Howard Dean: tea party is 'last gasp' of generation that fears diversity

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean characterizes the tea party as 'almost entirely over 55 and white.' He says tea partyers are driven by the economy but also discomfort about the nation's demographic changes.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Former Vermont governor, presidential candidate, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean (c.) talks at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast in Washington Wednesday.

Economic uncertainty and concerns about the country’s growing racial diversity are the two key factors driving the growth of the tea party, says former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean.

Speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters, Mr. Dean said “the fundamental driver is the economy. I think the unsaid issue that nobody wants to talk about is – and the Republicans get really upset when I mention this – is the demographic changes. There is no question about that.”

Dean called the tea party movement, “the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity.”

He argued that, “The demographic changes we have all known were going to happen have happened and all of a sudden it is here for them and they don’t know what to do.... Every morning when they see the president, they are reminded that things are totally different than they were when they were born.”

The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate said he tells college audiences that, “you have all had friends of different races, different religions, and different sexual orientations, and you all date each other, that is not how I grew up. That is not how the tea party grew up. The tea party is almost entirely over 55 and white.”

Now working for a Washington law firm, Dean argued that there are three tea parties. “There is the racist fringe…. There is the Dick Armey corporate tea party, which doesn’t have anything much more to do with the real tea party than the racist fringe. [Mr. Armey is a Republican former House majority leader now active in the tea party movement.] And then there is the real tea party … which is the vast majority – which are pretty socially conservative even though they try to mask that,” Dean said.

Dean described the bulk of the tea party members as “populists. They are not going to support free trade. They don’t mind taxing millionaires. And they really do want to balance the budget.”

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner is well aware of the tea party’s different components and political concerns, Dean said. “He is just trying to figure out how the heck he is going to make it work.… I can’t wait to see which tea party really emerges."

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