Commentary: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party

By James Di Palma-Grisi, Tory

Since the Tea Party’s inception, it has been unclear whether the movement is a genuine mass protest or a staged machination by the traditional political establishment. While only 5% voted for Obama in 2008, and while their funding sources are traditional Republican strongholds (like Americans for Prosperity), 20% of the Tea Party views business negatively – indicating in itself at least a relative split between the anti-government and the anti-elite segments.

Along that fault line, we can see an ideological rift between the Sarah Palin crowd, which – regardless of how you feel about its politics – ostensibly seeks to protect working-class Americans and their interests, and the Glenn Beck crowd, which only cares about an opaque ethical system it insists is correct.

If the birth of the movement is any indication, we should view the entire procession with skepticism. On February 19, 2009, in an otherwise routine CNBC newscast, Rick Santelli and several well-placed correspondents decided to stage an “uprising” against what they saw as an unfair government bailout of mortgage-holders. The consequences of the bailout are irrelevant to Santelli and his crew – the very notion of helping people who bit off more than they could chew is abhorrent and a terminal point.

Rush Limbaugh, at a CPAC convention speech two weeks before Santelli’s rant, said conservative principals were “a matter of philosophy” and that even if the Democratic proposals benefited the economy, they wouldn’t be worth enacting.

Glenn Beck takes a similar view – on his 9.12 website he lists such conservative staples as: “I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.” That this website is devoted to maintaining a day-after-9/11 mentality of togetherness is irrelevant – Beck clearly does not care about the working-class that Palin ostensibly fights for; in a sense, he cares about them abstractly but is unwilling to fund programs like Social Security (which, like Medicare and Medicaid, 62% of Tea Party members find worth paying for) which would actually benefit them – this, or he maintains a doublethink mentality in which the people he supports are misled by government propaganda and actually don’t support those programs – not really, anyway.

Beck’s other beliefs aside, 59% of the Tea Party maintain a positive view of him. Ironically, 59% of those same respondents support government regulation of insurance companies via mandating coverage of “pre-existing conditions”. In Beck and Limbaugh’s universe, the philosophy behind such a notion would cancel out whatever material benefit the larger U.S. population would enjoy. More sympathetic to Beck and Limbaugh, however, 80% oppose raising taxes on the highest incomes to subsidize health insurance for the poor, and 85% oppose an insurance mandate even when the government pays for the poor.

Yet, 16% of the responding Tea Party members believed that Obama favors the rich, compared with 17% of the U.S. population at large. The average respondent in the U.S. is less conservative than the average Tea Party respondent, so there must be some shift somewhere within the Tea Party to account for these groups’ existence.

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