How To Identify a Member of the Tea Party


By Joe Campbell
April 20th, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]I met 2 members of that vibrant cultural movement pretending to be a political one, the Tea Party, last night.

When I say they were members of the Tea Party, I don’t mean one of those independents discouraged by Obama that Republican operatives always claim is the typical Tea Partier.

I don’t mean a Republican partisan who thinks this is just a good re-branding.

I don’t mean Greg O’Neil.

I mean 2 actual Tea Party wingnuts.

It is rare to see them outside of their home environment (rallies involving racial epithets and mocking those damned people with Parkinson’s disease looking to be coddled) with their identifying characteristics full on display.

However, I was able to positively identify them by cataloguing the following characteristics which can serve as the start of a general checklist of how to identify Tea Party folk (with prominent characteristics in bold):

  • White.
  • Wealthy.
  • Middle-aged to elderly.
  • Generally conspiratorial, wide-eyed, and a bit paranoid.
  • Claimed that Obama, Clinton, and the Democrats were “socialists”/”communists”/”Europeans”/”elitists”/”Nazis” with all terms used interchangeably.Muslim” or “terrorist” can also be added to this list.
  • Explained in meticulous detail the nefarious (and “anti-American”) views that “liberals”/”socialists”/etc have.
  • Were evasive when confronted with the fact that the unprecedented tax increases sought by Obama would leave the marginal tax rate historically low* and only approximately 5% points higher than under Bush.
  • Had a messianic certainty about their views.
  • Attributed this same messianic certainty to anyone who uttered a word in support of President Obama.
  • Unable to understand how anyone at all could defend “that man [Obama] who is destroying everything great about America.” When confronted with a defense of his record, replied with, “Oooooh: we’ll see in 5 years!”
  • Admiration for that greatest of presidents, George W. Bush.
  • Blamed Democrats for the fiscal crisis/recession and government in general.
  • Full of the inchoate of the populist right that arose after the election of every young liberal (1960, 1992, and 2008 specifically.)
  • Believed their views weren’t just right but obvious and that all “real Americans” agreed with them.
  • A sense that the “real Americans” needed to take their country back before it was too late.
  • Were unaware of any information from outside the right wing cocoon and denied its validity when presented with it. (The much talked about epistemic closure.)
  • Unable to fathom how someone could read the National Review and not agree with the opinions expressed there (except to say, “Well, obviously you didn’t understand…”)
  • Under the assumption that everyone else was brainwashed or otherwise evil “socialists”/”anti-Americans”/etc.
  • Explicitly compared  Obama to Hitler.
  • Made a vague but somewhat hysterical statement that could be taken as a threat to the President. [“That man cannot be allowed to stay in office.”]
  • Focused on and outraged over America’s fiscal situation.
  • Knew nothing about America’s fiscal situation. Or worse actually, knew false things.
    (For example, claimed that agricultural subsidies are $400 billion a year. Also, spouted various platitudes about waste that are too vague to debunk but are certainly misleading such as the idea that most government spending is deliberate waste and that we can leave the popular Social Security, Medicare, and military budgets in place while balancing the budget. Yet in 2009 for example, if you slashed all government spending except these things, we would still have a deficit — see income of $2.105 trillion minus expenses for Social Security — $678 billion — Medicare and Medicaid — $676 billion — and the Department of Defense — $782 billion — for a total of $2.136 trillion.)
  • Told me I wasn’t a “real American.” Nor were North Easterners. Nor was anyone who went to an Ivy League school.

I have a feeling I know what it’s like to talk to Sarah Palin (but with a Dutch accent — as these people were a rarer breed of Tea Partiers, naturalized citizens from Europe).

Some characteristics I understand to be part of the Tea Party movement that these individuals did not display (perhaps because they weren’t given the chance — I walked away when I was told I wasn’t really American):

  • A feeling of reverence for Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
  • Outrage over “Barack Obama’s bailout” of Wall Street in the fall of 2008.
  • Allegations that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
  • Hysteria over Barack Obama’s projections of weakness abroad and sympathy for terrorists and our enemies.

So, take this checklist out into the wilds and perhaps you too can positively identify a Tea Partier!

And feel free to add more characteristics in the comments.

* This is a cartoon rather than a graph, so it should be noted it isn’t perfectly accurate — but it visually conveys the point solidly. Reagan, for example, only had 28% tax rate for the final year of his presidency. The average top marginal tax rate under Reagan was 48%.

[Image by JoeBehrSoCal licensed under Creative Commons.]