Feature

Tea Partiers: Modern-day 'Know Nothings'

The Tea Party isn't the first political movement to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment, says DeWayne Wickham in USA Today. It happened in the 1850s, and it didn't end well

If Americans were paying attention, says DeWayne Wickham in USA Today, they'd realize that the Tea Party candidates who have been winning Republican primaries left and right are threatening to "turn this nation and its founding document upside down." Kentucky's Rand Paul and Utah's Mike Lee want to undo the birthright citizenship. Sharron Angle, the GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada, suggested that angry Americans might take up arms against Congress. This is dangerous, irresponsible talk the U.S. hasn't seen since the 1850s, when the Know Nothing Party tried to close the door on immigrants, and a similar "warped sense of entitlement" plunged the nation into civil war. Here, an excerpt:

With the general election fewer than 60 days away, voters ought to focus on reversing the meteoric rise of the Tea Partiers, who are the linear successors to the aptly named anti-immigration Know Nothing movement.... It elected eight governors, 43 members of the U.S. House, and five U.S. senators.... But it ultimately collapsed from the weight of its own intolerance and blurred political vision.

The Tea Party movement claims to be rooted in the traditional — but long compromised — Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility, small government, and free markets. But its support of Arizona’s immigration law signals an intolerance of Hispanics that mirrors the Know Nothing movement’s attempt to keep Catholics out of this country. Left alone, there’s a good chance the Tea Party will sputter out of existence as quickly as the Know Nothing movement did. But that may not be fast enough.

Read the full article at USA Today.

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