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.
Party opposition to birthright citizenship, 42, 167; as Tea Party website content, 47 indefinite detainment (6th Amendment rights). See detainment, indefinite individualism: economic, 26, 251; self-interest and, 137 intolerance: authoritarianism and, 87–88, 244; as fundamental to Tea Party, 67, 71, 76, 91, 93, 95, 244; and mainstream vs. Tea Party conservatism, 46, 67, 347n3; and the protection of liberty, 15–16; and support for right-wing movements, 77, 254 Islam. See Muslims Jamieson,
sympathy. More to the point, we examine the extent to which the perceived threat associated with Obama, and what he’s perceived to represent, explains support for the Tea Party beyond obvious—though yet tested—factors such as politics and out-group hostility. In the end, our findings confirm that Tea Party supporters tend to be relatively financially secure, white, mostly male, and Protestant—many of whom are evangelicals. Our results also confirm that sympathy for the Tea Party is driven by
These elements, after all, reside at the core of the Tea Party’s philosophy: fiscal responsibility and small government. Of course, these are also core principles of the Republican Party, ones that crystallized around the New Deal. The influence of partisanship on political judgment is undeniable; it influences everything from the way people see foreign and domestic policy issues to the candidates for whom they choose to vote. Because partisanship is largely rooted in who we are—that is, our
inequality, it makes sense to us that Tea Party support is actually working through social dominance orientation to affect the views of its supporters on detainment. Why should these people (presumed terrorists), who are already presumed guilty, benefit from due process? From the perspective of a Tea Party supporter, these are the people from whom they wish to recover their country. Other explanations for the trade-off were as expected. For instance, preference for group dominance (SDO)
public officials to represent one’s interests. If this doesn’t happen, Americans who are dissatisfied with the performance of their representatives will “throw the rascals out.” Examples are legion in which Tea Party–backed candidates supplanted establishment incumbents. So far, the Tea Party movement and its supporters appear to have followed through on this promise. Throughout American history social movements have often been tied to political participation.2 Social movements exist not just to