacy of the movement's convictions are questioned as to whether or not they will follow their agendas.

Kevin Arceneaux and Stephen P. Nicholson (2012). Who Wants to Have a Tea Party? The Who, What, and Why of the Tea Party Movement. PS: Political Science & Politics, 45, pp 700-710. doi:10.1017/S1049096512000741. Arceneaux and Nicholson based on survey data assert that the composition of the Tea Party is primarily conservative white males who are wealthier than the general public. Tea Party supporters also tend to have conservative views on cultural issues such as supporting a ban on gay marriage. Fiscally, they are against raising taxes and desire smaller government. According to Arceneaux and Nicholson's observations, regardless of race, supporters are against unemployment insurance and student aid. There is some racial aspect affecting conservative Tea Party supporters' goals, but it does not play a major role. Non-conservatives, however, believe that nonwhite racial features are positive and their opposition to these policies are not triggered by racial resentment. Acreneaux and Nicholson offer a reason for the contradictory nature of the Tea Party movement is that public perception deals with famous politicians on television.

"The Tea Party Jacobins" by Mark Lilla The Wilson Quarterly (1976-) , Vol. 34, No. 3 (SUMMER 2010), pp. 69-70 Published by: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41000961

Mark Lilla, Columbia University humanities professor, declares that the Tea Party wants to nullify political power. He asserts that the movement is not for heightened government action; rather, it wants the government to stay out of their lives. They are characterized by a distrust towards institutions and self-confidence. He further claims that Americans are skeptics yet seek desperate solutions in times of hopelessness. Finally, Lilla suspects that the Tea Party will eventually burn out due to an unclear political schedule.
Williamson, Vanessa, and Theda Skocpol. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2012. 1-18. eBook. The Tea Party, according to Williamson and Skocpol, began as a local, grassroots movement shortly after the then newly appointed President Obama passed “ObamaCare”. The Tea Partiers demanded a reduction in taxes to decrease the national deficit in a controversial way: cut public spending in areas such as Social Security. Their way of implementing their ideals is directly through the electoral system by choosing to endorse certain candidates. The composition of the movement are white men and women with moderate to high economic means with flexible schedules and those who feel threatened by the Obama administration. The funding of the movement comes from national organization and a handful of billionaires who dislike government regulation and desire lower taxes – they are proponents of free-market capitalism. Christopher F. Karpowitz, J. Quin Monson, Kelly D. Patterson and Jeremy C. Pope (2011). Tea Time in America? The Impact of the Tea Party Movement on the 2010 Midterm Elections. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44, pp 303-309. doi:10.1017/S1049096511000138.
During the 2010 elections, according to Karpowitz, the Tea Party was splintered into a number of different umbrella organizations without any strong leadership. Some groups endorsed candidates while others did not. Those who garnered the most media attention were the ones who sponsored the most candidates. Only Freedom-Works endorsement led to an increase in votes for Republican candidates because of their generous donations. On the whole, however, Tea Party endorsement usually did not result in higher levels of Republican votes. The differences in the Tea Party and on the Republican party as a whole are evident with 26% of weak Republicans and 43% of strong Republicans being active supporters of the Tea Party movement. Karpowitz suggests that this unbalanced correlation is a tension within the movement and the Republican party.
Inviting the Cold Monster to a Tea Party by R. McGreggor Cawley, Administrative Theory & Praxis , Vol. 33, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 464-468, Published by: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41427139 Cawley suggests that the Tea Party movement are clear advocates of participatory politics as well as using dialogue as a means to making policy. They have a flux of pursuits in their agenda giving them a pluralist nature. The bailout during the economic recession was to provide money for financial corporations to aid in the economic well-being of American citizens. The author asserts that an activated middle class such as those individuals comprising the Tea Party Movement are capable of making significant social change. He also claims that some people in the movement call for a reduction or elimination in the bureaucratic structure of society.

"28 Fundamental Principles of the Founding Fathers." . Volusia Project, 05/20/2010. Web. 10 Nov 2013. <http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/2517643/post
A quote from Adam Smith that states that there should be limited government regulation and tax.

Whatley, Stuart, ed. "The Tea Party Movement Is a National Embarrassment." . HuffingtonPost.com, 09 Feb 2010. Web. 12 Nov 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stuart-whatley/the-tea-party-movement-is_b_455883.html>.
A specific statement from Whatley’s essay that attacks the Tea Party on their contradictory pursuit of lowering taxes.

Schlesinger, Robert, ed. "Is Obama Stimulus Plan Also the Biggest Tax Cut Ever?." . usnews.com, 12 Feb 2009. Web. 12 Nov 2013. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2009/02/12/is-obama-stimulus-plan-also-the-biggest-tax-cut-ever>.
Schlesinger’s statement that Obama’s stimulus package included one of the largest tax cuts compared to previous administrations.

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