O thanks, NY Times. Just what we needed.

A whole article on the Tea Party!  With lots and lots of videos of individual members.

And they are scary, not least because they are about 18% of Americans.  They are ill-informed, think in slogans and are inconsistent.  The false and inconsistent beliefs are not uniform, but some are common.  E.g., they love medicade and social secuity, but not any ‘socialist’ programs that involve  big government. 

They each express a sense of estrangement and alienation from the US government, which they see as very menacing and out of control   They also think that it favors other people.  It is hard not to see racist coding all through the talks.

As I read the  article, I kept thinking, “Forget about the tea party and have some madeira, m’dear.”  The second part of the sentence comes from a Flanders and Swann song which – amazingly enough – they can  be seen performing in 1967 on youtube.   Delightful though the  melody is, it is a tale of a failed seduction, and so hardly going to cheer one up, I think.  Well, see what you think.  If it seems offensive (I really can’t decide), try the  next one, which is just fun.

The point of the second one is that it has absolutely nothing to do with current politics.  Go look at the Tea Partiers and you may get a sense of why that’s a good thing.

If you have a child who has heard Flanders and Swann on the Gnu, today might be a good day to fill them in!

16 thoughts on “O thanks, NY Times. Just what we needed.

  1. I found the last paragraph of that article incredibly confusing… Not because the reaction didn’t make sense but rather, had that seriously not been considered before?

  2. Kathryn, I just looked back at the article & i’m not sure I understand what you are saying. Could you say a bit more? What is the ‘that’ that hadn’t been thought of before?

  3. jj- I was referring to this response when a woman was asked about how she reconciles wanting social security and smaller government:

    “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

  4. Anonymous, nothing in the article says they are highly educated. Further, the jobs they hold are not indicative of being highly educated. The furthest the article goes is to say more of them are well educated, which apparently means that they have some college experience.

    Kathryn, I’ve got it. It does seem as though the person has just realized her desires aren’t exactly consistent. I suspect inconsistent desires are not all that unusual, but ones where the inconsistency is so apparent seem shocking. One suspects that her joining the Tea Party meant she took on board slogans that she didn’t think through at all. I suppose if she gives on up one so easily, we could wonder if she really believed it.

  5. I saw this mentioned somewhere, maybe not in the article, so I should have referenced where it comes from. But it’s definitely in the chart of poll results the article has (it’s in the overall demographics section):

    Education / Tea party / All respondents
    Not a high school graduate 3% 12%
    High school graduate 26% 35%
    Some college education 33% 28%
    College graduate 23% 15%
    Post-graduate 14% 10%

  6. (I didn’t say they’re highly educated, but that they are more highly educated on average than the population average. If you don’t want to count some college, you can compare a college degree (‘higher education’) or higher, which is over one third of them vs one quarter of the population).

    I’m not defending their insane views. But this serves to suggest that higher education may not be as awesome as many people assume.

  7. Anonymous, sorry if I tried to snap your head off. I thought you might be a quasi-troll who was going to argue that they were reasonable people.

    I think that there are a couple of issues. I’m pretty sad to think that a college education does not bring more critical self-reflection, but I’m less sad when I see that they mostly are probably decades away from those educations. Secondly, I fit into their age group (it’s pretty big), and I moved from one college to another; it was clear to me as a sophomore that the education at the first was appalling; really, just frighteningly bad; it certainly discouraged critical reflection. Has the presence of very bad colleges increased or decreased? For these purposes it doesn’t really matter; we just need to remember that there are some. It may in fact be that these people who have degrees went more often to the really bad ones, since the group is self-selected.

    Secondly, I don’t think I’d use the locution “more highly educated” of them, given the statistics. I’m not sure what “highly educated” is, in fact. Well, actually, I’d use it for professional or research doctorates. Presumably others would use it also for degrees in between bachelors and doctorates. Others maybe for any education beyound the bachelors. But even with the last standard, we have only 14% of them. So I wouldn’t say that they are more highly education, but rather that some members of their group are.

  8. lol. I don’t want to argue about semantics, the numbers are there and it doesn’t matter how we refer to them. But I did say ‘average’ four times already.

    Now, your hypothesis might conceivably be true, but it strikes me as wishful thinking, not much different than explanations for why God created fossils. I mean, isn’t it more reasonable to take the simplest explanation, “that a college education does not bring more critical self-reflection” (though I’m sure it does for some students), even though this could make you sad? I’m at a good university and my experiences with students don’t suggest otherwise… the vast majority are just there for a piece of paper, and it’s not realistic to expect them to gain such skills when they don’t care about their classes anyway.

    It’s not like the average non-tea-partier or liberal is competent at logic or critical self-reflection. They just hold less crazy views for the most part. But you shouldn’t assume that because someone holds a correct view they got that view through good reasoning.

  9. And here’s what the NYT says based on the numbers quotes by anon: “A New York Times/CBS News poll of backers of the emerging Tea party movement shows that its supporters are more affluent and better educated than the general public. They tend to be white, male, and married. […]”

    If I remember my stats right, given the 3% sampling error, I am not sure if the differences in education level are statistically significant.

    And here some visual, totally anecdotal counter-evidence: They sure didn’t learn how to spell

  10. @ Rachel- That is the funniest/saddest thing I have seen in quite a while.

  11. Anonymous, We do disagree about meanings, though whether it is a matter of semantics or pragmatics is, I think, not clear.

    The population for the sample is odd. The standard figure from the 2000 census is that 28% of the US population has a college degree. The figure I keep hearing for “some college” in the US is 50%. That means that in fact the Tea Party members are less educated, but they are more educated than people have thought, which is what the Times should have been reporting (and I thought had, in one version).

    Of course, I am sad that higher education turns out a significant number of people who can’t be consistent over issues they apparently care deeply about. I do think that the fact that they are typically decades away from the education may account for some of this. The general quality of discourse in the media is bad, that of talk radio really terrible. Of course, years of garbage has an impact.

    However, I don’t know anyone in higher education who thinks all bachelors degrees mean the recipient has a capacity for critical self-reflection, and I recounted direct experience of this. If you care about having a critical self-reflective population who votes, it can make one sad or intensely frustrated or something like that. Over 50% of Tea Party members think highly of Bush, but one can easily think his presidency was literally tragic.

  12. I’m glad to see your views of college education are what I would consider realistic. That said, I don’t see what your concern is about the poll. The numbers are about how many people have that as their highest level of education: nearly all college graduates are also high school graduates, but they are counted as college graduates, not high school graduates. According to the NYT poll, 25% of the population has a college degree (15% who stop there and 10% who got a post-grad degree), which is within the margin of error from the 28% the census said, even though the census was 10 years ago. And for “some college” it is that same 25% plus the 28% who have some college but not the degree, giving 53% which again is very close to the figure you mention.

    But when you say “That means that in fact the Tea Party members are less educated than the average, but they are more educated than people have thought, which is what the Times was reporting.”, I have no idea what that’s based on. After all, of the tea-partiers, 37% (23% + 14%) have at least a college degree, and 70% (37% + 33%) have at least some college, and both these numbers are higher than what you and the poll give for the general population.

  13. The think that strikes me most about this poll is that tea party members tend (on average) to be privileged along a number of axes. Even if the education axis might be controversial, the other axes are more statistically significant (from this tab):
    Male 59% (v. 49% overall)
    White 89% (v. 77% overall)
    Self-reported class statistics are always dubious since people tend to put themselves in the middle class, regardless of what their income would indicate, but the reported income also reflects that they tend on-average to be wealthier than overall respondents.

    Many feminists whose work I admire have made note of the way privilege is perpetuated in part by encouraging a blindness to other kinds of experience among those with less privilege. Further, we have discussed how individuals who are privileged often fail to see the way social structures support their achievements and instead believe in the dual myths of individual effort (see for e.g. Sherwin No Longer Patient chapter 2), and individual merit (see for e.g. I.M. Young <Justice and the Politics of Difference chapters 2 and 7).

    I wonder how much the inconsistent beliefs might be accounted for by the privilege of the group. For example, the things that support them (Medicare and Social Security) are taken for granted as “just how things are” whereas extending similar benefits to others becomes “special treatment.”

    The reactions might have less to do with education and the merits or failures of the educational system, and more to do with the way privilege encourages and is in part perpetuated by a blindness to the experience of others.

  14. One of my cousins is an avid tea party member(“avid” as in both donates and attends rallies and is involved in getting people out to the rallies). I have noted in some of the things he says that there is a selective editing of history, ideas, and so forth that he uses to support his idea that he is arguing for how things always were.

    For example, he has been saying that taxes are unconstitutional (especially this month, since it is April). When I asked him how he could believe this, he told me about the original Boston tea party. But of course, to draw the conclusion he does (all taxes are theft) one has to edit down the original concern. The original concern was “No taxation without representation,” but when my cousin talks about taxes, the italicized part is dropped. Dropping the end of the quote changes the idea substantially, but my cousin insists that it is “closer to the intended meaning” without the end, which he sees as some socialist addition.

    Another one: he objected to the limit of “freedom” involved in the Health Care bill, because he said people could no longer choose whether they wanted insurance, and he sees this as “requiring people to pay to live.” He also supports his view with an edited version of a Franklin quote. As he has it: “Those who would trade liberty for safety deserve neither.” But this is a selective editing of Franklin who actually said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Franklin’s version involves weighting and trade-offs, whereas my cousin’s version is absolutist. Again, when I pointed this out to him, he told me that he thought his version was closer to what Franklin intended (bu in both cases he has never offered any support for his interpretation over mine).

    Finally, the way he understands “freedom” is radically different from the way that I would understand the term. He understands “freedom=ability to decide individually how to spend one’s earned money.” I think this is much too narrow a reading, and also one that does not address the concerns of philosophers who have been discussing the importance of freedom both before and after the constitution was written. Further, his version of freedom is one that is highly unequally accessible to people with lower incomes.

    I think he is utterly wrong in his interpretations. He is using language in radically different ways than I would. I think he is deeply mistaken, and I think all of his interpretations of past and current events and discussions are highly influenced by libertarian views which he hold dogmatically (i.e. without question or justification). But I chafe a little when people suggest that tea partiers are not self-reflective. My cousin, at least, is self-reflective, but the places that he starts from are different, and I think the places that he starts from are ones that perpetuate privilege, but given those starting places his views are not exactly incoherent, they are just wrong and self-serving.

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