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Your guide to understanding the Tea Party

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The title of this article is fairly misleading. You will not completely understand the Tea Party after reading this. That’s because even the best American journalists can only speculate about the impact the Tea Party movement will have on American politics in the upcoming mid-term elections and beyond. But maybe, as an American, I can help shed some light on an issue that many Europeans struggle to comprehend. For starters, you can’t talk about the Tea Party the same way you discuss America’s two dominant political parties because it isn’t a formal political party. For example, unlike the Republican and Democratic parties, the Tea Party lacks formal leadership, which its supporters like to repeatedly make clear. The Tea Party is, metaphorically speaking, a captain-less ship at sea, but with a vague consensus among the crew members, including the few who have been chosen to speak for the team.

Bei der großen Tea Party-Demo am vergangenen Wochenende liest eine Frau vor dem Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. das Buch von Glen Beck. If you followed the news recently, you probably noticed something about the big "Restoring Honor" rally last weekend in Washington, D.C. Organized by Glen Beck, the very influential conservative commentator for Fox News, the rally was held at the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where, exactly 47 years earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous ‘’I have a dream’’ speech. Beck and others billed the rally as a non-partisan event, meaning it was not meant to take sides politically, but its über-conservative subtext was loud and clear. To try to understand the Tea Party, you must understand that, for many years, Americans of all political affiliations have believed that our federal government is broken. Political newcomers often run for office with a message to ‘change the way Washington does business.’ Yet the widespread belief is that honorable lawmakers who are able to actually accomplish anything in Washington are extremely rare. Whether you be Republican, Democrat or Other, your elected leaders will eventually shame you. In no small way, the Tea Party is riding a tidal wave of this populist disgust. Although many of the things the Tea Party wants to ‘fix’ have evolved over the years, including the two presidential administrations of our previous president, many Tea Party supporters focus their anger sharply at President Obama, painting him as a communist and even a Muslim, which is not only untrue (he’s Christian) but also, many would argue, racist. That kind of talk only stirs the fires of these ultra-conservative Americans who have stepped out of the fringes and become an overnight sensation in the national political discussion. So who exactly are these people, you ask? For one thing, many Tea Party activists believe that nearly all government-subsidized programs should be completely dismantled. The most extreme among them like to fiercely display their constitutional rights by, for example, carrying guns in public places. Even in the picturesque little Old West town of Jackson Hole, in the vast state of Wyoming, where I have lived the last five years, a few Tea Party supporters tried to make some kind of political statement this past Fourth of July by marching their guns around our charming Town Square, a popular tourist attraction.

Eine der Rednerinnen am vergangenen Wochenende in Washington D.C.: Sarah Palin. You’ve already heard a lot about one of the Tea Party’s favorite darlings, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Palin is beloved by her supporters for her message that she represents and understands ‘real Americans’ because she herself is a self-proclaimed ‘real American.’ The implication of this, her critics like to argue, is that United States citizens who disagree with her are somehow not ‘real Americans.’ As you also probably know, Palin has become an easy target for people who disagree with nearly everything she does. These people, many of who identify themselves with political comedian John Stewart, love to hate her. Perhaps you want to know, as many Europeans do, whether Sarah Palin has a real shot at the presidency. Even though she has become an influential voice for a certain segment of the population, she has lost credibility with many self-indentified moderates, who represent a crucial number of votes. There’s a chance another Republican candidate could eventually step forward to defeat Obama but, at this point, Palin probably could not. Also, know that the Tea Party is not a mainstream movement, although their numbers are great enough that they cannot be dismissed by mainstream politicians. This can be especially true for Republican candidates, whom Tea Party supporters are far more likely to vote for if the only other choice is a Democrat. The president, meanwhile, has to play it cool. It’s usually seen as unbecoming of a U.S. president to pick a fight his critics, which would make him look defensive, and an American president does not ever want that to happen. Besides, Obama has plenty enough to worry about, like two wars and a poor economy, among other vulnerable points.

Barack Obama am Dienstag bei seiner Ansprache aus dem Oval Office anlässlich des Abzugs der US-Truppen aus dem Irak. Many experts predict that the Democrats will lose a number of seats during the upcoming mid-term elections. If that does in fact turn out to be the case, you should not necessarily interpret it as a sign that the Tea Party has lead a coup in America. But they do represent a peculiar new force in the left-right (or right-left) swing of the political pendulum. Ben Cannon ist Journalist und verbringt den Sommer mit einem sogenannten "Arthur F. Burns Fellowship" beim Magazin der Süddeutschen Zeitung. Er wuchs im US-Bundesstaat Mississippi auf und lebte und arbeitete bis vor kurzem in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA.

Text: benjamin-cannon - Fotos: dpa

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