Monday, November 7, 2011

History for Amnesiacs: The Origins of the Tea Party

I started with the question of how Obama's bipartisanship died, but that led very quickly to questions of how the Tea Party started. Were these people who grew tired of Obama's partisanship and organized marches and shout-downs at town halls?

I was surprised at what I found out. The main Tea Party organizers were already in communication with each other in February 2009. Separately, FreedomWorks was organizing grassroots groups against "the Obama agenda" during January 2009 in Virginia and Florida. A woman who attended the FreedomWorks seminar in Tampa organized a protest against Obama's stimulus proposal on February 10 and received national coverage on (wait for it)... Fox News. In Seattle, a local conservative blogger planned an anti-stimulus rally on February 16, and got national attention from Michelle Malkin.

When Rick Santelli yelled on CNBC about subsidizing your neighbor's mortgage when he has a extra bathroom that you don't have, and said he would hold a Chicago tea party in July, the conservatives were ready the next day (Feb. 20) to follow up on his words. Through a large, organized conference call (about 50 activists), they picked a date for multi-city demonstrations one week later on February 27, 2009. They already had their local networks, and turned out an estimated 10,000 protesters that day. Though the protests didn't garner much media attention, the conservative groups remained active and planned even larger protests for April 15, 2009. They also attracted more established conservatives, such as Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich, and, of course, Fox News. That is part of the story of how the Tea Party was born.

So, for my original question: Did the original Tea Party organizers start because they grew tired of Obama's partisanship? No. They were primed to protest even before Obama took office. They didn't even give him a month before they planned actions.

But another question is whether Obama and Congress ever tried to reach out to the GOP and act in a bipartisan way. Did they have a chance but blew it? Or were the compromises never going to be enough? That's a big question. (Answered, more or less, here.)

Nashville TN Tea Party, February 27, 2009
"I wish they would have something like this within driving distance for me here in PA. Generally the Harrisburg (capital) radio station's talk radio guys do a good job of rallying up the troops. Keep shining the spotlight of the truth on these guys. Good job." -- Dave
Extras:  Tea Party timeline, pre-Tea Party conservative response to Obama.


Anonymous said...

Or were the compromises never going to be enough, and these conservative networks were poised to attack from the very beginning? That's a big question.

You collect all this evidence, MP, then you need to ask, rhetorically, this obvious question? Obama had 54% of the vote, which means that McCain had 46%. SO it isn't like the minority was just going to accept the outcome of the election. There's a core of people who would re-litigate the issue and seek to vilify the polician who defeated them. And it's a liberal elite black man, no less!!

So right from the start, you use whatever leverage you have to keep the new president from any form of success. (Rush Limbaugh) You block any election result from taking effect (Al Frankeng - MN) as long as possible. You get your minions to complain loudly about anything Obama and the Democrats want to do, distracting media attention from huge problems the prior administration and GOP-controlled Congress created. Besides, if you want to defeat Obama and the Democrat, you have to shift the blame for the bad economy away from your own error in supporting Bush (still 45% of the public). You set up silly but rallying points for loonies (e.g., Kenyan birth, he's not really an American, he's really a Muslim, he's really a Socialist) to deligitmize him as a person and provide a supposed motive for your argument that he's out to detroy the country.

So the obvious answer to the obvious rhetorial question is: OF COURSE!!

And Obama let it happen by not taking control of the message. That an almost unforgivable politcal mistake on his part, and why he doesn't get a positive approval from me. He squandered the momentum and pursuing good policies that were a mandate from the majority of Americans, all to try to "change the tone" and be nice to adversaries who set out from the start to destroy his presidency even at the expense (and an absolute requirement) of improving the economy. He's the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century. You can only "change the tone" after you make your political adversaries behave.

As soon as Rush Limbaugh said on the air that he wanted Obama to fail, the message should be the "want America to fail". As soon as they start saying NO to everything, the message is "I'll always listen to their ideas, but they created this mess so I don't think their judgment is particularly good or trustworthy. Besides, the American people have been given me a mandate, and part of the mandate is to ignore them and trust my own judgment."

In other words, challenge their motives and their judgment. If you don't they will challenge your motives and your judgment.

Nick said...

Basically agree with Anonymous. The Tea Party have to be taken seriously politically (unfortunately) but not intellectually or morally. At least not in their own terms (they may have real grievances but I don't think they know what those grievances are).

But more importantly: James Fallow's update on what the Tea Party is doing now.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anon and Nick,
As regular readers, you know that I like to research, not just to confirm my opinions, to uncover anew what has happened.

So when I ask the question about whether Republicans gave Obama's bipartisanship a chance, I'm not going to assume one way or the other. I'll gather evidence from a lot of sources, and see what the evidence shows. Quick dismissal the "other side's" viewpoint is too pervasive, and I don't need to add to that. Do yo really think my methods are wrong?

Nick said...

Short answer: yes, a quick dismissal is fine. The Republican Party has lost its sanity. There is no need to end with a rhetorical question, especially since it gives the appearance of legitimacy to a side that is clearly in the wrong.

Long answer: Of course research is fine, and should be done. I too wish more people read the views of the opposition in context and charitably. Unfortunately, apart from lone outposts of sanity, Republican views are rather vile. For instance, I occasionally read, and used to respect, John Derbyshire. But then he wrote a column that doubted that sexual harassment exists. I haven't read all his columns since then, but he does not seem to have changed his view. I might want to learn how widespread this belief, why he believes it (which I suspect are different from the reasons he gives to support it) but I don't think I should take it very seriously. In fact, taking it too seriously would reveal something deficient about myself, namely that I thought it wasn't too unreasonable to touch women, address lewd comments to them, etc.

In ordinary times I would say it is important to see how people you disagree with think and engage them in their own terms and recognize that their concerns are legitimate and should be addressed. I'm not sure that is the case at the moment (though I cautiously suspect that the high tide of Republican craziness has been reached, and with recent electoral defeats and the presumptive nomination of Romney, things will become more reasonable).

ModeratePoli said...


Thanks for the link to the insufferable Derbyshire column. A couple suggestions: I'm a 60% fan of Andrew Sullivan, but he's more moderate than conservative. Have you tried reading Frum?

I don't belief in giving in to crazy, but I do belief in listening long enough and often enough to determine if it is crazy. If you've liked any of my insights, they come from disciplined listening and restrained judgment, and the experience of realizing how wrong some of my hasty judgments have been.

ModeratePoli said...

Aack! **believe**.