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Vol. 74/No. 33      August 30, 2010

Economic crisis fuels
Tea Party campaigns
Victories by Tea Party-backed candidates in recent midterm primaries are exposing some fracture lines within the Republican Party in several states.

In Colorado, Tea Party candidate Dan Maes narrowly won the August 10 primary for the Republican nomination for governor against Congressman Scott McInnis, who was preferred by the Republican Party establishment. His Democratic rival in the November election will be Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.

Maes, a businessman, said he “grew up on the wrong side of the tracks” and was campaigning against the Republican Party “kingmakers.”

“Instead of being fueled by special interests and big money, Dan Maes’s campaign is fueled by traditional American values,” campaign supporter Paige Rodriguez told the press.

Tea Party supporters have challenged Republican establishment candidates in Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, and Utah. Like other populist groupings before it, those who identify with the Tea Party are heterogeneous and hold competing points of view.  
Resentment and insecurity
Although the Tea Party burst on the scene with a number of highly publicized demonstrations, its supporters are now focused on making their voice heard through elections, not through mobilizations in the streets, arguing that they are the ones who can best defeat the Democratic incumbents, who they view as especially corrupt and unpopular. The development of the Tea Party is a reflection of growing resentment and insecurity due to the grinding economic crisis and distrust toward both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Based especially on middle-class layers, including professionals, lawyers, and small business owners, it also has won support from some working people.

In an article titled “The Two Faces of the Tea Party” in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, Matthew Continetti writes, “The Tea Party is unified by the pervasive sense that the country is wildly off course. It believes the establishment has bent and twisted the rules for its own benefit.” By the establishment, they mostly mean the Democrats and the Barack Obama administration, who some Tea Party backers label as socialists.

The Tea Party is “opposed to bailouts, which favor the wealthy and connected. It’s opposed to out-of-control spending at every level of government,” Continetti notes.

While often using vague, demagogic appeals to “take back the Congress,” to stop “Obama-care” or “turn things around,” candidates who identify with the Tea Party offer no coherent program or solutions to the crisis. They are united more by what they are against, not what they are for.

But because the working class in the United States does not have its own organization or leadership on a mass scale, the Tea Party populists gain a broader hearing.

The Tea Party is made up of scores of competing national and local groups. The National Tea Party Federation, which claims it is comprised of 85 organizations, emphasizes that it’s for “fiscal responsibility,” “constitutionally limited government,” and “free markets.”

The federation expelled the Tea Party Express and its leader Mark Williams from its ranks after Williams wrote a racist parody attacking the NAACP.  
Black Tea Party candidates
Unlike previous populist campaigns, like Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential run, the Tea Party has a significant number of Black spokespeople and candidates.

Angela McGlowan, a Fox commentator who is Black, addressed the convention of one faction of the Tea Party in Nashville, Tennessee, in February. The Tea Party is about fighting against “greed and the loss of jobs in America and that Washington, D.C., has lied to us,” she told the cheering crowd. The solution she put forward was “voting people out of Congress and out of the White House.”

Arizona Tea Party groups have spearheaded actions aimed at scapegoating undocumented workers for unemployment and crime, but other Tea Party groups and candidates have put immigration, abortion, and other social issues on the back burner.

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Maes puts “stricter enforcement of existing legislation” on “illegal immigration” as point number 10 on his campaign platform, well below his call for tax incentives to small businesses and streamlining government.

When notorious immigrant-basher Tom Tancredo, ex-congressman from Colorado, spoke at the Nashville Tea Party convention, he got a mixed response. Some applauded his remarks. But Jonathan Raban, who reported on the convention in the New York Review of Books, noted, “I saw as many glum and unresponsive faces in the crowd as people standing up to cheer.”  
Conspiracy theories
The Tea Party is also permeated by conspiracy theorists, who see no other explanation for the deepening economic and social crisis than a plot by powerful forces that have “perverted” the system.

Conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck personifies this trend in the Tea Party. He says, “We can’t trust anyone.” In his book Common Sense, Beck writes, “Our political leaders have become nothing more than parasites who feed off our sweat and blood.”

Even as the Republican Party and Tea Party leaders hope to make advances in the November midterm election, President Obama has gone on the offensive to defend his record and back Democratic Party candidates.

Far from seeing Obama as the kiss of death, many Democrats in tight races are welcoming his assistance.

Not quite halfway through his first term as president, Obama still has the initiative in national politics, having won passage of his health-care and banking reform plans along with a new extension of unemployment benefits. He began a three-day campaign swing through five states on August 17, proclaiming that his policies has put the United States on the road to economic recovery.

The president derided the Republican candidates as the “no, we can’t crowd” that has tried unsuccessfully to block his agenda.  
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