Month: June 2014

Tea Party activism, electoral success, and terrorism

Eric Cantor, as you know by now, lost a primary election to economics professor Dave Brat. Brat is, by all accounts I’ve read, “Tea Party backed.” The Tea Party isn’t a political party like we typically think, but rather a well funded social movement of sorts. Not being a party like the Democrats or Republicans, its organizational structure is rather diffuse, with a number of small, local organizations across the U.S.

In general, Tea Party organizations that identify as such promote small government and lower taxes. They don’t like ‘Obamacare’ and want it repealed. Many websites of ‘Tea Party’ groups promote strong defense of the 2nd amendment (well defense of one interpretation of it, really). Many Tea Party groups (though not all) oppose recent proposals for immigration reform that call for amnesty – forgiving entering the country illegally for immigrants who are already in the U.S. (see an old post of mine about why borders are bad – this professor won’t be getting any Tea Party backing).

The Democrats have the Donkey and the GOP the Elephant. Does the Tea Party have a symbol? Again, because the movement isn’t strongly centralized, there isn’t an official emblem. However, the Gadsden Flag, or the ‘Don’t Tread on Me Flag’ commonly appears at Tea Party rallies and on web pages, etc. Fox News ran a story last winter about the popularity of ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ license plates in Virginia demonstrating the strength of the Tea Party movement. It’s not unreasonable, it seems, to give the Tea Party the rattle snake.

Brat does seem to walk the Tea Party line. A look at his issue positions shows he wants to defund Obamacare, wants a balanced budget amendment, wants to ‘secure the borders’ and rejects amnesty, and calls himself a strong supporter of gun rights. He told Fox News (I think Sean Hannity) that he was happy for Tea Party support. A web forum at ‘The Last Refuge’ was full of celebratory posts cheering the Tea Party victory, including gifs of the Gadsden Flag and hopeful calls for the end of ‘amnesty for illegals’ and calling Cantor ‘Mr. Amnesty.’ So, a quick look at responses on the internet seems to show Tea Party folks very happy about the win, Brat was thankful for Tea Party support, and the media narrative is certainly that this is an electoral win for the Tea Party. (To see the page Google search ‘last refuge, Brat wins’- I don’t want to link to it. As of 1 am June 11 the post “Update #4 – Dave Brat Wins!!!!” had 182 responses).

Is the Tea Party just an electoral force? We know the movement is diffuse and its members choose a number of ways to express their displeasure with established authority. Do we see other forms of participation in political and civil society? For example, in Las Vegas last week two terrorists shot two police officers and then draped their dead bodies in the Gadsden flag. Is this Tea Party terrorism? There is not a centralized movement to claim responsibility, and Tea Party activists will certainly deny it. However, terrorism is violence aimed at political ends, and the shooters chose a symbol of the Tea Party movement and representatives of the government as targets. It fits a Tea Party narrative.

Finally, just last week I was driving around and noticed this pair of decals on a car.


Tea Party activism via decal?

Here we see the Statue of Liberty holding a gun on top of the outline of the United States made up of the phrase “Fuck Off We’re Full.” Never mind the engraving on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

To the contrary, the driver of this car appears to be promoting a well armed defense of America’s borders to keep out, well, anyone not already here. Again, this strikes me as activism, in the civic sphere, that nicely fits the Tea Party tenets of gun rights and secure borders, two of the points that seem to have helped Brat beat Cantor in Virginia.

So, in the last week I’d say I’ve seen Tea Party action in civic life, as terrorism, and now in electoral politics.


The biggest big data: qualitative observation

Sometimes I wish sociologists would write and share detailed observations of brief public moments. These vignettes could be compiled into a large data set others could use for analysis. It’d be qualitative big data. Obviously the data we’d record would be influenced by our background conceptual knowledge and interests, but what data isn’t? This could be the biggest big data set ever established.

Here’s an example:

Today I was walking through a public space; a park. In the park, which is a large, flat swath of grass without much else, there were two softball games being played. These games weren’t being played on formal softball diamonds, but rather on make-shift diamonds set up with small orange cones. Others who were enjoying the park were walking through the grass, generally following an informal path along where the two improvisational outfields merged. I walked between the two games, and then stopped to watch for a few minutes.

As I stood on a sidewalk that wrapped around the park, a group of young men, probably in their mid twenties, walked past. They pointed to a location directly across the park, between the two games, to indicate that was their destination. They also noticed the two games, and I heard one of them say ‘they’re playing softball, we shouldn’t walk through.’ He hadn’t seen the others walking through I guess, so they followed the sidewalk as one of them mentioned taking the ‘longer way.’

In the back of the group, one of the men said to everybody, “that’s ok, some of us could use it!” He then turned and smiled to the man next to him, the heaviest set of the group, who replied “what’s that supposed to mean?” The first man, who had made the comment, laughed, leaned over and grabbed the second man’s shoulders. The look on the second man’s face, however, was one of shame and embarrassment, not a laughing smile.


I’m sure I’ve done more interpretation in this short observation than I’d like, but I tried to keep it as descriptive as possible. How would you make sense of it?