Feature

Is the Tea Party a real threat?

European reactions to America's new, “ultraconservative” wave

An “ultraconservative” wave is building in the U.S., said Alexandra Geneste in France’s Libération. The Tea Party movement recently held its first convention and is on the cusp of transforming itself from an angry band of protesters into a potent political force. There’s no real leader yet, but the self-appointed “promoter and spokesman” of the movement is Fox News’ Glenn Beck, a “far-right television personality” with a “penchant for conspiracy theories.” Its poster child is Sarah Palin, “an opponent of abortion who believes in the right to carry a gun.” So far, the movement’s message has been fairly incoherent, though one theme has been predominant: a “phobia of taxation.”

The economic issue is just a front, said Yolanda Monge in Spain’s El País. Ultimately, this movement is about race. The Tea Partiers say they want to “take America back for Americans”—but what they mean is white, native-born Americans. I tried to interview some of the representatives at the Tea Party’s convention in Nashville two weeks ago, but “as soon as they heard my foreign accent, I got only monosyllables and a distinct lack of interest.” One of the main speakers, former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, is famous for trying to amend the U.S. Constitution to establish English as the sole national language. He railed against immigrants and poor blacks, saying that Barack “Hussein” Obama came to power only because the U.S. allows people to vote “who can’t even spell ‘vote’ or say it in English.” His plea for “a return to the literacy tests that were used during segregation to keep blacks from voting” resonated with the Tea Partiers, who are mostly “whites in a panic over the arrival of a black in the White House.”

That’s not entirely fair, said Dorothea Hahn in Germany’s Die Tageszeitung. It’s true that Tea Partiers are mostly white, but they claim to see Obama as “red, not black.” For them, this president—who by European standards is firmly center-right—is a radical leftist bent on “turning the U.S. into a socialist country.” In the U.S. context, those are fighting words. Many Tea Partiers, in fact, are aligned with “patriotic” militia groups that openly flirt with the notion of taking up arms against the government to stave off tyranny. One Tea Party activist, Jeffrey McQueen of Michigan, has even designed a flag with 13 stars and a huge Roman numeral 2, representing “the second American Revolution” that is to come.

Such bombast could doom the movement to the fringes, said The Economist in an editorial. At their convention, Tea Partiers often “teetered on the edge of the extreme and wacky.” One speaker, Andrew Breitbart, founder of a conservative news site, whipped the crowd into a frenzy against the media. “At one point he had almost the entire audience on its feet, turned to the reporters and cameramen at the back of the room, pumping fists and yelling, ‘USA! USA!’” Such a sight may scare Europeans, but it scares many Americans, too. The Tea Party is “in danger of repelling voters in the center”—where most Americans still reside.

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