I posted this comment as something of a tangent (what?!) to a comment thread on an article about John Edwards and Sarah Palin:
@Mary (Washington State) – I think that there is some differentiation required between the people who are marketing (inciting, fomenting, profiting-from) the Tea Party movement and the people who are drawn to the message. I certainly do not agree with nor support the blindly oppositional rhetoric that the extremist poster children for the TP espouse, just as I do not support the equally unhelpful vitriol from extreme leftist propagandists. What I believe people are responding to is not a desire for anarchy or division, as TN60 proposes, but rather the profound sense that their government leaders care more about the raw exercise of power than about the people they are meant to serve. I think that this is a feeling shared by people on both sides of the political fence and these feelings are cynically used by people in both parties to make money, with the potential side advantage of garnering votes.
What people want is to remove the layer upon layer of insulation that exists between them and their leaders. Congress has become something of a cross between an exclusive private club and an elected noble class. They enjoy healthcare and retirement benefits most Americans can only dream of. They get to vote themselves pay raises! If they ever leave office, most of them have catered to the demands of enough special interest lobbies that they need not fear finding a job with a ridiculously high salary (which they don’t actually need thanks to their sweet pension plan that they gave themselves). Despite the slew of well-turned phrases streaming from the Capitol every day, the only thing most people are certain that Congress accomplishes is padding the wallets of their contributing lobbyists and making things harder for the rest of us.
As the rich get richer and the middle class get poorer (though I think if we are honest with ourselves it is not truly poverty we face but rather an inability to keep up with the lifestyle displayed in glorious color 24/7) the ethnic majority is finally feeling what it is like to be disenfranchised. People who have been raised with nary a care in the world are suddenly having a hard time making their mortgage payment. Middle class conservatives who profited from the Reagan years and had begun to feel like they were insiders to the world of the wealthy with their stock brokers and E*Trade accounts suddenly watched their 401K’s go up in a puff of smoke. The clay feet of the heroes of their corporate pantheon were suddenly and devastatingly shattered, leaving them with no one to worship. People who had supported a party that proclaimed the evils of a welfare state suddenly found themselves needing a helping hand.
What makes the Tea Party folks unique is not their tactics or rhetoric, it is their constituency. For the first time middle class white conservatives are feeling the same way that much of the constituency of the Democrat party has for decades. Let’s be frank, the Democrats have had their fair share of snake oil salesmen selling a bill of goods to people who feel “out of the loop” over the years (this is no means meant as a defense of Republican party ethics, they have simply used other methods to bilk the congregation) and public rallies where charismatic speakers decry the abuses of the empowered elite are not new to our political landscape. What is new is the branch of the populous to whom that message appeals.
If we can set aside our ingrained prejudices, I think we will find that most of us want the same thing: a financially responsible government led by people more concerned with the welfare of the nation than the balance of their bank account.