Social Class and the Tea Party Show Biz

Published online 22 April 2010.

You all, I hope, have read Paul Street’s and Anthony DiMaggio’s piece on MRZine, “What ‘Populist Uprising’?”, about the actual identities of the participants in “Tea Party” movement.  This actually reveals something interesting about Street himself — that someone who actually wants to “resist empire” is willing to admit that the only resistance to make it to the TV screen is, in fact, a charade.

(crossposted at Docudharma)

Nothing is, in fact, going on.  Do check out Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio’s piece on MRZine, “What “Populist Uprising?”  Facts and Reflections on Race, Class, and the Tea Party “Movement,” Part 1.”  Now, of course, Street and DiMaggio expose what we already know, that the so-called “Tea Party” movement is comprised of a bunch of ignorant fools.  The question they resolve, however, is a more interesting one: are they anyone we’d want to approach?  The answer is “no.”  Here is what the authors say:

Are these “Tea Party” people really motivated primarily by economic issues and problems and just slightly by concerns and sentiments of race, gender, and religion?  Are their grievances really all that legitimate and potentially progressive?  Last but not least, are they really coalesced into anything that deserves to be considered a “movement,” much less a “populist uprising” (of any sort)?

Based on recently released national data generated by CBS and the New York Times and our own regionally specific (Midwestern) research and observation of the “Tea Party” people, our answers to each of these questions is a resounding NO.

In other words, despite the authors’ disclaimer that the Left needs to build a movement of some sort here, these are the people whom we’d LEAST want to recruit to a movement.  The authors continue:

According to a recent (April 5-April 12, 2010) CBS and New York Times poll of 1,580 persons among the 18 percent of Americans who call themselves Tea Party supporters, they are “wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class.”  The survey finds that 75 percent of them have college educations; 76 percent enjoy household incomes above $50,000 (including a fifth of them making more than $100,000); 78 percent describe their financial situations as “good” or “fairly good;” 65 percent of them identify as either middle or middle upper class; 59 percent are men; 75 percent are 45 or older; and 89 percent are white.

The authors go on to detail the fundamentally class-biased politics of this group of upper-middle-class (almost entirely) white (mostly) men:

One of their great gripes with Obama, for whom their disapproval is massive (88 percent for Tea Party supporters compared to 40 percent for the populace as a whole) is that his policies “favor the poor.”

And God knows we can’t have policies favoring the poor.  This piece, then, and the polls upon which it is largely based, ought to put paid to all of the speculation about “talking to the teabaggers.”  But, before any of you voice an objection to the “ignore the rich” line of reasoning I’m suggesting here, let’s take a look at the authors’ disclaimer:

While we agree that the Left should seek to make inroads with those privileged Americans who have been seduced by the culture of greed and buy into Republican-Tea Party propaganda, our first task remains mobilizing the poor and disadvantaged who already support progressive policies but have largely been ignored in and marginalized by the political process.

I agree, of course, but is anyone focusing upon that process today?  Are we really organizing the poor and dispossessed?  As the authors pointed out, Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the general election represented a fundamental demobilization of the working class.  Do we all seek to make inroads among rich folks at this point?

Oh, sure, Street and DiMaggio point out that this particular group of rich folks are like white racists in the Jim Crow South.  But the authors of this piece should also bring the readers’ attention to the main class-based reason WHY we shouldn’t pay attention to “Tea Party” nonsense: the folks who belong to this so-called “movement” seem to know their class interest a lot better than do the “progressives.”  The attitudes of the poor, on the other hand, are illustrated in Paul Street’s discourse by an anecdote he tells in a previous column:

Here is an interesting message I received from a teacher of black students in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) in February of 2009:

“Today, I asked a class for which I was subbing (high-school English students, about a dozen, all-black, at one of CPS’s actually nice high-school facilities) what they thought of Obama.  Their initial reaction was one of, for lack of a better way to say it, pride and joy.”

“But upon closer inspection, this turned out to be a rather shallow sentiment. For when I asked them if they expected any real changes under Obama, they all said no.”

Sure, this is just an anecdote.  But remember that this was at the beginning of the Obama administration.  How do you think these teenagers would have reacted if they’d actually had a sense of their own class interests?  Expectations would have been nice.

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