Only in America

tea party signsIt’s hard to imagine a group of candidates more gaffe-prone than Tea Party Republicans.

A slew of these misstep-a-minute folks are running for the House and Senate. Polls show many, if not most, of them are ahead of their Democratic opponents, or are neck-and-neck with them.

We liberals chuckle – and cringe — at Tea Partiers and their candidates. But the more we poke fun at them, the more they trash us as “the liberal elite,” author and journalist Thomas Frank observed on the Countdown with Keith Olbermann TV show.

They call us “eggheads” and “the ruling class,” he added. “You know, people that went to college and think they’re smarter than you…It is ridiculous. But…it works. You‘ve got to remember that…whenever we criticize them for slip-ups…we come off looking like snobs.”

Tea Party candidate gaffes don’t seem to matter much to the Tea Party faithful. If anything, they think gaffes are more proof that their candidates are just plain folks, like them. Tea Partiers don’t want some smarty-pants speaking for them in Washington .

Tea Partiers, almost all of whom are white folks, see themselves as down-to-earth, “common sense” Americans. Their “common sense” includes the notion that President Obama is a Kenyan-born closet Muslim who loves socialism and hates white people. You often see that claim on their protest signs.

Other examples of Tea Party “common sense” include signs that say: “OBAMA’s PLAN WHITE SLAVERY,” “We came unarmed (this time)” and “The American Taxpayers Are The Jews For Obama’s Ovens.”

Anyway, the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman also observed on Countdown that we have several candidates “…from the periphery of American politics…who are almost proud and assert their pride in their lack of knowledge of the political system.” He meant Tea Party candidates.

“Only in America would we ever pretend to argue that ignorance is somehow a qualification for higher office,” he said. “But in this year and this time with a lot of people it is….”

Even so, “it’s also déjà vu all over again,” to quote Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher and baseball sage.

Remember Ronald Reagan’s reign of error? – the title of a book, by the way.

Reagan ran as the everyman candidate, the guy from down the street with the boyish “aw shucks” grin who apparently preferred skimming Reader’s Digest to actually reading books. His gaffes were legendary.

One time, he said “trees cause more pollution than automobiles.” Another time, he said “facts are stupid things.”

We liberals believed Reagan was so far right-wing, not to mention so shallow, if not clueless, he could never get elected. But the people who shared Reagan’s political views didn’t care that he wasn’t a great thinker. They were Reader’s Digest fans, too. They liked condensed books and condensed politics.

Like Reagan, Tea Party candidates are delivering what Tea Partiers want: simple answers to complex issues. Never mind that there never have been simple answers to complex issues.

Tea Party candidates aim for the gut, not the head. They demagogue. They scapegoat. They pick easy targets: “illegal” immigrants, Muslim “terrorists” and “immoral” gays.

We really have been here before.

The Tea Party philosophy is a blend of conspiratorial fantasies reminiscent of the old Know Nothings and Joe McCarthy and George Wallace-style politics of race and resentment.

In the 1850s, the Know-Nothings ranted against immigrants, too. They claimed Catholic German and Irish newcomers to America were conspiring with the pope in Rome to turn the republic “papist.” In the 1950s, Sen. McCarthy raved that the republic was imperiled by a cabal of American communists in cahoots with Moscow .

A decade later, Wallace, Alabama’s segregationist governor, became the symbol of white resistance to integration. He ran for president in 1968 appealing to white folks who hated LBJ and the Democrats who passed (with moderate and liberal Republican help) historic civil rights bills aimed at ending years of Jim Crow segregation and race discrimination.

Wallace fulminated against “pseudo-intellectuals” and “pointy-headed bureaucrats” in Washington.

I don’t know how many Tea Partiers are old enough to remember McCarthy and Wallace. But they’re probably heroes to those who are.

Of course, almost all Tea Partiers revere the Gipper, who opened his 1980 presidential campaign in Mississippi by telling an all-white crowd he was for “states’ rights,” the old Dixie code word for slavery and segregation. Neo-Confederates are big in the Tea Party movement

Reagan was the ultimate “common sense” candidate to millions of white people, not just to Southerners. He was their Great White Hope.

They didn’t give a fig that Reagan had little or no intellectual curiosity. Intellectual curiosity was ivory tower liberal stuff.

They doted on his corny nostrums about “morning in America .” His America was their America , the America of Leave it to Beaver, where all the faces where white, and minorities were unseen.

The Cleavers lived in a fictitious Mayfield. I live in a real Mayfield, one in Kentucky .

Berry CraigI don’t know everything about government, not even close. But I’m not running for congress or the senate. If I were, I hope I could do better than offer voters more than inanities and clichés and appeal to paranoia. Apparently, political inexperience and ignorance of basic government operations — including what the constitution says — is a plus to Tea Partiers.

It’s not with me. I’ve never voted for candidates who “assert their pride in their lack of knowledge of the political system.” I don’t plan to start November 2.

Berry Craig


  1. says

    Thank you, Mr. Craig, for your outstanding post. As a professional historian and past college instructor in U.S. history I can say that your article was a joy to read. Your grasp of American history is outstanding. I have posted your article to my Notes on my FB page and hope it will receive a wide audience. Thank you again for your post. (I may be found at

  2. Questionman says

    The Tea Party are edvidently stupid, and closet racists. Let’s stop pussyfooting around and call a spade a spade. Where was the anger over spending and deficits and debt during the Bush years? President Bush inherited a budget surplus and a timetable to pay off national debt in 10 years (the debt clock even stopped during the Clinton years) and left office with the national debt in the double-digits and a budget deficit over a trillion. And Bush expanded the size of government to the biggest level since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”. This was the era, in the words of Bush’s own talking points, of “Big Government Conservatism”. WTF is that?!

    And where was this anger then?! The same Tea Party anti-government activists today also swore blind allegiance to Bush and everything he ever did as their “Good Ol’ Boy”. But when Obama comes in and simply continues many of the inherited policies of Bush, including bailing out the banks and GM and Chrysler, these people riot.

    Suddenly government is out of control and spending too much. Forget about the merit of that statement, but why only notice when a black man is at the helm?

  3. Wes Tipton says

    Liberal elitists do more damage to this nation in a shorter period of time than any other group of intellectuals ever could. Their smug ‘I’m smarter than you so shut up and do what you’re told’ mantra is sickening, stupid and un-American, but otherwise it’s just peachy.
    Whether these liberal so called ‘authors’ want to admit the facts or not is immaterial; the tea party is made up of millions of middle class Americans who DO NOT WANT the socialist/European agenda this impostor in our white house is trying to sell. He has made it clear these last few weeks that he is narcissistic to a fault, narrow minded and petty. He wants his own way, even if his way is luncay, and he throws tantrums everytime things go badly for him – which is constant these days.
    Mentioning his name in the same breath as a real patriotic ‘American’ President like Ronald Reagan is an insult to Reagan and all of the other real Presidents that have gone before this phoney campaign manager.

  4. Ryder says

    The problem I have with meandering article is the central assumption that I am sure that the auor simply doesn’t even knowhen s making.

    What the founders knew, and the tea party know and appreciates about the wise founders, is that problems are SO complex, that the simple answers you get from government offices can only be a recipe for failure.

    The premise that this author is riding on is the idea that a hand full of elites, if they are very, very, smart… Can can make decisions for others.

    The problem is this: if you take the 10 smartest people on the planet, you can try to compare yourself to them, and clearly, they are smarter than you… But the interesting fact is that even though they are intellectual giants, there are still probably several things that YOU are more expert on than they are… The proper temperature to store a vaccine, or the best way to encrypt data to make emails more private… Or know more about how to known where to drill a well.

    In fact, we see this again and again…. The most complex problems are solved by common people… Andn in almost every case where a few government elites think they can solve the complex problems, they fail.

    The complex problem of poverty is a prime example… Government, who have repeatedly promised to end poverty, has spent trillions on the effort, and has totally failed. The “cycle of poverty” has never been broken as has been promised. Instead we have poverty, and now multi-generational dependence on public assistance, essentially entrenching poverty.

    Education is another…. Where the US ranked first when education was not centrally controlled by elites, but now that education is the realm of hig ranking officials, our results are mediocre at best.

    When will the elites (and this author) finally realize that some problems are so complex that only a teacher can solve them, right where the problem lives?

    The lust for central control and power by some is an amazing thing to see, and something the tea partiers rightly fight against.

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