By James M. Perry
Who are these tea party people and why are they so angry?
Some things are pretty obvious. They're white, they tend overwhelmingly to vote Republican, most of them went to college and most of them appear to be financially secure.
That, of course, doesn't explain why they're so much angrier than other Republicans. Thomas B. Edsall, for many years a thoughtful political analyst at the Washington Post and now a professor at Columbia University and a blogger at the New York Times, makes sense. In a Times blog, he starts out by quoting Frank Wilkinson at Bloomberg View:
"A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren't ready for gay marriage. They weren't ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites.... Their representatives didn't stop Obamacare. And their side didn't 'take back America' in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they're mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down."
Stan Greenberg. a Democratic poll taker who keeps track of the other party, breaks down the Republican membership this way -- evangelical and religiously observant voters, 47 per cent, tea party supporters, 22 per cent, and moderates, 25 per cent (others, presumably, 6 per cent).
Greenberg says one of the key factors driving Republicans, especially tea party Republicans, to extremes "is the intensity of animosity toward Obama." Just check it out on the Internet. One of the bumper stickers for sale says, "I'm Not Racist. I Voted Against Biden Too." Another says, "A Village in Kenya Is Missing Its Idiot." Another, "Not My President," sums up the feeing of many of these people. Barack Obama, to them, is not really American; he might have been born in Kenya, there's a chance he's a Muslim.
The base supporters (among Republicans) "are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities," Greenberg concludes. "Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party."
Greenberg conducted six focus groups of Republicans, and from their words he drew a picture in what he calls "word clouds." The size of the words in the cloud represents the frequency with which those words were uttered by the focus-group participants. Scared, they kept saying. Worried. Concerned. Bleak.
They blame it all on Obama. "These voters think they are losing their country."
Obama, on the face of it, seems an unlikely target for all this hatred. "I wonder," says Eugene Robinson, a liberal Washington Post columnist, "how he can be seen as 'elitist,' when he grew up in modest circumstances -- his mother was on food stamps for a time -- and paid for his fancy-pants education with student loans. I wonder how people who genuinely cherish the American dream can look at a man who lived the dream and feel no connection, no empathy."
But this man's living in the White House. He travels by motorcade and his own private jet. He has an attractive wife and his two lively children go to the fanciest private school in Washington. Presidents always live in high style.
''I ask myself," says Robinson, "what's so different about Obama, and the answer is pretty obvious: He's black."
Photo: LA Times. Graphics: NYT/Democracy Corps
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.