Nothing new about tea partiers

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, March 28, 2010 15:12 EDT
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One of the most evocative examples of how media bias towards novelty works in politics has to be the way that mainstream media is covering the teabagger movement. Any fool could see from the outset that the teabaggers are a bunch of Fox News-addled right wing nuts that are sore losers whose anger is exacerbated by racist resentments. But the mainstream media insists on covering it like it’s an exciting, fresh shift in the political landscape. I don’t think they’re carrying Republican water on this issue, though. I think the eagerness to run with this “teabaggers are fed-up independents” narrative is stoked by a desire for novelty above all other things. But it defies common sense. You can look with your own eyes and see that the teabaggers aren’t really a collection of spring chickens. But should your eyes deceive you, then you should also note a) that the average age of Limbaugh and Fox News’ audience is past retirement age and b) that enough of them were so far out of the loop, slang-wise, that they initially called themselves “teabaggers” without realizing how that would cause a nation to titter wildly. The point here is not to bash old people, but to point out that human beings aren’t known for our willingness to change our habits and beliefs suddenly in our golden years. It happens, of course, but it’s rare enough that if you see a big group of people with an average age older than 40, you can safely assume they didn’t all just wake up to their brand-new political beliefs. The far more likely explanation is that the people you’re seeing have been nursing their grievances for a long ass time, and were activated by some flagrant violation of long-held beliefs. My money’s on the most obvious explanation. There was a one-two hit of shit happening they thought would never happen: a black man elected President and the passage of health care reform.

But of course, in order for the obvious to sink in, you need some cold, hard numbers. And those have been produced–-teabaggers mostly identify as Republicans, or they’re those assholes who call themselves something like “libertarian” but always vote for Republicans. I’d probably put money on the possibility that the few who identified as Democrats are also Republicans; they’re just nursing the youstabee grievance, where they pretend they want to vote for Democrats, but Democrats just make is so hard because they insist on being Democrats.

On that subject, it’s worth pointing out that the original sin of the Democrats that created legions of youstabees was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Digby has a handy chart showing how the Democrats basically lost their ability to command national majorities of white voters after that.

Click to see it full size. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but the data is pretty damn compelling in terms of explaining exactly what teabaggers mean when they say they’re “losing” America, that they’re the Real Americans, and when they engage in nostalgia for the way it used to be. You’re seeing a very slight trending upwards of white voters post-CRA who are voting for Democratic presidential candidates (though never the majority) but you’re seeing a dramatic plunge downwards of what percentage of the voters are white, from 90%+ of voters in 1968 to 74% in 2008. Both these trends would be expedited if younger people voted at the same rate as our elders, but even though this reluctance of younger people to vote has stymied progress, the writing has been on the wall for a long time now. And the cast of villains the teabaggers hate tailors neatly to the demographic groups that are changing the trends. Fancy that.

None of this means that Democrats shouldn’t be worried about November. The trends you see in presidential elections will be muted in a mid-term, where the older generations that created the data from previous decades will be even more overrepresented at the ballot box. Teabaggers will also be effective at get out the vote efforts, even if the promises made about repealing health care reform have no chance of coming to fruition. I don’t really think the teabaggers even care about that; they vote their resentments and so the promise of simply punishing Democrats they see as elected by illegitimate, non-real Americans will be enough. But it has nothing to do with any new trends, that’s for sure.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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