Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America
Christopher S. Parker
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Are Tea Party supporters merely a group of conservative citizens concerned about government spending? Or are they racists who refuse to accept Barack Obama as their president because he's not white? Change They Can't Believe In offers an alternative argument--that the Tea Party is driven by the reemergence of a reactionary movement in American politics that is fueled by a fear that America has changed for the worse. Providing a range of original evidence and rich portraits of party sympathizers as well as activists, Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto show that what actually pushes Tea Party supporters is not simple ideology or racism, but fear that the country is being stolen from "real Americans"--a belief triggered by Obama's election. From civil liberties and policy issues, to participation in the political process, the perception that America is in danger directly informs how Tea Party supporters think and act.
The authors argue that this isn't the first time a segment of American society has perceived the American way of life as under siege. In fact, movements of this kind often appear when some individuals believe that "American" values are under threat by rapid social changes. Drawing connections between the Tea Party and right-wing reactionary movements of the past, including the Know Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and the John Birch Society, Parker and Barreto develop a framework that transcends the Tea Party to shed light on its current and future consequences.
Linking past and present reactionary movements, Change They Can't Believe In rigorously examines the motivations and political implications associated with today's Tea Party.
242; out-group hostility expressed by, 247; party affiliation of, 82–84, 232–33, 236–38; political influences, 220–26; political participation among, 226–38; racism among, 88–89; reactionary conservatism and, 247–48; as research category, 74–75; sociodemographics of, 34, 78–81, 98, 226–27, 320n70; support as more widespread than membership in Tea Party, 16–18, 44, 52, 74–77, 241–43 “taboo trade-offs,” 132 Tancredo, Tom, 157, 199–200 Tanenhaus, Sam, 42 taxes, 2–3, 39, 95, 140, 158, 160, 172,
find that the attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers toward President Obama and selected minorities are overwhelmingly negative, revealing a sense of social paranoia consistent with the way in which we have theorized reactionary conservatism. We want to be clear that Tea Party sympathizers don’t see all out-groups as bad. Nor do all non–Tea Party folks feel good about all out-groups. Yet we see a tendency for Tea Party supporters to harbor more negative feelings toward minorities, feelings that
observed so far in this chapter may simply be attributed to the fact that believers are more conservative than everyone else, or that they believe some groups should simply stay in their respective places. These are all reasonable alternative explanations for the relationship we have observed so far in the tables and charts discussed just a few pages earlier. Even so, we believe that support for the Tea Party captures the perceived existential threat to the mainly white, middle-aged,
pundits believe today, Templeton in 1966 blames the two major parties for having a stranglehold on national politics, which prevents viable alternative viewpoints from gaining salience, leaving frustrated Americans alienated. This view is hard to square with the facts on the ground. As we have already indicated above, too many Tea Party–backed candidates won in 2010 for this to be true. Pushed by the perceived threat posed by Obama’s presidency, and their frustration with the Republican Party
direction, voting for Democrats. Overall, 70 percent of Tea Party sympathizers said they voted Republican, compared to just 6 percent of Tea Party opponents who voted Republican. Those in the middle failed to embrace the Republican Party, with only 33 percent voting for a Republican candidate. While not surprising by the end of the 2010 election, this finding refutes some early accounts that the Tea Party had no real partisan leanings per se, and included large numbers of Democrats and