April 15 was Tax Day, and the budding Tea Party movement took full advantage of the opportunity to promote its message with rallies across the nation.
As a political science student, I’m always happy to see people excited enough by policy to take to the streets, whether it’s UCLA budget cuts or the federal income tax in question. But it has been incredibly frustrating as a rational person to observe the differences between these Tea Party supporters’ “grievances” and the reality of the policies they protest.
For all of the media buzz surrounding the Tea Party, the group has been hurt by “extremist” factions within the group. Accusations of racism and homophobia have been particularly damaging.
CBS News and The New York Times conducted a poll to discover the views of people who identified themselves as Tea Party supporters. The responses from 881 supporters were indicative of a confused group of people whose common interest is anger; 53 percent of Tea Party supporters said they were angry with the way things are going in Washington.
Even these “supporters” of the movement seem reluctant to show support for the Tea Party in the poll. Of those who were polled, 78 percent had never attended a rally or donated money. Those seem like the only ways an individual can support a political movement, particularly one that has never actually had anyone run for office. In essence, most of those who have said they are supporters are little more than sympathizers doing nothing to further the Tea Party movement.
The movement also seems to be in disarray in terms of what change its members wish to see most. Of those polled, 45 percent think “reducing federal government” should be their main goal while only 6 percent think that the focus should be lowering taxes. But 49 percent of those polled said they would prefer cutting taxes over reducing a federal budget, versus 42 percent who would have preferred vice versa.
The group can say they are about fighting big government, but when its members are more interested in cutting their taxes than reducing government spending, the Tea Party is revealed for what it truly is ““ a bunch of people who are angry at having to pay more taxes.
Such a movement is justifiable, but leaders who frame the argument as a defense of individual liberties against an exceedingly large and tyrannical government are misleading their followers and the public at large.
This leads to the final, most disturbing discrepancy of all. Of those who call themselves Tea Party supporters, 64 percent think the Obama administration has increased taxes for most Americans.
Since Obama took office, nobody’s federal income tax has gone up. Obama’s increase of taxes is a myth, and the Tea Party is a tax revolt against tax hikes that simply haven’t happened. Sam Adams must be turning in his grave, knowing that the name of his historical tax revolt is being stolen by protesters of a nonexistent tax increase.
Perhaps the Tea Party supporters are protesting in anticipation of the increase on those making more than $250,000 a year, a proposal of Obama’s while he was campaigning. But citizens making that kind of money represent just a small fraction of the movement’s members. Only 12 percent of the protesters fall into the upper tax bracket.
The ignorance of those in the Tea Party is evidenced elsewhere in the poll, as 30 percent of supporters think Obama was born in another country, and 42 percent think the economy is getting worse even though the last two quarters have been marked by GDP growth.
Such an extreme misunderstanding of facts and current events is an embarrassment to whatever news outlet these people use for their information. Not surprisingly, 63 percent of Tea Party supporters said they watch Fox News for their television news.
Indoctrination by the notoriously right-leaning Fox News might explain one final, disturbing, trend among Tea Party supporters: 84 percent of its supporters thought the group represented the views of most Americans. Separate polls by The New York Times and The Associated Press indicate that about 60 percent of Americans do not support the Tea Party. The Tea Party just seems comically out of touch with reality for a supposedly grassroots organization.
As students, we can learn from the Tea Party movement that if by uniting in a common grievance, such as expanding government or (in our case) a shrinking school budget, we can make our voices heard. The Tea Party is also a reminder to get our message and facts straight before we start yelling, or risk being written off as passionate, but confused, rebels without a cause.