There is a line of thinking that goes something like this: “Once the Obama presidency ends, the Tea Party movement will dissolve since it was never about anything but race”. In their book “Change They Can’t Believe In”, political scientists Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto provide strong empirical evidence* that this simply will not happen. They argue that the Tea Party-types are animated by a deep conviction that “their” America is slipping away from them and that this trend must be stopped at all costs. To that end, government at every level MUST be taken over by “true believers” in this Tea Party view.
Given the foregoing, look at what has happened: The 2010 election can validly be labeled as a “wave” or one that brought about a sea change. Numerous state legislatures and the US House of Representatives were taken over by newly elected Tea Party members. These results will be with us until at least the next national consensus when there will be an opportunity to undo some of conservatives’ rampant gerrymandering that has stacked elections in their favor.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party-types at the federal level have paralyzed government. At the state level, they have sought to overturn decades of progress towards guaranteeing the rights of individuals. And, at each of these levels, they have been emboldened by their success. If they can permanently cripple the federal government while imposing their will on state governance, they will achieve an important degree of progress in returning the country to one that they believe has been slipping away. It is a country where Whites resume ascendancy, minorities of all types (racial and sexual) are kept in their “proper” (subordinate) place, Christianity is the de-facto national religion, and full equality is the right of only those individuals who mirror the Tea Party in attitudes, behavior, moral rectitude, and appearance; i.e. the “real” Americans.
In a very real sense, this is the USA that existed prior to the Civil War. Beyond freeing the slaves, a key result of that conflict was to firmly establish the federal government as the protector of individual rights over and above states’ discriminatory practices. We are now engaged in a re-fighting of that war as individual citizen-groups and the federal government are challenging attempts by various states to curtail minority voting rights and restrict a woman’s right to have an abortion within the limits imposed by the 1972 Roe V. Wade decision. The difference this time around is that the “battlefields” are our courts. How these cases are decided will go a long way toward defining what we will be like as a nation in the years ahead. That is no small matter and why, as has been argued at this blogsite, state elections matter.
* Parker and Barreto have collected their evidence from conservative websites, national publications, and the poll responses of both hard-line Tea Party-types and their sympathizers. The researchers’ results are compelling, not just because of their laudable methodology, but because they evolved from these voting blocs’ very own words. See: Parker, Christopher and Barreto, Matt; Change They Can’t Believe In. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ; 2013.