MAD AS HELL: HOW THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT IS FUNDAMENTALLY REMAKING OUR TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
By Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen
Harper, $27.99, 328 pages
It's the contention of Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen that populist movements invariably arise in times of severe economic uncertainty, usually either on the left or right. But this time around, say the authors, the populist uprisings have occurred at both ends of the ideological spectrum.
At the moment, populists on the left, who gave their enthusiastic support to Barack Obama during the last presidential election, are closer to the levers of power. But as the president and his congressional allies increasingly prove themselves unable or unwilling to follow through on their campaign promises, the fervor among the activists who brought them to power seems increasingly to fade into disillusion.
On the right, however, the enthusiasm and anger is sharp, clear and politically potent, finding voice in the Tea Party movement, which, according to the authors, is already "as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties - potentially strong enough to elect senators, governors, and congressmen, [even] the next president of the United States."
Moreover, they continue, "despite being systematically ignored, belittled, marginalized, and ostracized by political, academic, and media elites, the tea party movement has grown stronger and stronger."
It's their purpose, say the authors, to demonstrate that "the tea party movement is a genuine grassroots phenomenon" that has been "systematically misunderstood by political and elites," and is "not only America's most vibrant political force" but has "unprecedented broad-based support, and the power to influence the 2010 and 2012 elections and the future of American politics in ways fundamentally misunderstood and not appreciated."
Indeed, most recently, the Tea Party movement claims a share of the credit for Joe Miller's upset of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican senatorial primary, an upset not predicted by any expert, local or national, foreseen only by one analyst for the Alaska Dispatch.
In similar manifestations throughout the country in Utah, Nevada, Kentucky and Florida, say the authors, there's a "broad-based enthusiasm and energy for the tea party's agenda of limited government, balanced budget, returning to core principles - potentially resulting in a Republican takeover of the House and Senate."
A strong assertion, and with the elections in November just weeks away, not one that most polling experts would care to make. But the authors know their business. Mr. Rasmussen's polling firm, Rasmussen Reports, is generally acknowledged to rival Gallup, and Mr. Schoen, founder of the political polling firm Penn and Schoen, is a widely respected writer and commentator.
Both are confident in their methodology and approach in "Mad as Hell," featuring a combination of proprietary polling data, political analysis, results from online focus groups and in-depth interviews with on-the-ground Tea Party participants and activists in the field.
Their book, they believe, will serve as a key reference for anyone writing or theorizing about - or practicing - electoral politics for the remainder of the decade. At present, they believe, the widespread ignorance of the nature of the Tea Party's broad-based support and membership "has to do with the media's inherent partisanship, class and regional prejudice, and a myopic insistence on shoving the legitimate populist outrage of tea party members - 40 percent of whom are non-Republicans - into a preconceived, narrow, right-wing extremist box."
But perhaps a small business owner at a Tea Party Express rally, quoted by the authors, puts it best: "I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat, I'm American. I'm here because I believe we need to do something about what is happening in our country. And I notice that millions of people across the country want this, too.
"We aren't racists or bigots, we aren't Astroturf puppets, and we aren't fringe right-wing zealots. We are just ordinary hardworking Americans who love our country but are mad as hell!"
John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of "Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement" (Wiley, 2007).
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