'Tea party' movement: Who are they and what do they want?
Tea Party Nation convention starts Thursday. Questions and answers about the tea party movement and how it might affect the 2010 elections.
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But unheralded operatives, such as Brendan Steinhauser, campaign director for FreedomWorks and author of "The Conservative Revolution," created the backbone of the movement, establishing websites and Facebook pages that would become populated with fed-up voters.Skip to next paragraph
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Critics say it is being funded or co-opted by entrenched conservative powers like FreedomWorks, which recruits volunteers to lobby for smaller government and lower taxes. The Washington Post has reported that the tea party movement is, through FreedomWorks, tied to corporations like MetLife, Philip Morris, and "foundations controlled by the archconservative Scaife family."
"Nobody is saying that the passion is manufactured," says Chris Harris at MediaMatters, a media watchdog group on the left. "But partisan and pro-business interests … [are] using people's real passion in a way that protesters aren't meaning."
Tea partyers, however, say the amateur-hour feel of their movement proves it's a true grass-roots uprising. "You can't simultaneously call the movement fractured and incompetent and a vast right-wing conspiracy," says O'Hara.
What do tea partyers want?
The movement, in its essence, is about safeguarding individual liberty, cutting taxes, and ending bailouts for business while the American taxpayer gets burdened with more public debt. It is fueled by concern that the United States under Mr. Obama is becoming a European-style social democracy where individual initiative is sapped by the needs of the collective.
"The issue is no longer tea tariffs and imperial rule, but bailouts and handouts, stimulus in the face of deficits, cap and trade [on carbon emissions], universal healthcare … dictated against the will and interest of the people, and at the peril of … the nation as a whole" leading to "an inevitable blow-back in a battle over America's constitutional principles," writes O'Hara in "A New American Tea Party," which hit bookstores this month.
Is the tea party affiliated with the Republican Party?
Certainly more Republicans than Democrats show up at tea party events. But the movement's aim is to fight profligate spending by both parties in Washington. (GOP chairman Michael Steele was notably refused a spot on the speaking roster at a Chicago tea party event last year.)
In some ways, the tea party movement poses less of a challenge to Democrats than to Republicans, who must weigh the potential gains and pitfalls of courting far-right tea partyers against those of courting middle America. To what extent the tea party movement is middle America is the big question – one that coming elections will help answer.
What has the tea party movement achieved so far?