The Tea Party is an accretion of various movements of the past decades, including the Christian right and, as Wilentz shows, the older anti-Communist Right. But it fits above all into the framework of American populism, which has always had right-wing and left-wing variants, and which is rooted in a middle class cri de coeur—that we who do the work and play by the rules are being exploited by parasitic bankers and speculators and/or by shiftless, idle white trash, negroes, illegal immigrants, fill in the blank here.There's an ugly mood in the political air these days. Times are hard and the public is looking for someone to blame. The tea partiers are blaming -- who? Mostly, they blame Democratic politicians, despite most of the perceived problems occurring on a Republican watch. Regardless, my sense is that the "tea party movement" is more about scapegoating than anything else. And whether it is scapegoating to further Republican or Libertarian aims, this movement is certainly taking advantage of a weak economy to further such right wing partisan goals.
What worries me is that, the last time a national public was looking for someone to blame for bad economic times, we ended up with the Germans electing Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. And the internal group that got blamed for the disastrous German economy was, well, you know. While it hasn't happened yet, the ever-cyclical nature of anti-semitism suggests that, sooner or later, someone's going to try to lay it all on the Jews. Or the Muslims, or the Catholics, or the Blacks. And so forth.
The irony is that, despite the apparent middle class domination of the "tea party movement," that same middle class is unlikely to be the beneficiary of the the "movement's" success: "What’s undeniable, though, is that those most likely to benefit from right-wing middle class insurgencies are not the embattled middle classes, but the business interests and the wealthy associated with the Republican Party. That was certainly true of the 'Reagan Revolution,' which put an end to the movement toward income equality that had begun in the 1930s. So who benefits from these movements is not the same as who controls them on a day-to-day basis."
There's an ugly mood in the air.