Tea Tossing, Part 2

Tea Party, 1773

In a harking back to Boston Harbor, 1773, Americans may once again be ready to toss tea overboard.

This time, however, it’s not bundles of tea leaves being deep-sixed because of a tax regulation. It’s the tea party getting the heave. And the mouvement de résistance of 2011? According to results of a recent survey of American voters – a growing fear that the neophyte conservative movement is playing a heavy hand in steering religion into American politics.

In an August 16 New York Times op-ed titled “Crashing the tea party,” Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard, and David E. Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, say they have data that show Americans’ indulgence of the tea party is waning. In fact the Tea Party is “increasingly swimming against the tide of public opinion,” say Putnam and Campbell.

Though the authors contend that politicians, in general, have fallen woefully out of favor “among most Americans,” particularly since Washington’s recent debt-ceiling sideshow, the tea party now ranks “lower than much maligned groups like ‘atheists’ and ‘Muslims.’”

Data also show that neck-and-neck in unpopularity with the tea party is the Christian right.

Putnam and Campbell were following up on 2006 and 2007 research that infused their book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” The tea party, with its late-2008, early-2009 entry in the political arena, was not included. The follow-up, adding the tea party and atheists, reveals that Americans are both more tolerant of the nonreligious and less tolerant of religious intrusion in politics.

Their research shows that “next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a tea party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”

This could explain the reciprocal back-scratching that goes on between tea party members and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann. The Tea Party seeks “‘deeply religious’ elected officials,” the authors say, “and want religion brought into political debates.”

The authors also say tea party members “are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.”

Under the guise of adopting early colonialists’ sentiments toward less government, the tea party usurped the moniker of the iconic American Revolutionary uprise against the British in Boston. But the professors say “our analysis cast doubts on the tea party’s ‘origin story.’”

Putnam and Campbell not only question the tea party’s genesis but, using the case of early-1970s McGovern supporters’ influence on the Democratic party, suggest that the Republican party, like a moth to a flame, may get singed if they get too close to the tea party.

McGovern supporters of 1972, fueled by 1960s and 70s anti-Vietnam ideology, ended up “repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation,” say the authors. “By embracing the tea party,” they contend, “Republicans risk repeating history.”

Though the “tea party’s generals may say their overriding concern is smaller government,” the authors say, their “rank and file are more concerned about putting God in government.”

Liberty’s Kids: “The Boston Tea Party”


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