The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism

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Overview

On February 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered a dramatic rant against Obama administration programs to shore up the plunging housing market. Invoking the Founding Fathers and ridiculing "losers" who could not pay their mortgages, Santelli called for "Tea Party" protests. Over the next two years, conservative activists took to the streets and airways, built hundreds of local Tea Party groups, and weighed in with votes and money to help right-wing Republicans win ...

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Overview

On February 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered a dramatic rant against Obama administration programs to shore up the plunging housing market. Invoking the Founding Fathers and ridiculing "losers" who could not pay their mortgages, Santelli called for "Tea Party" protests. Over the next two years, conservative activists took to the streets and airways, built hundreds of local Tea Party groups, and weighed in with votes and money to help right-wing Republicans win electoral victories in 2010.

In this penetrating new study, Harvard University's Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson go beyond images of protesters in Colonial costumes to provide a nuanced portrait of the Tea Party. What they find is sometimes surprising. Drawing on grassroots interviews and visits to local meetings in several regions, they find that older, middle-class Tea Partiers mostly approve of Social Security, Medicare, and generous benefits for military veterans. Their opposition to "big government" entails reluctance to pay taxes to help people viewed as undeserving "freeloaders" - including immigrants, lower income earners, and the young. At the national level, Tea Party elites and funders leverage grassroots energy to further longstanding goals such as tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, and privatization of the very same Social Security and Medicare programs on which many grassroots Tea Partiers depend. Elites and grassroots are nevertheless united in hatred of Barack Obama and determination to push the Republican Party sharply to the right.

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism combines fine-grained portraits of local Tea Party members and chapters with an overarching analysis of the movement's rise, impact, and likely fate.

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Editorial Reviews

Timothy Noah
…exceptionally informative…
—The New York Times Book Review
Jonathan Yardley
…contains a great deal of valuable information about who the tea partyers are and what they believe.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Harvard political scientist Skocpol and grad student Williamson conduct a journalistic study of the Tea Party, combining “publically available evidence with in-depth personal interviews and local observations.” The Tea Party, they contend, is made up of well-off white Republicans fiercely protective of their social security and Medicare benefits and fiercely against social spending on “undeserving” younger people and immigrants; they are canny about politics but misinformed about public policy, and unalterably opposed to the very concept of a black president . While the movement is genuinely grass-roots, the authors argue, it is swayed by conservative media and “highly ideological right-wing billionaires,” the result is a fragile coalition—initiatives to cut their entitlements don’t sit well with Tea Partiers—that is nonetheless shoving the Republican party into a corner of unpopular extremism. The authors confirm the conclusions reached liberal journalists about the Tea Party, but they do it with a fine-grained nuance and thoughtfulness that resonates. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"[E]xceptionally informative." — Timothy Noah, The New York Times Book Review

"The authors pepper firsthand anecdotes with extensive-and at times weighty-statistical and polling data...A timely study of a contemporary movement and its far-reaching effects on politics and policy." —Kirkus Reviews

"Readers interested in grassroots political organizations, the influence of outside interests on political parties, or the Tea Party itself, as well as those whose leanings fall elsewhere on the political spectrum will find this an eye-opening book." —Library Journal

"This is an indispensable guide to the Tea Party phenomenon, and also an excellent demonstration of the power of first-hand research to add a richness of understanding that survey results can't provide. By spending patient time with Tea Party activists around the country, Skocpol and Williamson have been able to create a far fuller picture of the Tea Party than we have had before." —Nicholas Lemann, Dean, and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

"This important book will draw fire from both the political left and right, for contrary to the denunciations of liberal commentators, the Tea Party is not a motley collection of racist crazies. And contrary to the praise of conservative commentators, the Tea Party is not a pure grass-roots citizens' movement. Skocpol and Williamson provide a much-needed dose of analysis that begins to balance out the polemics that dominate discussion of the Tea Party." —Morris P. Fiorina, Wendt Family Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

"Skocpol and Williamson have produced the richest, most nuanced portrait of the Tea Party since it burst onto the political scene in early 2009. Drawing on a wealth of observational, interview, survey, and web-based research, their analysis and presentation is both sympathetic with the participatory ethic of the Tea Partiers and critical of the way they have been used by conservative advocacy groups and press outlets to breed misinformation and shift the Republican agenda sharply to the right. A must-read book for the 2012 election season." —Thomas Mann, Brookings Institution, co-author of The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track

"An interesting look at an influential political movement." —Booklist

"[A] fine-grained nuance and thoughtfulness that resonates." — Publishers Weekly

"Until three years ago, we knew the tea party as a long-ago event in Boston Harbor, aimed at a government across the Atlantic. In 2010, a new tea party stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and was aimed directly at Washington. That event changed the Republican Party, the United States Congress, and the Obama presidency. This book delves deeply into what happened in 2010, why it happened, and what the Tea Party means for the future of American politics. It's a book every student of American politics should read." -Mickey Edwards, author of The Modern Conservative Movement

"...the best academic work on the Tea Party" - David Frum, The Daily Beast

"Skocpol and Williamson have provided us with an excellent roadmap to trace where it came from, where it has been, and where it might be going." —Contemporary Sociology

Library Journal
Many questions and much misinformation surround the recent Tea Party movement. Skocpol (government, Harvard Univ.; Reaching for the New Deal) and Williamson (PhD candidate, Harvard Univ.) conducted interviews with Tea Party members to explain the forces giving rise to the movement and its impact on the GOP and the U.S. political system. The book examines the development and motives of the movement at both the grassroots level and through the self-appointed Tea Party advocates who are largely members of the media and financial elite. Aptly demonstrated are the Tea Party's overriding desires to remove President Obama from office and, as important, move the GOP, seen by the Tea Party as too moderate, to the extreme right. The authors also offer possible implications of Tea Party influence on the American political scene in 2012 and beyond. VERDICT Readers interested in grassroots political organizations, the influence of outside interests on political parties, or the Tea Party itself, as well as those whose leanings fall elsewhere on the political spectrum will find this an eye-opening book.—Beth M. Johns, Saginaw Valley State Univ., Haslett, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Two Harvard scholars investigate the latest iteration of third-party radicalism in the United States. Skocpol (Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life, 2003, etc.) and Williamson research the Tea Party from the ground up, rooting their study in focused fieldwork surrounding three local Tea Party groups in Massachusetts, Virginia and Arizona. The authors pepper firsthand anecdotes with extensive--and at times weighty--statistical and polling data. The perspectives and opinions of the subjects are skillfully interwoven with analysis of their civic habits, economic status, religious inclinations and ideologies. After a thorough background in the demographics of Tea Partiers, as well as their shared passions and sources of discord among this fledgling movement, the authors investigate the fascinating, and often unlikely, pairing of grassroots organizers and wealthy investors, politicos and influence peddlers who are seeking to capitalize on the media spotlight currently shining on the Tea Party. Credited with dramatically influencing the 2010 midterm elections, expectations are high as to how Tea Partiers and their core group of middle-class, volunteer-oriented proponents will affect the 2012 presidential election. According to the authors, one thing is certain: The anger many Tea Partiers express is aimed squarely at President Obama, raising the stakes for both grassroots organizers and those flush, politically minded groups seeking to ally themselves with the Tea Party. A timely study of a contemporary movement and its far-reaching effects on politics and policy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199975549
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 389,546
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Theda Skocpol is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and past president of the American Political Science Association.

Vanessa Williamson is a PhD candidate in Government and Social Policy at Harvard University. Previously, she served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: "I Want My Country Back!"

1. Behind the Costumes and Signs: Who are the Tea Partiers?

2. What They Believe: The Ideas and Passions of Tea Partiers

3. Mobilized Grassroots and Roving Billionaires: The Panoply of Tea Party Organizations

4. Getting the Word Out: The Media as Cheerleader and Megaphone

5. How the Tea Party Boosts the GOP and Prods It Rightward

6. The Tea Party and American Democracy

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