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Weekend Reader: Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party And Reactionary Politics In America

Weekend Reader

Weekend Reader: Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party And Reactionary Politics In America


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.

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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.


  1. Bowlerboy September 21, 2013

    Based on the sample chapter, it seems like the authors are overly engaged in what my high school English teacher called “a fierce pursuit of the obvious.” No matter how deep the authors want to explore the twisted psyches of Tea Party supporters, the simple fact of the matter is this: these cretins are nothing but a bunch of intolerant racists who are appalled at the thought that the insular, exclusive, Country Club America they delude themselves into believing ought to be the norm is not the wonderful, multiple-faceted, melting pot reality it was designed to become from its very inception.

    Lacking any intelligent understanding or appreciation of the history of the United States of America, these sick, demented souls invent a fictional America that they alone feel entitled to reside in, denying access to all others who don’t match up to their delusional fantasies. If they weren’t such cowards, they’d all take a long look in a mirror to realize that the kind of government which will never suit the original intention of the nation’s Founders is precisely the autocratic or oligarchical system these deeply prejudiced barbarians want to establish.

    Let’s just ship them off to a remote island in the South Pacific where they can fight for coconuts amidst as they establish their New Anarchy.

    1. 788eddie September 21, 2013

      Thank you for your exceptionally well expressed commentary, Bowlerboy.

    2. yeehaw September 21, 2013

      @Bowlerboy…Great Insight into the deep seated Paranoid, Delusional Mind of the Fringe Right! There’s absolutely positively no way you can please these people. When you agree with them they change their minds. When you disagree with them, you’re the Devil. I’ve learned to just ignore them, because you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!!!!

    3. Gatortrapper December 6, 2013

      Nice attempt to demonize the Tea Party. The fact is that none of the “facts” that you assert actually has any basis in reality and therefore reflects the delusional world in which you live. If what you write is true then you wouldn’t need to include the ad hominem attacks on the group and could rest solely upon the established facts. But the absence of those make the character assassination necessary because otherwise you would have nothing.

      Wake up and take a real look at who attends the Tea Party and who our members are. And if you haven’t been to at least 2 or 3 meetings of the Tea Party you can’t even begin to claim that you have any real personal knowledge and that everything you wrote is thus pure fiction based on someone’s else’s opinion. And that’s pretty sad: that you don’t have enough faith in your own ability so you take the views of another as your own. Good luck with that.

      1. Bowlerboy December 6, 2013

        I have about as much interest in attending a Mad Hatter Tea Party as I do listening to a diatribe by a bombastic demagogue like Rush Limbaugh, to whom I did force myself to listen several years ago until I vomited upon discovering that people of a certain persuasion actually believe that blowhard has anything meaningful to say.

        I don’t always have to drink the kool aid to know if it is spiked. Unlike you, apparently, all I need do is observe the behavior of those who do and draw my own conclusions from there.

        1. Gatortrapper December 6, 2013

          Right…. in other words you formed your opinion based on other people’s opinions and not on facts. You admit that you haven’t been to any meetings so you don’t have any personal knowledge beyond interaction with isolated individuals who may or may not be members of the Tea Party. From what I’ve read many of people who belonged to the NAZI party joined because of social pressure and need to be associated with the “winners” in order to advance their own self interest. The same might be said for any number of different groups. Yet taking a small sample from any population yields invalid analysis and that’s why statistically valid surveys have requirements that are designed to insure their validity. But you’re comfortable taking data gleaned by others, or some small personal sample perhaps and then promptly and unashamedly extrapolate that and say it represents a larger group, even as that group denies and extends the offer for you to assess for yourself.

          But you won’t because you are afraid of being “infected” I guess, given your reference to drinking the kool aid. Based on that standard of evaluation how is it possible then for you to demand with a straight face that members of the Tea Party accept some demand by Progressives about one or more policies. Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of such a demand when you reject it out of hand for yourself, the truth is that we actually read the policies that you want us to consider and then apply tried and true tests of logic and common sense to them so that flaws or problems are revealed. When we do we get attacked for not being sufficiently open minded or receptive? You who don’t even bother to get personal knowledge have the chutzpah to criticize us when we actually read the laws being proposed (which apparently you don’t or can’t do…. which begs several questions…).

          I’m embarrassed for you even it you are able to hid the shame.

          1. Bowlerboy December 6, 2013

            My dear Gatortrapper, you misperceive me as some kind of a reptile you think you can capture with your mildly offensive rants, which I recognize merely as the projections of a frustrated and angry person who is upset over the way our country is going because that direction doesn’t match up with his vision. I’m not happy about it either, but where we differ is how we analyze the problems and what set of policies ought to be implemented in order to fix the mess we are all in.

            You also misperceive that I don’t do my own homework, don’t read my own books, don’t subscribe to my own email publications, don’t watch my own TV shows, don’t listen to my own radio broadcasts, don’t feed my own head, and don’t vote for the candidate of my own choice. How rude you are! And how stupid! You couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been an iconoclast since my teenage years and no one I know ever wore a “Question Authority” button as often and as boldly I did.

            So, really, get a grip on your wild projections before they totally do you in, for you know not of which you speak. Just because I learned very early in my life how to read between the lines and how to decode the innuendos of all the garbage rhetoric hurled out of the mouths of idiotic politicians and their supporters who are glued to the extreme right of the bench doesn’t make me deficient in any way. Why would anyone with a rational, discerning mind be foolish enough to stuff his head with a diet of nonsensical crap which is only guaranteed to make him sick? The fact is, no one in their right mind would do such a thing, and, rather than be ashamed of my critical reading, watching, listening, and thinking skills, I’m rather proud that those skills make me wise enough not to want to get “infected” by the propaganda spewing out of Fox news and all the pundits who try to spin things to suit their predictably preconceived, horribly wrong, and incredibly destructive point of view.

            However, if, for whatever reason, you and your intellectually challenged, emotionally deprived, spiritually undernourished splinter party need to gorge yourself on such a diet before you are retired to the dustbin of history as the crackpot lunatics you have all revealed yourselves to be, then go for it. Have a feast! I have no desire to stop you. Just stop trying to stuff your garbage food down my throat and the throats of all of us who wretch at the thought of sitting at the same table with you. It’s bad enough that you’ve taken away our food stamps, marginalized us to low paying jobs that are little more than the 20th century version of slavery, kiss up to the rich and powerful in a vain attempt to monopolize the power structure, emulate the greed and status of people who couldn’t give a damn about anything or anyone but money and control, and fail to understand that a marketplace economy based upon capitalism which has finally gone amok is not the answer to our problems, but the cause of many of them. Given that set of parameters, for you to expect us to eat the crap you dole out as solutions to the problems your associates and their policies are committed to aiding and abetting, well, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?

            Look, it’s obvious that we don’t see eye to eye, nor will we ever. It’s also obvious that nothing ever gets settled in these comment sections of the National Memo. So, unless you’re on the payroll of the Koch Brothers or one of their misadventure foundations and get paid by pissing people off as an irritating, but ultimately dismissible troll, do us all a favor by growing up and stop pestering people like me. Unless you get some kind of sadistic joy in baiting other people with your taunts, do also try to avoid infuriating people like me with your insufferable provocative projections. I am sorry that you are afflicted with tendencies that make you the way you are, but I hope you can survive this descent into lunacy before it completely does you–and our country–in.

            Besides, it’s Christmas time. Be of good cheer. Go hug a tree, or a gator, or whatever else warms you up at night. You’ll get no warmth here, despite all logs you hurl to fan the flames of discord.

          2. Gatortrapper December 8, 2013

            ROFL…. talk about rants. Given the 4 for 1 response my comment generated it is clear that I struck a chord in your cherished “iconoclast” persona. Indeed your entire post is a validation of the observations I made. But particularly acute must have been the closing in which I’m wagering that I really hit you with the view that you form opinions on books you haven’t read and movies you haven’t seen. You strike me as being that type and apparently I am correct.

            Thanks for the holiday present in the form of your response. It was a gift just as when any opponent blunders and is sweeter still because of the raving nature of it. Happy New Year.

          3. Bowlerboy December 8, 2013

            All you have achieved is demonstrate what I said at the very beginning regarding why I have absolutely no interest in attending a Tea Party meeting merely to get acquainted with more people like you.

            I had characterized your psychological type correctly from the beginning, and your inability or refusal to accurately read what I wrote since then only confirms the predilection to distort facts as well as opposing opinions to suit your preconceived viewpoints. You are a very poor salesman for your cause. No one ever sold a lot of Chevrolets by browbeating customers into feeling stupid or closed minded for driving Fords.

            Yeehaw’s observation about people like you and the destructive political party to which you are addicted by prejudice, or lack of education, or the color of your skin, or any number of irrational factors, is correct. It is pointless to engage you in any dialogue, for it is like taking a long walk on a Möbius Strip: it goes round and round but it never arrives at a destination.

          4. Gatortrapper December 8, 2013

            You launch into an ad hominem attack on me and then use my response that refutes your points as a basis for another attack. It’s the dialogue with the deaf to try and interact with people like you. The difference, however, is that we actually go out and get the personal knowledge and experience before forming opinions. You just let the gas from your intestines make sounds as you pass it out.

            And you again prove my point about how it is you that lacks clarity and conciseness. Go back to mother Russia and take your socialism with you.

  2. charleo1 September 21, 2013

    I remember my first personal encounter with what would come to be called the
    T-Party. The history making inauguration of Barack Obama had just taken place
    no more than a week and a half earlier. The economy, and seemingly everything
    else, was terrible. The Country was engaged in two enormously expensive wars.
    Neither going well. Auto giants GM, and Chrysler, were on the brink of bankruptcy.
    The stock market had lost every penny gained over the previous ten years. As had
    the retirement portfolios that were attached to it. Those approaching retirement
    were resolving themselves to working at least another decade. Even as pink slips
    continued to fall faster than the snow flakes in a blizzard we had that winter, they
    were calling, “Sno-mageddon.” I ran into, quite by accident a casual acquaintance
    I had known for more than twenty years. I’ll call him John. Hailing from Texas, and
    very proud of it, as most transplanted Texans are, for reasons I don’t see. John
    is White, retired, in great shape for his age, and a good guy. John had never been
    particularly political. Or very outspoken about being so, if he was. So I was a bit
    surprised when the first thing he ask me, was what I thought about Obama. I said
    I thought he, (Obama,) had more challenges that any President since FDR, and I
    supported him. And hoped the Country would pull together to get us out of the
    God awful hole we found ourselves in. John’s reply was, “Well, what’s he done?”
    He went on. “It looks like to me he isn’t doing anything, but spending like a drunken sailor! Bailing out his buddies on Wall Street, that financed his campaign!” And I
    thought, Wow! Where is he getting all this? I thought, in just ten days, you expect
    a 180? In less than two weeks Fox was promoting the new, absolutely fed up, and
    “taxed to death,” T-Party. That was not about to put up with one more penny of
    the, “Bloated Federal Government’s spending the Country into oblivion!”

  3. itsfun September 21, 2013

    Another question about Obama is his college transcripts. He won’t release them. Is that because he may have gone to college on a scholarship for foreign students only? This would answer a lot of questions.

    1. F Michael Addams September 21, 2013

      silly troll..get back under the bridge..

    2. Al Hubbard September 21, 2013

      This issue is simply garbage. Name another president who released his college records. While you’re searching see if you can find Romney’s tax records.

    3. LotusJoan September 21, 2013

      No it is not “another question” it is a totally fabricated controversy. Why would the President release them? Did it satisfy you when he released his birth
      certificate? Has anthing thing this President ever done satisfied you and Darryl Issa?

    4. DennisRL September 21, 2013

      and as if on queue, we have one of the t-party dufusus show up and vomit his garbage all over the blog. You have to remember that these people aren’t very bright and no matter how much proof or logic you provide, they have to scurry back to fox to find out what they ‘think’.

    5. omgamike September 21, 2013

      Not only a troller, but I would bet also a paid blogger, paid to make derogatory comments about our President. Take your money and go somewhere else to play.

    6. jmprint September 21, 2013

      He can run the country on common sense, so you don’t have to worry about any records.

    7. midway54 September 22, 2013

      This is a common question among the community of lunatics who also are ranting about the legitimacy of the birth record.

  4. howa4x September 21, 2013

    The tea party was formed originally out of resentment toward the Wall st bailout which fostered so much anger. Dick Armey the disgraced Texas rep who was scandalized during the Abramoff scandals and forced to resign his house seat was working for a law firm dedicated to right wing causes. He seized on the anger and discontent on the right and re directed it toward Health care reform which is the first time anyone ever heard of the Tea Party. A cabal was formed on the right between Armey and FOX news to blunt Obama’s signature achievement which was the ACA better known as Obamacare. The movement took shape during this time and was funded by the Koch bros, and branched out to a wider anti Obama agenda. from this movement the Birther’s arose to challenge Obama’s legitimacy as a citizen which helped fuel anti Obama fervor on the right. Soon more well know figures like Sara Palin and Michelle Bachmann became drawn to the movement and tried to coalesce it into a a political force. While the average person is mad as hell the Obama agenda was directed to relieve the suffering the middle class was facing. The ACA dealt with the problem of 32 million uninsured and gave a pathway toward health access. He also pushed the largest middle class tax cut in history.
    the Tea party through their hatred can’t see how the Obama plan actually helped them more than the republican’s ever did. It is hard to imagine that adults could be so easily led that they would support polices that were against the best interests of their families. Now the TP has whipped themselves into a frenzy and can’t see the big picture. Everything they support only helps only one group, the one who paid for their existence. the Koch bros.

    1. John Pigg September 22, 2013

      I completely agree that the begins of the TP were far less controversial and extreme as it became after its corporate takeover by political/think tanks, and right wing media personalities.

      Bank bailouts were as controversial on the left as the right.

  5. Penny September 22, 2013

    They didn’t mention that the Tea Party was organized by the Koch Brothers to create hate and incite anger in people. Koch Brothers have spent billions of dollars to make the two terms President Obama has served miserable for him and for their fellow Americans….without regard to the damage they have done to the people of America. Telling one lie after another and backing it up with bogus facts. These two guys, the Koch Brothers, are billionaires that will stop at nothing to put the Republican party in a position of power so that they will have puppets back in Washington DC!

    1. MJRinPA September 24, 2013

      “backing it up with bogus facts”
      Facts are true. They were backing it up with lies.

  6. John Pigg September 22, 2013

    In Defense of the Tea Party

    The excerpts of the book miss a significant portion of the Tea Party existence. Early Tea Party groups were not merely a collection of angry racists. The early Tea Party was angry at the bailouts, corruption, crony capitalism, and career congressmen.

    This movement was heavily populist and heavily decentralized. The evidence of the TP not being a merely racist coalition was this organizations willingness to take down established Republicans. The TP initially was as angry at Bush as it was Obama. The similarities between the TP and OWS are extremely interesting and merit academic comparison.

    When Republicans and corporate/politico business interests realized that this movement was getting people to the polls and translating into electoral victory, they hijacked the movement. The second this happened the traditional Tea Party collapsed and became simply the reactionary arm of the Republican Party.

    It is regrettable that the Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement failed to recognize that they held some similar positions. To often the American people let themselves be pigeonholed into taking either the Blue Pill or Red Pill instead of attempting to get behind good policy.

    Term limits are a good idea, crony capitalism is rampant in the Federal Government, we need to find ways to reform campaign finance, and we need to find ways to make Congress realize that they work for us, not the other way round.

    I hope that this book focuses on the early noble goals of the TP instead of the hijacked anti-Obama populist movement that it became.

  7. Stuart September 22, 2013

    It’s not “aging white folks.” I’m 67, but I came of age during the Vietnam War. I’ve voted for McGovern, Dukakis and every other Democrat except for 1980 (John Anderson). Still a lot of us aging hippies around. And don’t forget Bill Moyers.

    But I have to give props to the authors for “out-group hostility,” a master stroke of double talk. The Tea Party is just a new and improved Ku Klux Klan, sort of the way the Nazi SA was succeeded by the SS. (Cross-burning is so tacky. We’re more sophisticated than that.)


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