Betcha didn't know this: The Tea Party movement's growth was fueled by unemployed people lying around looking for something to do, and will have a hard time sustaining itself if/when the economy improves. Oh, and they're so distressed about the country's circumstances that they're letting emotion trump facts in their advocacy.
Those are the themes of Kate Zernike's Saturday New York Times report with the snarky title ("With No Jobs, Plenty of Time for Tea Party") that was carried on the front page of Sunday's print edition. Really. This is the same Kate Zernike (pictured at top right) who saw racism where none existed at CPAC in February, and who Andrew Breitbart memorably called "a despicable human being." Seems about right.
Zernike's piece attempted to support its pathetic premises and implications as a result of discussions with three -- count 'em -- individuals. One of them is in her mid-60s and collecting Social Security, hardly the archetype of a disaffected unemployed person. Comically, the Times reporter characterized Dick Armey's FreedomWorks a "Tea Party group," even though it was founded in 1984, a quarter-century before Rick Santelli's memorable tea-party rant last year.
Here are selected passages from Kate's calamity:
At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party’s fight for lower taxes and smaller government.
The Great Depression, too, mobilized many middle-class people who had fallen on hard times. Though, as Michael Kazin, the author of “The Populist Persuasion,” notes, they tended to push for more government involvement. The Tea Party vehemently wants less — though a number of its members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help.
... The fact that many of them joined the Tea Party after losing their jobs raises questions of whether the movement can survive an improvement in the economy, with people trading protest signs for paychecks.
But for now, some are even putting their savings into work that they argue is more important than a job — planning candidate forums and get-out-the-vote operations, researching arguments about the constitutional limits on Congress and using Facebook to attract recruits.
“Even if I wanted to stop, I just can’t,” said Diana Reimer, 67, who has become a star of the effort by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, to fight the health care overhaul. “I’m on a mission, and time is not on my side.”
... She and others who receive government benefits like Medicare and Social Security said they paid into those programs, so they are getting what they deserve.
“All I know is government was put here for certain reasons,” Ms. Reimer said. “They were not put here to run banks, insurance companies, and health care and automobile companies. They were put here to keep us safe.”
... (Unemployed Midwesterner Jeff McQueen) and others do not see any contradictions in their arguments for smaller government even as they argue that it should do more to prevent job loss or cuts to Medicare. After a year of angry debate, emotion outweighs fact.
... Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks recognize that they are benefiting from the labor of many people who have been hit hard economically. But its chairman, the former House majority leader Dick Armey, argued that their ranks will remain strong — and connected — even as members find work.
In Zernike's world it's almost as if you can't criticize the government's excessive largesse unless you're not taking a dime of government benefits in any way, shape, or form.
As to her contention that Tea Party involvement will diminish as the economy improves, three points:
- Based on my real-world observations of Tea Partiers, many of them do have jobs, and are working their activism around their work.
- Many active Tea Partiers are in jobs or have self-employed businesses with a lot of time flexibility.
- The Obama administration itself has said that the employment situation won't improve much for quite some time, making Zernike's assertion that Tea Partiers might become to busy to stay politically engaged a far-off dream.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.