The Tea Party: A Brief History
Ronald P. Formisano
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The Tea Party burst on the national political scene in 2009–2010, powered by right-wing grassroots passion and Astroturf big money. Its effect on electoral politics and the political process is undeniable, but the message, aims, and staying power of the loosely organized groups seem less clear. In this concise book, American political historian Ronald P. Formisano probes the remarkable rise of the Tea Party movement during a time of economic crisis and cultural change and examines its powerful impact on American politics.
A confederation of intersecting and overlapping organizations, with a strong connection to the Christian fundamentalist Right, the phenomenon could easily be called the Tea Parties. The American media’s fascination with the Tea Party―and the tendency of political leaders who have embraced the movement to say and do outlandish things―not only has fueled the fire driving the movement, but has diverted attention from its roots, agenda, and the enormous influence it holds over the Republican Party and the American political agenda. Looking at the Tea Party's claims to historical precedent and patriotic values, Formisano locates its anti-state and libertarian impulses deep in American political culture as well as in voter frustrations that have boiled over in recent decades. He sorts through the disparate goals the movement’s different factions espouse and shows that, ultimately, the contradictions of Tea Party libertarianism reflect those ingrained in the broad mass of the electorate.
Throughout American history, third parties, pressure groups, and social movements have emerged to demand reforms or radical change, only to eventually fade away, even if parts of their programs often are later adopted. The Tea Party’s impact as a pressure group has been more immediate. Whether the Tea Party endures remains to be seen. Formisano’s brief history certainly gives us clues.
the meeting about twenty protesters, some from Planned Parenthood, carried signs reading “Save Medicare: Tax the Rich.” Outside a Chicago hotel where Paul Ryan was giving a speech protesters carried signs reading “Hands Off My Medicare,” and some angry constituents also showed up at his town hall meeting in his strongly Republican district. In Arizona freshman Republican Ben Quayle, son of former vice president Dan Quayle, also confronted angry senior citizens, as did newly elected
various hospitals, could, under the federal COBRA law, pay a premium to extend his current health insurance for a month.4 Fox News, always ready to provide a forum for misunderstood Republicans, gave Harris air time to deny that he had pitched a “hissy fit” at the orientation. In contrast to Harris, one new Tea Party representative opted out of Congress’s health insurance and its pension plan. Elected in a Republican year in an Illinois district based in Chicago’s affluent northern suburbs, Joe
enterprise that leads all others in the state in acquiring federal subsidies. Between 1995 and 2008 Rakota received nearly $2.8 million in federal farm subsidies.9 But Noem is hardly the only antigovernment Republican congressperson to receive federal aid to agribusiness. Stephen Fincher won election in 2010 in a historically Democratic district in western Tennessee and joined the Tea Party caucus. Fincher is a managing partner of Fincher Farms, a family business that grows crops on 2,500 acres
of Chicago Press, 2011). 12. Suzanne Mettler, “Our Hidden Government Benefits,” New York Times, September 19, 2011. 13. The preceding sentences are paraphrases of a slightly different formulation from John C. Diggins, The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 340. 14. Mark Lilla. “The Tea Party Jacobins,” The New York Review of Books, May 27, 2010. 15. Michael J. Sandel, Democracy’s Discontents: America in
Westmoreland, Lynn, 42–44 Whiskey Rebellion, 16 Williams, Mark, 33 Wilson, Joe, 42, 43–44 Winthrop, John, 107 Wisconsin, 66–67, 94–95 Wise, Jim, 9 women, 25–26, 53, 56–57, 58, 61, 114 xenophobia, 55 Yocum, Doug, 22 Young, Alfred H., 123 youth: nonwhite population of, 113–14 among religious voters, 49, 56–57