A recent New York Times /CBS poll showed that Tea Party supporters were better educated and financially well off than average Americans and more than their reputation would suggest. Friend of the blog Bridget asked what I made of this. Her basic confusion seemed to be that these people were largely paying less taxes under Obama, in many cases enjoying (or getting pretty close to a time when they’ll enjoy) our socialist programs like Medicare and Social Security, and yet were fuming about the direction the country is taking. Yet as among the better educated, they should be in a position to recognize that things are not as bad as they are worried about.
I guess I don’t see this as all that surprising. Despite all the other demographic categories this group fell under, the most telling was that they self-identified as “very conservative”. By definition this means they are afraid of change. And I don’t mean that to be demeaning. Technically, they are resistant to change, but by and large, the reality is that the resistance manifests as fear. Further, as people who have largely made something of themselves, they have more to lose… and more to be afraid of losing.
The irony is perhaps that the “change” they are afraid of is mostly caused by the high prospect of unemployment and the loss of their 401k value which was a direct result of the uber-Christian neo-conservative hero George Bush. There has been little negative (or positive) impact yet as a result of the healthcare reform plan or anything else the secret Muslim hyper-liberal Obama has done.
But fear is a powerful motivator. It trumps rational logic hands down. Note that 30% of those polled believe Obama was born in another country, and 59% support Glenn Beck. And while we’re talking about talking heads. It is the likes of Dick Armey, Liz Cheney, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, and others who fuel these flames of fear for their own benefit. Anyone who’s ever told spooky stories to children late at night in the dark knows that amping up small fears is simple pie. It’s easy to reinforce fears that already exist. And when you’re afraid, every shadow is a bogeyman.
The Tea Party isn’t about an alternate plan. It isn’t about conflicting ideology. It isn’t about rationality. As I elaborated on in a previous column, the Tea Party is about venting spleens and channeling fear.
Pick your favorite horror film. One person starts freaking out, and it spreads quickly to all the others who are nervous and trying hard to contain their latent fear. The rational voices can’t be heard over all the shrieking and screaming. Next thing you know, it’s all naked coeds and blood. Okay, I’m not sure how that applies, but it was a decent analogy right up until then.