Why Do Liberals Hate the Tea Party?

Why do liberals hate the Tea Party?  It’s not a cynical hatred.  It’s fully genuine.  It’s not even, electorally speaking, in liberal self-interest to revile the Tea Party.  They should be secretly cheering them on, since the Tea Party cost the Republicans at least two Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada.  In Delaware, a very popular and electable Republican lost the Republican nomination to a controversial Tea Party-endorsed candidate, who then lost.  In Nevada, the contest against Harry Reid should have been the Republican lock of the century, until a dicey Tea Party-endorsed candidate got nominated.

So liberals, one would think, might welcome this energetic “diversity” on the right, because it produces some unelectable Republicans and generally introduces rightwing splintering — a dynamic the left has long nursed with lament as exclusively its own.

Nor does the hatred seethe in an unbalanced power dynamic.  The Tea Party does not control any organs of government, or even sport a single federal elected representative under its name.  Until the 2010 elections, in fact, liberals controlled all federal organs of government (putting aside the difficulty of identifying the ideological leanings of the federal judiciary and how those ideological leanings might influence what could be called “federal policy” through the judiciary — but even here, President Obama’s nominations to the federal judiciary have been strikingly liberal).  Relatively speaking, liberals are completely in control, not Republicans or conservatives, and certainly not the Tea Party.  So power grievance politics cannot be an explanation.

What then accounts for not merely the distaste, but the often virulent revulsion, of liberals for the Tea Party?  Is it because some tiny number of right-wing extremists might find a greater comfort in the Tea Party than elsewhere?  Surely not.  The instances of genuine extremist infiltration of the Tea Party are remarkably few — and generally ferreted out honorably.  The ordinary folks and grandpas and PTA vice presidents that comprise the Tea Party are overwhelmingly people of good will.  And in any event, surely the left wouldn’t forget its own extremist infiltration during the Bush years.  I don’t believe liberals hate the Tea Party simply because of its distasteful margins — anymore than it would be fair to tar the left categorically because of its extremist elements.  I believe they object to the Tea Party itself, to the phenomenon.  I’m just having a hard time understanding why.

Part of the answer may be that liberals perceive the Tea Party as “more conservative” than Republicans — indeed, the very reason the Tea Party arose, because, in the words of a thoughtful liberal friend, “Republicans were not conservative enough.”  The liberal disdain for Republicans then would be redoubled with respect to the Tea Party.  I tend to go with this explanation, because it is simple and doesn’t involve either conspiracy theories or elaborate electoral calculations (e.g., if the Republicans and the Tea Party successfully married, then Democrats would be in trouble).

But is it accurate?  Is the Tea Party really more conservative than Republicans?  Tea Party-endorsed candidates and commentators have been unapologetic in their disdain for establishment politics.  That has energized American politics with both a refreshing fright to the establishment, and a political naiveté — neither of which, I would think, liberals would find disturbing.

It is not at all clear that Tea Party-endorsed candidates and commentators emerge as more conservative than Republicans — anymore than it is ever possible to say with certainty that libertarians are more conservative than Republicans.  It depends on the issues.

The roots of the Tea Party are clearly libertarian.  The overwhelming majority of Tea Party sympathists simply think the federal government has gone too far.

Liberals who have expressed concern that Barack Obama hasn’t done enough are living on another planet.  Barack Obama has been a remarkably effective President — so remarkably that many Americans were driven for the first time into electoral politics out of alarm that President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid were altogether too successful at expanding the federal government.  The Tea Party, as well as Republican electoral success in 2010, is a direct result of a remarkably successful liberal agenda.

But the targets of the Tea Party and Republicans were different.  Fortunately, we have stated platforms that illustrate this difference.

The Tea Party developed the Contract From America in 2009, finalized in 2010, based upon an on-line vote that narrowed 21 ideas down to ten, with 454,331 votes cast (the parenthetical at the end of each statement is the vote percentage for the statements).

  • Identify constitutionality of every new law: Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does (82.03%).
  • Reject emissions trading: Stop the “cap and trade” administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. (72.20%).
  • Demand a balanced federal budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax modification. (69.69%)
  • Simplify the tax system: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words – the length of the original Constitution. (64.9%)
  • Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality: Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in an audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities. (63.37%)
  • Limit annual growth in federal spending: Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth. (56.57%).
  • Repeal the health care legislation passed on March 23, 2010: Defund, repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (56.39%).
  • Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy: Authorize the exploration of additional energy reserves to reduce American dependence on foreign energy sources and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation. (55.5%).
  • Reduce Earmarks: Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark. (55.47%).
  • Reduce Taxes: Permanently repeal all recent tax increases, and extend permanently the George W. Bush temporary reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and estate taxes, currently scheduled to end in 2011. (53.38%).

Now this is interesting, “radical,” arguably, in certain of its particulars, like the balanced budget constitutional amendment, or the IRS-reducing proposal — but not really.  Most of this is technical governance material — focused on federal budgeting and financing and overreaching in health care and energy — none of it the red meat for liberal revulsion.

Naturally, however, no Democrats signed the Contract.  But many Republicans balked as well.  Republicans produced instead their Pledge to America:

  • Extending the temporary tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 for all taxpayers, including those for those earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples).
  • A tax deduction for small businesses on up to 20 percent of their business income.
  • A hold on all unspent funds authorized as part of 2009’s stimulus bill or the 2008 TARP legislation.
  • Roll back government spending to 2008 levels, to save $100 billion while exempting “seniors, veterans, and our troops” from cuts; this would entail cutting 21 percent of the $477 billion budgeted for domestic discretionary spending.[4]
  • A hiring freeze on all federal agencies except those necessary to national security.
  • A repeal of the 2010 health-care reform bill.
  • Reform of medical liability and health insurance practices.
  • A permanent ban on any federal funding for abortions.
  • Honoring traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
  • A requirement that Congress post all bills online three days before a vote.
  • A requirement that lawmakers cite the specific constitutional authority that enables the legislation.
  • A ban on trials on U.S. soil for detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

This is remarkable.  Republicans produced a wish-list at once more credible and practical, befitting their pragmatic establishment status — and more conservative.  The Tea Party, befitting its libertarian roots, had nothing to say about abortion or gay marriage or any other social issue — not even Guantanamo.

So why do liberals hate the Tea Party?  I get, as a moderate Republican wishing the success of Republican candidates, why liberals might hate me.  But the Tea Party in many respects is closer to a kindred spirit.  Why the hate?  Is it Sarah Palin?

This will sound ungenerous, which we’re not supposed to do anymore — but I believe many liberals latched upon Sarah Palin because it was a lot easier to indulge revulsion of a popular conservative woman given to sound-bite mishaps than to engage the particulars of Tea Party or Republican platforms.

I think there might be a lot more in common among some angry liberals and Tea Partiers than there is among either and establishment players of both parties.


UPDATE 1-15-2011: Bill Maher, contrasting the founding fathers and “tea baggers,” said “one is a group of exclusively white men who live in a bygone century, have bad teeth, and think of blacks as three-fifths of a person. And the other are the founding fathers.”  Then, “I think it’s pretty clear that the founding fathers would have hated your guts and what’s more, you would have hated them.”  Bill Maher and Paul Krugman need to go somewhere private and truly contemplate their perfections together.


19 Responses to Why Do Liberals Hate the Tea Party?

  1. Very thought-provoking. Interesting how you showed the different agendas, illustrating how the GOP would be considered more conservative. Why do I hate the Tea Party? You know the sound a tea kettle makes when it’s boiling? That is what they sound like. It’s deafening. They are usually screaming about issues that push my buttons like abortion and the wars. I know you noted that the GOP (not the Tea Party) agenda mentions abortion. However, the Tea Party has many members who also share their anti-choice stand. That is why *this* liberal can’t stand them.

    • But the interesting thing about the Tea Party is the largeness of their tent. Yes, some of them are anti-choice, but many of them are not — precisely because that’s not government’s business. I think that’s what will emerge as Tea Party doctrine — it’s not the government’s business. I know that doesn’t satisfy your war issue — but I still think a more principled anti-war stance (with which I would disagree) might come from the Tea Party than from either Republicans or Democrats.

      Anyway, thanks for the read.

      • What do you believe this principled anti-war stance would be? If you see them as more libertarian, then non-interventionism? If so, I’m all for that. =)

        • Yes, essentially libertarian-grounded non-interventionism, coupled with concern about paying for foreign ventures.

        • Terrance H. says:

          Examine some of your other Left-wing views and consider if you’d actually abandon them.

          If you think you could, then maybe you could become a conservative and be Right (no, literally) for a change.


          • Look at spinnyliberal’s own blog, http://spinnyliberal.wordpress.com/, and see (a) how well she writes; (b) how strongly she feels; and (c) how fed up she is with some conservative policies and rhetoric. So I’m impressed and appreciative that she’s joined us in this dialogue, and with such a civil tone. I wouldn’t change a thing about her.

          • Terrance H. says:

            What difference does it make how well she writes if it’s all unsubstantiated?

            If conservatives are not going to try and change the way people look at the world, then what is the sense of defending any of our positions? Similarly, if liberals are not going to try and change the way people look at the world, then what is the sense of then defending their positions?

            I find it extraordinary that you would say she is fed-up with conservative policies when all the policies affecting this nation now are liberal policies.

            So, I would absolutely change her political views if I could, as I’m sure she would mine.

          • By “policies,” I meant proposed as well as enacted. But you raise a much more interesting question. Must “belief” always be evangelical belief? Must it be our goal, as soon as we embrace a notion, to gain converts to it? At least conservative Christian teleology invests beliefs with dire consequences — heaven or hell. But political beliefs? I think it’s possible to agree to disagree, and keep the dialogue going. I think it’s possible to keep that dialogue going and thereby transform people in more subtle and interesting ways than converting them to some doctrine checklist. When we grant humanity and intelligence to a person of contrary beliefs, we transform both of us because neither of us thereafter can engage in the reviling of the politically abstract other. As soon as we might wish to get angry and call the other some horrible name, we have that face of the one we respect in our hearts, and we are checked. We find a way to make our point without calling that person something nasty. So yes, I agree with you that it is admirable of both conservatives and liberals and all the in-betweens to continue seeking to persuade others — but always mindful that someone we love or respect is that other. And yes, I would welcome spinnyliberal becoming less liberal — but not because I bludgeoned her into it, which would never happen anyway, and I suspect she would welcome you or me becoming less conservative, with the same qualification.

          • Heh, I guess I could take a look. No guarantees, and the chances are slim. 😉

  2. Terrance H. says:

    I think liberals despise whomever they believe will get in their way. They adhere to an ideology which they are not going to abandon. .

    • Hmm. I don’t know if I agree with that. We all have different views. It’s being constantly called a baby-killer that makes me despise them. I do agree that I will never abandon the pro-choice stance.

  3. Paul Grubbs says:

    I find it odd that many so called progressives are unwilling or unable to see that liberal policies and politicians have done more harm than good for the “underprivileged and under appreciated”. There is no doubt that half of the aborted fetuses are female; a large percentage are black females! Yet liberal politicians champion themselves as the ONLY reasonable canidate to represent the minority view of black women or Hispanics. If a Republican or TEA party canidate were held responsible for this many deaths of the poor and under privileged (unborn babies) there were be a very loud and vitriolic outcry for a public lynching by some of these “champions” . Please dont get me started on what womens liberation has accomplished for our better half. There is a very good argument that liberation has devalued the contribution of women to society rather than increased it. The Democratic party has not done as much as the Republicans or the TEA Party to champion women. Love or hate Sarah but at least the conservative bigots gave her a chance!

    Hey Hillary! Or you paying attention? Your clock is ticking!

    • Gave her a chance? More like used her to try to gain Independent votes because she is female. Not only was that painfully obvious, it was insulting.

      On to your abortion diatribe. Liberals who are pro-choice are not really championing the causes important to the underprivileged because we’re killing them before they’re born. I’ll give you this, it’s original. I don’t even know how to respond to that, so I won’t even try.

      My clock is ticking? If you’re talking about my biological clock, I unplugged that long time ago. Maybe you’re hearing the ticking of the impending explosion of the extreme anti-choice agendas shared by the likes of Palin, Angle, and O’Donnell. We’re not going back to the time when pregnant women would throw themselves down staircases to “accidentally” miscarry.

      • Mitzidavis says:

        I really in my heart feel like abortion is murder and any woman who throws herself down stairs to kill her unborn baby is just as guilty as someone who throws their child down a flight of stairs because they’re angry. It’s a crime. If a woman doesn’t want a child then celibacy is an option. Why is killing a child acceptable? We fine people thousands of dollars for killing a bald eagle or destroying the egg but a human life is discardable? I understand there are circumstances of rape and I think there are exceptions for those cases like the day after pill. We can’t just bail people out of all there bad choices though. Circumstances are the reeping of what we sow. That’s how we learn by making mistakes and paying the consequences. No one ever said they had to keep or raise said child. Just give them their right to life the same one they were given. It’s horrible that we have dehumanized fetuses so much that young women are killing time and again without remorse. Not realizing that it will destroy them as they grow old and realize what they have done. I have seen it myself. It’s
        Very sad!! Every child has a purpose in life. God doesn’t make mistakes. Babies are a gift.

  4. Pingback: Ayn Rand Got Government Money, and the Tea Party Should Therefore Fold…? « The Prince and The Little Prince

  5. Ken Canuck says:

    Hi Kendrick,
    Thank you for your thoughtful thesis. I too have wondering at the level of hatred (and hate is the right word) of the Tea Party. Here in Canada, one of our top journalists of the state media wrote this story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/08/03/f-rfa-macdonald.html

    The lack of any real political analysis or even a basic attempt at getting to the roots of the Tea Party movement are puzzling.

    It is similar to the hatred that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister, who would be on the left of the Republican Party ideological spectrum and who takes an incremental approach to change. People talk about him as if Hell itself spewed him out. The guy is a typical dull Canadian politician with nothing too radical about him.

    Here’s my speculation.

    First, the left holds to a sort of universal secular rationalism which appears to them to be tolerant common sense. Abortion, gay marriage, easy welfare, and all sorts of other programs are what all sane rational people believe in. To oppose them is to basically oppose reality since their position is, well, the only sane way to view reality. Of course, not all on the left are so shallowly universal and certainly leftist intellectuals know they have a specific ideology and can articulate it. They also know that in movements like the Tea Party or the Reform Party (in Canada) that their hegemony is being challenged. Canada has gone Conservative and likely will be so for the next 10 years.

    Second, after reading Michael Novak’s “Spirit of Democratic Capitalism”, I wonder whether we are seeing in the Left a hold over of the medievalist desire for the centralized universalized power. Most presidential inaugurations seem to this Canuck to be like crowning ceremonies for a new Kind. Obama’s was akin to an ordination by the left as some new Messiah. Much has been written on the Messiahship of Obama, but I do think the issue is important.

    The Tea Party is a threat to the desire of the Left to have hegemony over American society and they hate any threat to that goal. Anyone who would not see that obviously the leftist rational secular approach embodied in Obama must either be evil or crazy … or both. The more the Tea Party is successful, the more the hatred grows, until of course they lose. In Canada, the left is very demoralized … thankfully.

    • Very interesting thesis Ken. I likewise see the Tea Party as a symptom — but one that cuts both ways. Conservatives are organizing because they are angry (without, generally, being scary angry). Conservatives organizing always gets the left massively vexed, and the project becomes demonization (using familiar tropes like racism, McCarthyism, sexism, homophobia, etc.). And with scores of George-Soros-funded left-wing organizations to do the demonizing, the project works fairly well. The simple math remains, however, that Americans are more conservative. And that translates into electoral success against the left. But the “Tea Party,” as an organized conservative movement, likewise threatens to undermine on-the-ground conservative success by fielding and promoting non-mainstream candidates who cannot defeat Democrats in an essentially centrist America. We saw it in Nevada, when Harry Reid should have lost his Senate seat, and in Delaware, when a mainstream Republican would have won in a Blue State but for the Tea Party insistence on ideological purity. Never having been very sympathetic to ideological purity of any sort, left or right, I think the Tea Party ultimately bodes ill for Republican, and conservative, advance. But not because they’re conservative. That could be harnessed for substantial gain. Because they’re ideological purists and will eat Republicans — Republicans in blue and purple states who necessarily tack to the center to be electable. Conservatism advances, realistically, because people with conservative instincts get elected, even if all their instincts are not conservative (however that may be defined). Ideological purity movements think 20 years ahead, and sacrifice the in-between, often without any guarantee of success 20 years ahead.

  6. jim says:

    The Tea party was formed by people tired of the same old crap going on between Democrats andRepublicans year after year decade after decade. If the Tea party gains power it means an end to their way of politics and an end to their way of life. That’s why they hate the Tea party. They have will say anything and do anything to keep the Tea party from coming to power.

  7. Mitzidavis says:

    Tired of big government then tea party last chance for change the two parties running it for last 30 years or so can’t seem to get it under control I say try something new. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The reason the tea party is so hated is because our big money government doesn’t want their gravy train to end!!!

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