The latest in a spate of polls about the Tea Partiers comes from the New York Times and CBS and it raises some questions about just what's fueling the protests: is it all about taxes or something else?
Of those self described Tea Partiers polled by the Times most considered their taxes "fair." They send their kids to public schools and despite opposing health care reform, think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost.
So what's driving them to the streets in a rage? It's not money per se; it's something else. Usefully, the pollsters asked Tea Partiers other questions, too. Surprise, surprise: they believe that Obama "does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves." Half think the administration favors the poor, and a quarter say it favors blacks over whites -- compared with 11 percent of the general public."
Where did they get such ideas? In this case, mostly from the Fox News network, but the coded language is clear as ice. It's not about taxes or spending per se, it's about spending on them... (other people.)
And that's how self-interested politicians and spinmeisters have stirred up people to slash government since Reconstruction. As one Social Security-receiving tea partier tells the Times: "I didn't look at from the perspective of losing things I need" [emphasis added]
And that's the genius of this kind of talk. By painting assistance to the poor as only a "black" thing, poor whites have consistently been encouraged to support doing away with the only safety net they'd ever had. That's part of what brought us to this spot.
An honest debate about taxes? It'd be helpful. But what we really need to do is grapple with post-apartheid racial resentments. And that makes the whole tax debate look easy.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.