Almost everyone, myself included, talks about the Tea Party as if it is some kind of separate entity from the Republican Party. From its Fox “News” sponsored launch onward people have been trying to define this amorphous seeming group. Michael Lind writing at Salon, has a very good look at this and maybe the final word on whom exactly the Tea Party members are.
Lind looked at where the Tea Party managed to elect their favorites to office and from that and the policy they pursue has determined that the genesis of the Tea Party is the Southern Neo-Confederate wing of the Republicans.
Take a look at this chart:
Looking at it you might say “Okay they are mostly from the South but what about the West and Midwest? Surely those aren’t Neo-Confederates?” I think I’ll let Mr. Lind answer that question:
The four states with the most Tea Party representatives in Congress are all former members of the Confederate States of America. The states with the greatest number of members of the House Tea Party caucus are Texas (12), Florida (7), Louisiana (5) and Georgia (5). While California is in fifth place with four House Tea Party members, the sixth, seventh and eighth places on the list are taken by two former Southern slave states, South Carolina and Tennessee, and a border state, Missouri, each with three members of the congressional Tea Party caucus.
If states with significant white Southern diasporas were included, the Southern proportion of the House Tea Party caucus would be even bigger. Many of the other states with Tea Party representatives are border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties. One is Maryland, a state with Confederate sympathies during the Civil War, which, because the Census Bureau defines it as “Northeastern,” is responsible for the only Northeastern member of the Tea Party caucus, Roscoe Bartlett. The four Californian representatives come from the Orange County area or inland
California, both regions whose political culture was shaped by Southern political culture, in the form of the “Okie” diaspora that settled there during the Depression.
In the entire House Tea Party Caucus, there is not a single representative from New England.
Lind goes on to connect the history of Southern politics going all the way back the founding of the Republic and the early attempts by Virginia and Kentucky to enshrine nullification as a right of the states, to the actions of today’s secessionist Right.
He points to this list of voting patterns put together by the League of the South (obviously a secessionist group), here are some highlights:
Another stark Southern – US split occurred when the Senate voted on President Clinton’s impeachment verdict. The whole Senate voted to acquit Clinton on both impeachment charges while Southern Senators voted two-thirds in favour of convicting Clinton of obstruction of justice (18 to 8). If the South had been in charge, President Bill “the Lecher” Clinton would have been the first president in U.S. history to have been removed from office by impeachment.
If the South had had its way, however, Clinton would not even have been elected in the first place. In both 1992 and 1996 the South voted for the Republican nominee for President, i.e., the candidate generally perceived to be more conservative (regardless of the reality).
On tax policy, the South almost always votes for lower taxes, and is sometimes overridden by the US congress. In 1998 the thirteen State South voted by the required two-thirds margin for a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote of both houses of congress to raise taxes. Southerners voted in favour of this constitutional amendment 90 to 41. In the full House the amendment failed by 238 to 186 opposed, far short of the constitutionally required two-thirds margin.
Also in 1998, Southern Representatives voted by the requisite two-thirds “super majority” to submit to the States the Religious Freedom Constitutional Amendment. It would have guaranteed an individual’s right to pray and recognize his religious beliefs on public property, including schools. The house of representatives as a whole rejected this amendment by a vote of 224 in favour to 203 opposed, falling miserably short of the necessary two-thirds margin.
In 1997 Senator Hutchinson of Arkansas offered an amendment to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts and transfer its fiscal 1998 funding directly to the States. The South voted for this State Rights proposal by the ample margin of 17 to 9, whereas the full Senate rejected this affirmation of the rights and duties of the States by the almost equally strong margin of 63 against to only 36 for.
When we look at this self-claimed Southern Agenda it is pretty clear that the goals of the Tea Part do line up pretty closely with the goals of Neo-Confederate secessionists. I am not really sure that the Tea Partiers want to secede as a group, but there is no doubt that they do share a lot of the same policy priorities.
While I appreciate Mr. Lind’s research and thought on this issue, I guess it comes down to, so? Knowing who the Tea Party is and what they stand for is of some importance but if we fail to look at who is funding them we miss a big part of the picture.
The hand of Koch Brother groups like Americans for Prosperity and other rich conservative groups like the Club for Growth have poured incredible amounts of money into the Tea Party. It is this money that has made them a voting block within the Republican Party, not the inherent attraction of their policy (which poll after poll after poll shows is not at all popular nationally).
While the members and voters of the Tea Party might be Neo-Confederates in their background, the real goal of the people paying the bills is not the rise of a new South, but rather the dismantling of the regulatory state, and a continued reduction in taxes on the self same funders.
It seems to me that the Koch Brothers and others have merely found a group with energy (and not very much brains) that they can harness to advance their agenda. By allying themselves with people who have hard-core, counter factual beliefs and a willful ignorance they have the perfect shock troops in Congress.
The recent debt ceiling deal is a great example of this. The Tea Party crazies pushed the agenda of the Republicans further to the Right than any institutional Republican would have ever dared to go. Their complete rejection of compromise, even within their own party, gave the Republicans a credible claim that they had to be appeased or they really would shoot the hostage.
With that in hand the agenda of the shadowy and ultra rich funders of the Conservative movement then had a clear path to be enacted. And it was.
So, are the Tea Partiers really Neo-Confederates? Surely some are. For the most part though I think they are dupes, being played by calls to return to an America that never existed and one which mostly has no concern for their well being or success. They are angry and that anger is being used to advance the cause the wealthy.
In that last bit, I don’t see how they are very different from Republican voters since about Goldwater.
The floor is yours.