It`s pretty much settled Democratic Party theology that the Tea Party movement consists of little more than racist, angry white male knuckle draggers. Inconveniently, the stereotype is wrong.
For one thing, the Tea Party isn’t a boys’ club — either old or good old. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that a majority of both Tea Party members and Tea Party leaders are female.
According to a poll done by Quinnipiac University, 55 percent of self-identified Tea Partiers were women (albeit the poll’s margin of sampling error was relatively high). However, the finding is consistent with information gathered by major Tea Party groups. According to Kenneth Vogel at the Website Politico, Darla Dawald, national director of the Tea Party social network site ResistNet, estimates that 55 percent of ResistNet’s 74,000 members are female. Vogel also reports that 15 of 25 state coordinators for Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella coalition of local Tea Party groups, are female, as are five of its nine national coordinaseetors.
These findings should raise
a red flag for Democrats. It’s never good politics to insult and make
fun of girls (especially when fewer and fewer boys support you to begin
with). And insulting Tea Partiers has become a Democratic blood sport.
Karl Rove, writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, quoted a
Democratic National Committee e-mail that referred to Tea Partiers as
“narrow minded … nut jobs” and “two-bit wing-nuts.” Democrats regularly
refer to Tea Partiers as “teabaggers,” a term from gay slang that refers
to a form of oral sex.
Well, it’s a free country, and you can say almost anything you
want. Still, such rhetoric isn’t going to win any prizes for civil
discourse and isn’t going to attract the votes of the 40 percent of Tea
Partiers who identify as either Independents or Democrats. And that
could, to paraphrase Vice President Biden, be a big bleeping deal in
Blue Dog congressional districts this fall.
The larger problem for Democrats, however, is
they write off the Tea Party as primarily racist and paranoid, as New
York Times columnist Frank Rich recently did. That stereotype is also
To be sure,
there are undoubtedly racists and conspiracy theorists in the Tea Party
movement. But the fringe does not define the movement.
According to Fox News, on
April 15, the Tea Party movement intends to publish its own version of
the Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America, a document setting out
their values, beliefs and solutions for the country’s biggest problems.
The Tea Party’s version is called a “Contract from America,” since its
planks are being determined by an online vote.
The first three of them
were released last week, and they strike me as having a lot of
mainstream appeal. Interestingly, none of them spoke to health care.
Again, according to Fox:
“The top priority, chosen by 80.7 percent of respondents, is to
protect the Constitution. This would require each bill to identify the
specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to
do what the bill does.
“The second priority, selected by 70.8 percent, is to reject
President Obama’s climate change legislation, otherwise known as ‘cap
and trade.’ “The third priority is demand a balanced budget — chosen by
69.9 percent. This calls for starting a constitutional amendment process
to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any
ideas will obviously appeal a lot more to Republicans than Democrats,
which is hardly surprising considering that a majority of Tea Party
adherents are Republicans. But chances are they will resonate with a lot
of independents and Democrats as well.
Take the Tea Party’s second priority —
rejecting cap and trade legislation. National polling has shown that cap
and trade is as unpopular as health care legislation and for many of
the same reasons, including cost and intrusiveness. That one will surely
Tea Partiers’ third priority — support for a balanced budget amendment.
It’s a Republican idea that has been around for decades, but in a year
where most Americans think both Congress and the executive branch have
forgotten how to handle money, it could be an idea whose time has come.
As for the Tea
Partiers’ first priority — defending the Constitution by requiring bills
in Congress to state the specific provision of the Constitution that
gives Congress the power to do what the bill does — I’ve never heard
that one before, but I think it’s a great idea. Among other things, it
means senators and representatives would have to renew their oaths to
uphold the constitution every time they sponsored a bill — or even voted
oppose that? Judging by the first three planks, the Tea Party’s ideas,
though conservative, are well within the American political mainstream
and have a lot of popular appeal. Moreover, the process of arriving at
those ideas seems to have involved a good deal of consensus seeking,
which is more in keeping with the sort of tea parties girls hold than
the one Boston’s boys staged in 1773.
Democrats don’t get the Tea Partiers, and that could
be a bigger problem for them than they think. The quickest way to lose
an American election is to be dismissive of your opponent when the wind
is at her back.