This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America by Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto. Like most of us, the authors are both fascinated and confused by the Tea Party — what makes them tick and why they vehemently oppose any and all ideas from the left. Parker and Barreto, however, aren’t satisfied with the idea that Tea Partiers are simply racist or intolerant. Instead, they want to paint a different picture of the crazy ultra-right wing, defining them as a faction genuinely worried about the future of the U.S. that seems to be moving away from their concept of a traditional America. The chapter below details the Tea Party’s reaction to the election of President Obama and how it sparked their fervent anti-left agenda.
Do you agree with Parker and Barreto? Does the Tea Party’s agenda come from a desire for traditional and inclusionary America? Or are Tea Party groups exactly what they seem — an intolerant group of voters that are rapidly losing approval and supporters? Let us know in the comments.
You can purchase the book here.
The Tea Party and Obamaphobia: Is the Hostility Real or Imagined?
Chapter four demonstrated that Tea Party sympathizers harbor strong, negative views toward minority groups of all types. Believers, as we have come to identify them, seem reluctant to acknowledge claims to equality made by other groups that deviate in some way from the perceived American norm represented by the Tea Party, or what we have referred to as out-groups. Moreover, it’s worth noting that believers’ rejection of these groups isn’t completely tied to politics, ideology, desire for conformity, or even their preference for antiegalitarian practices. Instead, we argue, and the evidence suggests, that the rejection of these minorities rests on a foundation of fear and anxiety: Tea Party supporters believe their country is rapidly escaping their grasp. We now apply this framework to President Obama, who we believe is the Tea Party’s chief antagonist and target.
It is now passé to restate that the 2008 election was historic. The election of Barack Obama as the first black president was indeed historic, and with it marked an important change in American political history. In chapter 2, we demonstrated that support for the Tea Party is at least in part a reaction to the presidency of Barack Obama. It’s no surprise that those on the right frequently lament presidents who are Democrats. Nonetheless, it’s hard to find another time during which a social and political movement of comparable size formed so quickly and held such deep-seated anger toward the person holding the highest office in the land. Barack Obama was in office no more than three months into his term before well-attended “Tax Day” Tea Party events were staged in more than 750 cities across the country to protest the stimulus, among other things.
We think it likely that the election of Barack Obama, and the change it symbolized, represented a clear threat to the social, economic, and political hegemony to which supporters of the Tea Party had become accustomed. More to the point, as our evidence indicates, Obama’s ascendance to the White House, and his subsequent presidency, triggered anxiety, fear, and anger among those who support the Tea Party because of what he represented: tangible evidence that “their” America is rapidly becoming unrecognizable. This is what we call Obamaphobia.
Even as Tea Party supporters railed against government spending, and an expanding federal government, it seemed their underlying frustration was with Barack Obama himself, who they called Kenyan, Muslim, and un-American, among other things. Any president is sure to face challenging criticism over policy disputes. However, response to Obama and his policies appears to transcend simple policy disagreement, with many Tea Party supporters openly questioning the president’s patriotism, and his American citizenship on several occasions. Such emotional responses, we believe, are ultimately driven by the belief, held by many Tea Party supporters, that Barack Obama is out to destroy the country, the reactionary impulse we originally observed in chapter 1.