The Tea Party has become the ultimate expression of fury of the American middle class at the erosion of its quality of life and the rampant insecurity in employment and housing. This is in spite of what the movement represents. It opposes government spending on economic stimulus, unemployment benefits and medical insurance — which could enhance or temper the fate of this same middle class. It opposes both closing fiscal gaps and eliminating tax relief for big business; this tax relief is not only not extended to the middle class but makes the own tax burden even more inequitable. Given the Tea Party’s radicalism toward public spending and taxes, it is likely that the U.S. government will declare a moratorium on debt payments and fall into a severe operational crisis. If this should happen, not only will interest rates increase, but the risk of entering a recession will as well; both will have as their major victim this same middle class. Why, then, do large segments of the middle class prefer the Tea Party, whose ideology is so far from its reality and needs? Several reasons could explain this contradiction.
First, in times of uncertainty and profound discouragement, the most strident voices and the most intemperate positions are usually the most popular. Beaten to the core by the disappearance of their savings, by unemployment and underemployment, by the loss or the risk of losing the roof over their heads and by the proliferation of bankruptcies caused by high medical expenses, large sections of the middle class have found an adequate port for anchoring their frustration and disappointment in the extremism of a Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck.
Second, extremism does not need to use the blogosphere to spread its message; rather, it counts on one of the most watched television networks in the United States: Fox News. It provides a wide audience and an extraordinary ability for penetration. Rupert Murdoch has given the Tea Party’s unrestrained populism the platform required for polarizing the country.
Third, before the deep disenchantment with the political world of Washington transformed into a reception hall for vested interests that thrive on opacity, whoever talked tough and told it like it is was guaranteed immediate popularity. Unfortunately, telling it like it is and holding fast to radical and intransigent positions have come to be seen as the same thing.
Fourth, a man like Obama, who arrived at the White House riding on his skills as a great communicator and a message of change, has proved to be a cautious president to the core, always in search of compromise. He has been identified with the discredited political world of Washington and has alienated the average citizen. The Tea Party falls short as a counterpart capable of denouncing the distance between his message and the interests of the middle class.