During his interview with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (11/3/13), NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory offered up this fanciful account of the Tea Party movement’s origins during a discussion about internal GOP fights:
Look, the reason there is a Tea Party right now goes back to President Bush. I actually think it goes back to the beginning of a more robust security state after 9/11; the government expands to deal with security. There’s also Medicare Part D. There’s a lot of government spending, and then there’s ultimately the bailouts, which conservatives start to rebel against. And then President Obama continues that.
This is the kind of rhetoric Tea Party figures like to trot out when critics note that a movement that claims to be concerned about government spending was sure quiet (or nonexistent) during the Bush years. But Gregory arguably manages to take it one step further by linking the right-wing movement to a critique of the national security state and Medicare Part D.
Which Tea Party movement is this?
As a refresher: The movement really geared up in the wake of comments by CNBC host Rick Santelli (2/19/09), who was outraged by government plans to offer help to distressed homeowners (i.e., not the Wall Street bailouts). His call for “tea party” protests against policies to help these “losers”–issued just a month after Obama’s inauguration–resulted in the first wave of such protests. Glenn Beck, then a host at Fox News Channel, took up the cause too. Some of the most visible examples of Tea Party activism were the “town hall” protests against what would eventually become the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party “brand” was adopted by many well-known, well-connected figures in the Republican Party, like Dick Armey.
What did they all want? It wasn’t always clear; as Steve Rendall and I wrote (Extra!, 5/10), the movement is full of political contradictions that media often failed to explore, but
there’s one consistency they ignore in painting Tea Partiers as wholesome adherents to small government, constitutional principles and so on: the movement’s singular and often racialized loathing of Barack Obama.
Corporate pundits have spent years coming up with more flattering descriptions of the Tea Party than what they most clearly seem to represent. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said they “began as a protest against Republicans for being soft on deficits.” His colleague David Brooks wrote that the “Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country.” Someone should alert the Koch Brothers!
Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham once wrote that the Tea Party could be good for everyone, since it was about “the recovery of the spirit of the American Founding.” Time‘s Michael Crowley suggested the movement was animated by disgust with Wall Street; they believe that “Washington and Wall Street are in bed together, colluding for power and profit at the expense of the little guy.” He also argued that Tea Partiers are about calling out “an elite Washington–New York establishment that lies to the public to cover for policies that enrich the wealthy and strengthen the powerful.”
This is a remarkably charitable view of an obviously right-wing movement that began just as soon as a black Democrat took office. That’s not to say that all Tea Party activists are motivated by a racialized loathing of Barack Obama; but to suggest that the Tea Party exists to express dissatisfaction with both major parties and the national security state, and that Obama’s presidency just so happened to coincide with the rise of this movement, stretches even the most active imagination.