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5 Books That Explain The Tea Party Movement

When the Tea Party Movement first surfaced (the 2009 version, not the 1773 version), it strictly adhered to the United States Constitution, reducing government spending and taxes, and a reduction of the U.S national debt and the deficit. The movement borrows its ideology from the conservatives, libertarians, and populists. The Tea Party has been part of a protest movement that has successfully supported political candidates since 2009. Among the movements favorite people have included Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and the current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Initially when the Tea Party Movement was kicked off, it was with the idea to keep true to framers of the Constitution, yet as the its momentum grew, their position switched over to social issues, which included such hot topics like abortion, redefining rape, family values, gay marriage, immigration, medicare, social security, public education, health reform and so on. What does the Tea Party stand for since it embraces populist, libertarian, and conservative thought? Sometimes we really don’t know. They want to have very little to do with the government, but so do anarchists—an extreme faction of the left. Their populist stance of  siding for the guy on main street and against the elites, shares the same ideologies as Communism, and then there’s the conservatism…so which is it?

To bring some light into this haze of political confusion and contradiction, we recommend the following books:

The Tea Party: A Brief History, by Ronald P. Formisano

In this concise book, American political historian Ronald P. Formisano probes the rise of the Tea Party movement during a time of economic crisis and cultural change and examines its powerful impact on American politics. A confederation of intersecting and overlapping organizations, with a strong connection to the Christian fundamentalist Right, the phenomenon could easily be called the Tea Parties. The American media’s fascination with the Tea Party—and the tendency of political leaders who have embraced the movement to say and do outlandish things—not only has fueled the fire driving the movement, but has diverted attention from its roots, agenda, and the enormous influence it holds over the Republican Party and the American political agenda.

Looking at the Tea Party’s claims to historical precedent and patriotic values, Formisano locates its anti-state and libertarian impulses deep in American political culture as well as in voter frustrations that have boiled over in recent decades. He sorts through the disparate goals the movement’s different factions espouse and shows that, ultimately, the contradictions of Tea Party libertarianism reflect those ingrained in the broad mass of the electorate. Throughout American history, third parties, pressure groups, and social movements have emerged to demand reforms or radical change, only to eventually fade away, even if parts of their programs often are later adopted. The Tea Party’s impact as a pressure group has been more immediate. Whether the Tea Party endures remains to be seen. Formisano’s brief history certainly gives us clues.

The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History, by Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, offers a careful and concerned look at American history according to the far right, from the “rant heard round the world,” which launched the Tea Party, to the Texas School Board’s adoption of a social-studies curriculum that teaches that the United States was established as a Christian nation. Along the way, she provides rare insight into the eighteenth-century struggle for independence—a history of the Revolution, from the archives.

Lepore traces the roots of the far right’s reactionary history to the bicentennial in the 1970s, when no one could agree on what story a divided nation should tell about its unruly beginnings. Behind the Tea Party’s Revolution, she argues, lies a nostalgic and even heartbreaking yearning for an imagined past–a time less troubled by ambiguity, strife, and uncertainty–a yearning for an America that never was. The Whites of Their Eyes reveals that the far right has embraced a narrative about America’s founding that is not only a fable but is also, finally, a variety of fundamentalism–anti-intellectual, antihistorical, and dangerously antipluralist. In a new afterword, Lepore addresses both the recent shift in Tea Party rhetoric from the Revolution to the Constitution and the diminished role of scholars as political commentators over the last half century of public debate.

Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, by Lawrence Rosenthal and Christine Trost

In the Spring of 2009, the Tea Party emerged onto the American political scene. In the wake of Obama’s election, as commentators proclaimed the “death of conservatism,” Tax Day rallies and Tea Party showdowns at congressional town hall meetings marked a new and unexpected chapter in American conservatism. Accessible to students and general readers, Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party brings together leading scholars and experts on the American Right to examine a political movement that electrified American society. Topics addressed by the volume’s contributors include the Tea Party’s roots in earlier mass movements of the Right and in distinctive forms of American populism and conservatism, the significance of class, race and gender to the rise and successes of the Tea Party, the effect of the Tea Party on the Republican Party, the relationship between the Tea Party and the Religious Right, and the contradiction between the grass-roots nature of the Tea Party and the established political financing behind it. Throughout the volume, authors provide detailed and often surprising accounts of the movement’s development at local and national levels. In an Epilogue, the editors address the relationship between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement

Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, by Kate Zernike

Boiling Mad is Kate Zernike’s eye-opening look inside the Tea Party, introducing us to a cast of unlikely activists and the philosophy that animates them. She shows how the Tea Party movement emerged from an unusual alliance of young Internet-savvy conservatives and older people alarmed at a country they no longer recognize. The movement is the latest manifestation of a long history of conservative discontent in America, breeding on a distrust of government that is older than the nation itself. But the Tea Partiers’ grievances are rooted in the present, a response to the election of the nation’s first black president and to the far-reaching government intervention that followed the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Though they are better educated and better off than most other Americans, they remain deeply pessimistic about the economy and the direction of the country.

Zernike introduces us to the first Tea Partier, a nose-pierced young teacher who lives in Seattle with her fiancé, an Obama supporter. We listen in on what Tea Partiers learn about the Constitution, which they embrace as the backbone of their political philosophy. We see how young conservatives, who model their organization on the Grateful Dead, mobilize a new set of activists several decades their elder. And we watch as suburban mothers, who draw their inspiration from MoveOn and other icons of the Left, plot to upend the Republican Party in a swing district outside Philadelphia.

Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, by Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen

The riotous tea parties and angry town hall meetings seemingly took everyone by surprise. They shouldn’t have: populist movements have always arisen in times of economic hardship and uncertainty. In Mad As Hell, pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen use extensive and original research to explore the mind and heart of the populist uprising that has suddenly thrown American politics into turmoil. In the past, populist movements have taken root either on the right or on the left. Today’s populist revolt is unusually broad and has two wings: a left wing that wants universal health care and redistributive economic policies, and a right wing that wants to reduce the power of government to interfere in our lives. Both are hostile to the Washington political class, Wall Street, and the mainstream media—all of which they consider out of touch with the concerns of “real” Americans. The key difference is that left populists are effectively represented by Barack Obama and congressional Democrats who are pursuing their agenda, while right populists are chiefly represented by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh— an angrier and potentially more powerful political force.

The authors explore the broad-based nature of the new populist movement and explain how it is reshaping American politics—whether politicians and elite journalists like it or not. In Mad As Hell, Rasmussen and Schoen have produced an authoritative guide to the new populism, featuring a combination of proprietary polling data, political analysis, results from online focus groups,and interviews with on-the-ground players. It is must-reading for anyone interested in American electoral politics for the remainder of the decade.

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