Why the Tea Party? The Challenge of Progressive Politics in the US

21 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 14 Oct 2011

Date Written: 2011


In many advanced capitalist countries, the economic crisis has led to massive working-class protests. This has been notably true in France, Greece, and Portugal, but elsewhere as well. These protests have focused on defending the welfare state and demanding that government do more to support the standard of living. In the US, the crisis has led to the Tea Party, demanding that government do less and that basic social welfare programs be cut back drastically. This paper explores possible explanations for this difference between the US and other countries.

Two kinds of explanations are examined, structural and cultural. The intent is not to decide which kind of explanation is “correct,” but to understand their interrelationship.

Structurally, factors considered include the nature of the American two-party system, and the increasing domination of both parties by corporate interests; the weakened position of labor (and therefore the working class) as a political and social force; and the removal of virtually all limits on the use of corporate money in politics (a removal that began long before the Citizens United case).

Culturally, the paper analyzes the battle to determine the meaning of a number of different phenomena, such as the cause of the crisis (unscrupulous investment bankers or unqualified mortgage borrowers?), the nature of the crisis (insufficient demand for consumer goods or overpaid and lazy workers?), and the role of the state (is Obama pro-corporate or is he a socialist?).

Data for this analysis come from comparison of the statements and activities of the Tea Party and various progressive groups since the beginning of the crisis and recession in 2008.

Keywords: politics, parties, tea party, party system, crisis

Suggested Citation

Berg, John C., Why the Tea Party? The Challenge of Progressive Politics in the US (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1901928

John C. Berg (Contact Author)

Suffolk University ( email )

Boston, MA 02108
United States

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