Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party

Lawrence Rosenthal
Christine Trost
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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    Book Description:

    In the Spring of 2009, the Tea Party emerged onto the American political scene. In the wake of Obama's election, as commentators proclaimed the "death of conservatism," Tax Day rallies and Tea Party showdowns at congressional town hall meetings marked a new and unexpected chapter in American conservatism. Accessible to students and general readers,Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Partybrings together leading scholars and experts on the American Right to examine a political movement that electrified American society. Topics addressed by the volume's contributors include the Tea Party's roots in earlier mass movements of the Right and in distinctive forms of American populism and conservatism, the significance of class, race and gender to the rise and successes of the Tea Party, the effect of the Tea Party on the Republican Party, the relationship between the Tea Party and the Religious Right, and the contradiction between the grass-roots nature of the Tea Party and the established political financing behind it. Throughout the volume, authors provide detailed and often surprising accounts of the movement's development at local and national levels. In an Epilogue, the Editors address the relationship between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95410-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Rise of the Tea Party (pp. 1-22)

    Nobody predicted the Tea Party.

    In the wake of Barack Obama’s inauguration as president in 2009, the Tea Party’s emergence on the American scene was stunning. True, hints of the Tea Party had surfaced at Republican rallies during the 2008 presidential campaign, especially when vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin appeared. But the passion of those mobilized by the Tea Party movement, their anger, and their very numbers—this was a bolt from the blue.

    To understand the shock of the Tea Party’s emergence, it helps to recall the political environment of late 2008 and early 2009. The conservative movement, mostly...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Tea Party in Historical Perspective: A Conservative Response to a Crisis of Political Economy (pp. 25-46)

      On February 19, 2009, Rick Santelli, an entertainer and financial commentator on CNBC cable news unleashed his now famous scream against the Obama administration’s economic policies. In the months leading up to this episode, presidents Bush and Obama had provided hundreds of billions of dollars under the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the Bank of America, Citibank, and other giants of American finance. But what pushed Santelli over the edge was word that the Obama administration might provide mortgage relief to distressed homeowners. Fox News proceeded to explain what had happened: The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)...

    • CHAPTER 2 Reframing Populist Resentments in the Tea Party Movement (pp. 47-66)

      The signs, slogans, stories, and claims of the Tea Party movement are often incomprehensible to many observers. A frequent response is to describe the Tea Party movement participants as stupid, ignorant, or crazy. What else could explain the “extremist” idea that Obama is both Hitler and Stalin? Who but a “wing nut” on the “lunatic fringe” would claim that government reform of health care could result in a bureaucrat unplugging grandma from her life support system in a hospital?

      The underlying frames and narratives that produce these seemingly absurd tropes popular in the Tea Party movement are actually quite common...

    • CHAPTER 3 View from the Top: Report on Six National Tea Party Organizations (pp. 67-97)

      The Tea Party has unleashed a still inchoate political movement by angry Americans who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them. And they want it back. They are overwhelmingly white and middle-class, and their oft-repeated call to “Take America Back” is an explicitly nationalist refrain. It is sometimes coupled with the assertion that there are “real Americans,” as opposed to others who they believe are driving the country into a socialist ditch.

      Supporting the Tea Party movement is a multimillion dollar complex that includes for-profit corporations, nonparty nonprofit organizations, and political action committees. Collectively, they have erased...

    • CHAPTER 4 Astroturf versus Grass Roots: Scenes from Early Tea Party Mobilization (pp. 98-130)

      Debate still rages in the blogs. Some condemn the Tea Party as Astroturf, a movement directly funded and organized from its very beginning by conservative leaders. Others argue that the Tea Party epitomizes grass-roots politics, an outpouring of aggrieved citizens who spontaneously protested against big government.² Both arguments contain at least a grain of truth. In this chapter, I argue that, in its initial stage, the Tea Party was Astroturf—grassroots contrivance; in a second stage, however, the grass roots developed an autonomy (both strategically and organizationally) that revitalized the Republican Party.

      The Astroturf metaphor asserts that conservative leadership organizations...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Tea Party: A “White Citizenship” Movement? (pp. 133-151)

      The South Carolina man who came forward at a town hall meeting in July 2009 with his infamous demand—“Keep your government hands off my Medicare”—exemplified for many liberals everything that should discredit Tea Party supporters²: Tea Partiers³ are uninformed about the simplest facts of the programs on which they most depend. They seem hopelessly tethered to systematic misinformation coming out of propaganda machines like Fox News. How could legislators possibly respond to demands that do not have their roots in reality? How could they even answer criticisms that have no relationship to actual policy proposals? Tea Party supporters,...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Past and Future of Race in the Tea Party Movement (pp. 152-170)

      Conflicting interpretations of the Tea Party movement abound. Chief among these debates for scholars, pollsters, and partisans is the role of race and racism.¹ Those for whom race is central to the Tea Party movement see a continuation of the racial coding that marked the rise of modern conservatism, or they see widespread racial anxiety triggered by the election of the nation’s first African American president. They point to demonized portrayals of Obama on placards and racial epithets hurled at rallies, to the prevalence of Tea Partiers who do not believe Obama was born in the United States, and to...

    • CHAPTER 7 Of Mama Grizzlies and Politics: Women and the Tea Party (pp. 171-192)

      In 2010, women established themselves as leaders in the Tea Party movement when a record number of GOP women rode the Tea Party wave to win their first seats in Congress—notwithstanding the failures of the Tea Party’s most visible and controversial candidates, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada.² The success and visibility of Tea Party women in 2010 stands in contrast to the limited role of women leaders in the GOP’s 1994 takeover of Congress and in earlier politically conservative movements in American politics, such as the Christian right.

      But how much support for the Tea...

    • CHAPTER 8 Grand Old Tea Party: Partisan Polarization and the Rise of the Tea Party Movement (pp. 195-211)

      The Tea Party movement has attracted enormous attention from journalists, candidates, and elected officials since it first appeared on the U.S. political scene in early 2009. However, there has been considerable disagreement among political observers about the numbers and motivations of those participating in Tea Party protests; the prevalence of racist sentiments among Tea Party activists; the role played by wealthy individuals, conservative groups, and media figures in fomenting these protests; and the potential long-term impact of the movement.¹ A key question raised by the spread of Tea Party protests and the emergence of Tea Party candidates in numerous House,...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Future of the Tea Party: Scoring an Invitation to the Republican Party (pp. 212-241)

      At this stage in the political life of the Tea Party movement, there are almost as many angles to explore as there are signs at a typical rally. Part of the popular allure of the fledgling movement is the notion that these are political outsiders tired of the way the two parties are conducting the people’s business. The movement has tapped into the anxiety and frustration prevalent in our nation today, but we know from our political history that if outsiders want to accomplish anything substantive, they must come in from the outside and inject themselves into our two-party system....

    • CHAPTER 10 The Tea Party and the Religious Right Movements: Frenemies with Benefits (pp. 242-274)

      The religious right movement is comprised of grassroots political organizations, legal advocacy groups, traditional and new media outlets, and educational institutions that work to engage conservative evangelical Christians and their allies in efforts to elect like-minded officials and shape culture, law, and public policy in accordance with their religious and political views. Since Republican operatives met with evangelical leaders in the late 1970s to create the political movement we call the religious right, the movement’s top priorities have consistently been opposition to legal abortion, opposition to the advancement of social and legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and opposition...

  8. Epilogue: A Tale of Two Movements (pp. 275-282)
    Lawrence Rosenthal and Christine Trost

    While our primary goal in this book has been to analyze the origins and early takeoff of the Tea Party, we have ineluctably touched upon the movement’s influence on American politics beyond its formative two years. It seems to us both appropriate and vital to take the story as far as the vicissitudes and deadlines of publishing permit. Hence these comments on where things Tea Party currently stand.

    As of early March 2012, two months into the presidential primaries, the Republican campaign has had a singular rhythm. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while maintaining his position in the front of...

  9. About the Contributors (pp. 283-286)
  10. Index (pp. 287-297)

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