Vote 2010: Why European liberals see the tea party as 'a circus of fools'
European commentators have called tea partyers stupid, ignorant, gullible – and worse. Behind the vitriol may lie a worry about its influence on the Continent.
Atlanta — You thought a lot of American liberals don't quite cotton to the tea party? You should hear the Europeans.
From Britain to Germany, newspaper editorialists – albeit for mostly liberal and leftist party publications – have in turn called those who sympathize with the small-government, antitax tea party movement that sprung up in early 2009 "ill-educated," "drooling imbeciles," "rednecks," and even a "traveling circus of fools."
To be sure, going into Election Day many Americans also had choice adjectives to describe tea party folks. The allegation that the tea party is a Republican fringe over-fixated on race and the past is at the heart of much of the criticism against the movement in the US.
But the fiery European epithets have four very different, and key, causes:
1) Some Brits, holding on to a decades-old characterization of the former colonials as gullible and naive, still view Americans as obtuse and at times irresponsible upstarts on the global stage. The Financial Times' Clive Crook summed the sentiment up in a Monday column about the changing – and, in his view, worrying – dynamics of the American electorate on Election Day. He called the tea party driven by "pure stupid nativism."
2) The American two-party system is fundamentally foreign to Europeans. "US politics has almost always had disorganized, decentralized movements like the Tea Parties – and they have had a significant impact," writes John Judis in the New Republic. "In Europe's multiparty systems, movements cohere more easily into parties, but in the US, the two-party system discourages the transition from movement to party except when the movement takes over one of the two parties."
3) As tea party-inspired groups begin forming in countries like Britain and Israel (there's now a European Tea Party Facebook page devoted to fight "the burden of big government"), many Europeans are worried that growing frustration over large debt burdens, pensions, and immigration could coalesce around a broader tea party-style movement.
"Rather than commend the Tea Party movement as a refreshing and enviable display of American political energy, European media elites have launched an all-out propaganda assault on the movement and its supporters," writes Soeren Kern, a senior analyst at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos on the Pajamas Media news site. "The main tactic has been to seek to discredit Tea Party sympathizers as ... the exact opposite of ideal European citizens and their elite masters."
4) For many Europeans, however, concerns about the tea party center less on how the movement will affect what America does and more on what it won't do in the world. Tea party stalwart Rep. Ron Paul of Texas can only reinforce that fear with his foreign-policy philosophy: “A return to the traditional US foreign policy of active private engagement but government noninterventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.”
"The world needs cooperative leadership – leadership based on a will for dialogue in financial policies as well as in other areas," counters Norwegian Labor Party Secretary Raymond Johansen on the Huffington Post. "Inward-looking austerity and Tea Party populism is not the answer, neither for the US nor for Europe."