Kate Zernike on "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America"
Journalist Kate Zernike says that many readers of "Boiling Mad" are surprised to discover that the tea partyers sound and look a lot like their neighbors.
Probably no other journalist in the United States has devoted as much time to covering the tea party movement as has New York Times reporter Kate Zernike. In her new book "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America," Zernike takes an up-close look at this emerging political force. Recently I had a chance to talk to Zernike about "Boiling Mad".Skip to next paragraph
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In a sentence or two: Who are the tea partyers?
The tea party started out organized by young libertarian-leaning activists who were concerned about the stimulus and the bailouts. It pretty quickly spread to include people who were more driven by anxiety about the economy – either their own personal situation or just in general.
Now it includes people of all ages?
Yes. As time moved on and particularly as health-care legislation became a focus for them, more older people got involved, and that’s why we see polls now showing that the bulk of the tea partyers are over 45, with a large number of them over 65.
Is it fair to say that most are white?
Yes, it is an overwhelmingly white movement. I think the tea partyers do not like that portrayal, because they think that racism is somehow inherent in that, but I think the fairest way to say it is to say that blacks and Hispanics are not represented in the tea party in the same way that they are in the larger population.
These are people who have been concerned for years that government is in every area of our lives. Even in the broader, non-tea party part of the population we see this distrust of institutions. There’s this concern about “too many people controlling my life.” The tea party has found the answer in the Constitution. [Its members] believe the Constitution was polluted – mostly by FDR, ever since the New Deal. There’s this version of history that says that the New Deal was when big government really took off. It’s when the Supreme Court started to say, “It’s OK for the government to do all these kinds of things,” but the tea partyers believe that the Constitution is limited and these powers were not granted to [the federal government] by the Constitution.
So this latent unhappiness was brought to the surface by the government’s response to the 2008 financial crisis?
Yes. I think it’s not that surprising that this would happen. People have been feeling anxious about the collapse, about the government intervention in response to the collapse. The future looks anything but certain and they don’t trust the government to turn it around. The government is the last institution that they trust to ensure a brighter future.
Do tea partyers really make up about 18 percent of the US population?
In our latest poll, taken in April, 18 percent of Americans say they support the tea party. Only about 4 percent of them had ever given money to or gone to a rally. Those are sort of the hard-core activists. But I think you need to look at the supporters because they are the ones who are now voting for these tea party candidates or are inclined to vote for someone who talks like a tea party candidate.
There are now 138 candidates with tea party support?
[In this midterm election] there are 138 candidates who either have come up through the movement or have support from the tea party and share the TP point of view. And that’s only [the US] House and Senate. That doesn’t count the governors’ races.