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The Rise of the Tea Party in Electoral Politics

Cloee Cooper • Oct 05, 2010

rand 2This fall the Tea Party “movement” is playing a pivotal role in the 2010 midterm election cycle.  Two years ago many would have laughed at the thought.  Now, even Biden says the tea party should be taken seriously.  How is this possible?

According to Wikipedia, 17 candidates running for the upcoming midterm election have benefited from support from the Tea Party movement.  Rand Paul, the son of Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has played a central role in putting the Tea Party on the map.  On Sunday, a New York Times article mentioned “Mr. Paul invariably opened his speeches by declaring that ‘a Tea Party tidal wave is coming.’  His ‘randslide’ win of the Republican nomination was the movement’s first major success on the national stage.”  But of course Rand Paul is not the only Tea Party endorsed candidate running.

From Delaware to New York to California, Tea Party backed candidates are defeating Republican representatives, pushing the political spectrum even further to the right.  Who knew there was space?

Controversial Tea Party-backed candidates, like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware are gaining national attention.  O’Donnell defeated Representative Mike Castle in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.  In New York, Tea Party-backed candidate Carl Paladino defeated former Representative Rick Lazio in the Republican primary for governor.   And finally, California’s, Chuck DeVore lost the GOP senate primary to Carly Fiorina, endorsed by the one and only Sarah Palin.

While some studies and articles claim that candidates such as Rand Paul are using the Tea Party movement for political leverage, these electoral victories from the tea Party ‘movement’ should raise some concern.

First, the Tea Party movement, although it may represent sentiment that has long been brewing nationally is only approximately one year old.  The Tea Party has probably done more damage than other “political” movements in the last decade.  Amidst some disenfranchised and unsatisfied Americans as well as through electoral politics.

Second, despite some reactions that the Tea Party reflects “ignorant” Americans, many agree we cannot dismiss it all together.  A recent AP article found that “40 percent of likely voters call themselves tea party supporters, and most of them lean toward Republicans while nearly two-thirds have a deeply negative impression of Democrats”.  To assume the Tea Party is menial, is like assuming that an infection wound will go away on its own without proper treatment.

Finally, although economists claim the recession is over, the economic disparity in this country has seldom been greater.  It is not rocket science that economic disparity creates fertile ground to pit people against each other.  New York Times published a poll in April 2010 indicating that 82% of white Tea Party supporters believe that “illegal immigration is a very serious problem” and 52% believe “too much has been made of the problems facing black people”.  That’s right, the Tea Party “movement” and its supporters have been known to breed hatred across race, sex and sexual orientation ‘divides’.

We face this midterm election with upwards of 35% of voters favoring the tea party, more than 17 Tea Party endorsed candidates running for office, and a movement behind them where some are seeking to enter the two-party system.  Amidst a vulnerable economy and a vehemently white nationalist sentiment the wellbeing of this society looks bleak. But while Rome wasn’t build in a day, social and political shifts can occur quickly. In fact, most in history have. Take the emergence of the Tea Party for example.

It is time to take the Tea Party seriously. There is a political and social movement on the rise and it will take more than getting people to the ballot box to fix it.

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