The way many fellow UU bloggers talk about the Tea Party phenomenon makes it clear to me that they really don't understand what is motivating them; their emotions, their fears, and most especially why now? While I am not a Tea Party organizer, I have been an old line (meaning not religious right) conservative all my adult life; perhaps I can give you a few insights.
The first thing to understand is that this is not a Republican party movement. Even many Republicans- the type who believe that conservatives must be Republican by default- misunderestimate that this is a truly new phenomenon in American politics. The Tea Parties were organized because people felt equally betrayed by both political parties; Bush was actually a bigger disappointment to conservatives than liberals because they had expected better. My proof? Here in Indiana, the Libertarian party is now the second largest party in many counties- and the party displaced is as often the Republican as the Democrat. My prediction (and remember that I predicted the passage of healthcare reform back in August of last year) is that the next election will see a record number of third party candidates elected nationwide.
The next thing to understand is what they mean when they say that government is the problem, or call new programs socialism, or say of healthcare reform, "This wasn't a victory for the people, it was a victory over the people". Tea partiers are not anarchists, like the ones who riot at G-8 summits; those are left wingnuts. They are not protesting government as keeper of the peace, or provider of services; they are protesting government as just another special interest group. They believe that the government is no longer a "civil service", but a ruling class, ever getting richer while the poor get poorer.
How can they think such a thing? Well, we can start with the fact that the average pay for federal employees is $72,800, while the national average wage is $42,270- and next year the federal average will increase to $75,419... how many of us are going to get a raise like that this year? Of course, even the current average federal wage would look mighty nice here in Indiana, where the average wage is $37,770; especially considering that wages have been dropping here, as they have most places around the country.
Worse than that gap is the accelerated pace at which that gap is increasing. From boston.com: "Since December 2007, when the current downturn began, the ranks of federal employees earning $100,000 and up has skyrocketed. According to a recent analysis by USA Today, federal workers making six-figure salaries - not including overtime and bonuses - “jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of civil servants during the recession’s first 18 months.’’ The surge has been especially pronounced among the highest-paid employees. At the Defense Department, for example, the number of civilian workers making $150,000 or more quintupled from 1,868 to 10,100. At the recession’s start, the Transportation Department was paying only one person a salary of $170,000. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees were drawing paychecks that size." And not only are the wages increasing, the number of federal employees receiving those wages is increasing, according to CBS News; "At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearing double digits, and 6.35 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the U.S. government is on a hiring binge. ... Some of the Feds' hiring increases have been stunning. If you look at the four-year period from 2006 to 2010, the number of Homeland Security employees has grown by 22 percent, the Justice Department has increased by 15 percent, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can claim 25 percent more employees. (These figures assume that Congress adopts Mr. Obama's 2010 budget without significant changes.)" Has your company been hiring at that rate? Most tea Partiers think most of that hiring is just plum jobs for political supporters- and one does have to wonder why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs 25% more employees when we haven't built a new reactor in 30 years.
Liberals see the class struggle as between the evil corporate profiteers and the poor working class; Tea Partiers see it as between the citizen and the bloated ruling class. It comes as no surprise to them that the richest counties in the country are not in New York, where those evil corporations are headquartered, nor in Hollywood where movie stars and glitterati live- 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC area.
Next: What Tea Partiers are afraid of.