Having just started Spring Break at my college, I’ve had a bit more time to watch the hour-long conversations that go on at Bloggingheads.tv. It just so happens that three of the recent conversations mentioned the Tea Party movement from very different perspectives. In the first, which was centered around discussion of the religious right, the question of the connections between the Tea Parties and the religious right was front and center. Sara Posner and Ed Kilgore looked at some of the dog whistles coming from the Tea Party movement as well as the extent to which some on the religious right have been tailoring their message to match the libertarian rhetoric from the Tea Parties that represents much of the outward political activism of the right wing for the time being.
Now, as both Posner and Kilgore were focused on the religious right, it is possible that they are exaggerating the extent to which there is a connection. Futhermore, while I am not familiar with the writings of either, it was clear that they were coming at this from a non-right wing perspective, which can lend itself to the bias of grouping together the politics of the right. However, coming out of that discussion, I had the distinct feeling that there was an understanding between the leaders of the Tea Party movement and those of the religious right, even if the message of the Tea Party movement was secular and the rank and file were more oriented toward the libertarian end of the coalition on the right in their activist focus.
The second was a discussion between two individuals who are non-hostile to the Tea Party movement, Matt Welsh and Ann Althouse. While neither of the two themselves are Tea Partiers, Matt as the editor of the libertarian Reason magazine, has a good deal of exposure to the movement and Ann’s husband made a trip to Washington to protest the health care bill just before it was passed. Matt made the point, as he has made before, that the so-called “racist” element to the Tea Party movement is being overplayed by a media looking for a juicy story and Tea Party antagonists looking for a quick way to condemn the movement.
The angle coming from this discussion was much different than the first, as it took the libertarian message of the movement at face value as opposed to looking at it explicitly from the point of view of those interested in the religious right, which has been fairly silent for the past year. This incongruence of perception leads to the question posed by this post’s title. Thus far the Tea Party movement has been able to keep a fairly coherent message against government encroachment, which of course is often presented in the hyperbolic vocabulary of socialism (sometimes modified with an antecedent “national) and communism, and thus any ideological rifts within the movement or secondary characteristics have stayed underneath the surface.
However, as the third discussion between Joshua Cohen and Brink Lindsay suggests, we may start to see some of that. The next issue that the Obama administration is planning to pursue legislatively is immigration reform, and as Brink pointed out, there is a rather obvious split between libertarians from the Cato Institute and popular conservative sentiment. From my vantage point, I would expect that most of the Tea Party movement’s members would be against the immigration reform that would be favored by Brink Lindsay or Will Wilkinson, who have a somewhat liberal disposition on the issue, whereas there are other ideological currents that drive conservative opposition to the sort of immigration reform that we are likely to see come out of Congress for Obama to sign.
As that issue becomes front and center in the political discourse in Washington, it should be interesting to see how the Tea Party movement behaves. Does it stay together? What direction will it advocate (or at least what will it oppose)? Will it’s visibility fade in favor of a separate wing of right wing activism that can more approach the issue with more ideological coherence? I think that we may start to see the true colors of the movement exposed as the focus shifts in Washington and I personally will be interested to see how that happens.