Social Issues and the Tea Party: By Their Leaders Ye Shall Know Them

Jodi Jacobson

The mainstream media continue to misrepresent the facts and the realities of the Tea Party, especially when it comes to social issues.

In a late September column for Rewire, Amanda Marcotte asked: “Is the Media’s Tea Party Delusion Coming to An End?” 

The answer quite obviously is no. Over the past several months, as Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, Joe Miller, Pat Toomey and other mad-hatters have stumped for office, I have listened and read in disbelief as one after another otherwise respected media representative or outlet continues to suggest that the Tea Party is not interested in “social conservative issues.”

The corporate media–I don’t know whether to describe it as mainstream, midstream or up a creek without a paddle–still persists in mis-reading and misrepresenting the broader context of what is happening in the 2010 elections. (I am not talking about Fox News and other known sources of persistent misinformation). Yes, reporting is done on the extremist positions of individual candidates, but virtually every broader analysis describing the Tea Party “movement,” such as it is, continues to ignore or outright deny the extremist positions take by those candidates as representative of said movement.

Two weeks ago, for example, David Greene, a host on NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, whose new book about the Tea Party, Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America had just been published. 

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Greene asks Zernike:

How cohesive is this movement looking down the road? I mean, you sat down with a lot of these groups who feel a connection to the Tea Party all over the country. You found a whole range of agendas, ideology, positions on social issues. How do they stick together?

Zernike responds:

Yeah, you know, it’s a very interesting question. One thing that people often get wrong about the Tea Party is they assume that this is just the old Christian conservatives under a different name. And that these are people who don’t want gay marriage and don’t believe in abortion rights, and they’re not. I mean, a lot of these people are socially conservative themselves, but they don’t want to talk about social issues. They think the Republican Party went wrong in spending so much time in talking about this – if you remember the debate about Terri Schiavo, the woman in Florida, and whether we should keep her alive.

Then, again last night, Congress.org published an article by Ambreen Ali entitled “Tea Party May Tackle Abortion Issues.”

This articles states, presumably with a straight face:

So far, though many of the movement’s rank and file and a number of its top leaders are women, the tea partyers have stuck to the fiscal issues that brought them together.

They don’t want to talk about “social” issues?  May tackle abortion? Top leaders have stuck to fiscal issues?

Have Zernike and the reporters at Congress.org “drunk the tea” so to speak?

Are we talking about such “leaders” as Sharron Angle, Tea Party Queen of Nevada?  The one who stated that “rape” is part of “God’s Plan,” and who consistently stated throughout the summer that she would vote to outlaw a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy even in cases of rape and incest?  Angle who would helpfully counsel a 13-year-old raped and pregnant by her own father that “two wrongs don’t make a right?” The Sharron Angle who completely opposes gay rights?  The Sharron Angle who answered this questionnaire

Are we talking about Delaware Senate Tea Party Candidate Christine O’Donnell?  The O’Donnell who believes in a “fundamentalist version of sexual purity that emphasizes thoughts and feelings as well as deeds,” who is against masturbation (how do we enforce that ban?), advocates an absolute ban on abortion, and gave an interview to CBS on the subjects of “Virgins, Abortion, and God?”  Perhaps these reporters didn’t read Michelle Goldberg’s interview with O’Donnell’s former aide, whom she dropped like a hot potato when he came out as being gay.

Are we talking about Tea Partier Joe Miller, running for Senate in Alaska, whose platform states: “I am unequivocally pro-life and life must be protected from the moment of conception to the time of natural death.”  That Joe Miller?  Or the same Rand Paul who not only wants to go back to the days when businesses can discriminate against customers, but who also believes he knows “when life begins?”

Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey…every single one of these candidates has been talking about so-called “social issues,” and more to the point they have articulated the most extreme of the extreme positions that exist in the minds of the fundamentalist right wing of this country and had been kept under wraps by campaign managers…until now.

Moreover, they are getting support from a wide range of sources from within the Republican party and from corporate sources.  This is no “bake-sale-fueled” grassroots movement, yet the media continues to treat it as such. In Virginia, for example, Ginni Thomas, founder of Liberty Central and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, gave a talk to a group of women in Virginia organized by the conservative group Smart Girl Politics.  She said:

“I see more than fiscal issues being answered by the tea parties,” Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told a crowd of conservative women gathered to discuss—among other topics—overturning Roe v. Wade.

An article by Karoli at Crooks and Liars, notes that the base of support for groups like Liberty Central comes from various sources long-affiliated with the right wing.

AlterNet has a theory that goes like this:

“Here’s how it works: Tea Party Inc. is vying for control of the Republican Party. One of the biggest players in Tea Party Inc. is the AstroTurfing group, FreedomWorks, which is chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, for whom Ginni Thomas worked while the former Texas congressman occupied his leadership post in the Republican Party. Thomas also worked at the Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business organization with Matt Kibbe, who is now the president of FreedomWorks. Keeping it all in the family…”

And continues Karoli:

It more or less goes without saying that whoever the specific players are, they represent the mainstream heart and soul of the Republican party. My question: Is there a way to link up or develop a relationship between specific power players in the Republican party and Liberty Central?

Yes, there are folks at the local level affiliated with Tea Party politics (whatever those politics are beyond undirected disaffection) who do not see so-called social issues as their main concern. Yes there are people disaffected with politics as usual who want change and see this as a means of getting “change,” however ill-defined. 

And yes there are women leaders.  But they are all extremist conservatives on social issues.  Ali of Congress.org, writes:

About 55 percent of tea partyers are women, according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted in spring. So are six of the original eight board members of Tea Party Patriots, the largest national coalition group.

Jenny Beth Martin, an oft-quoted Patriots leader, has strived to keep the focus on three guiding principles: constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets.

Yet at the local level, many tea parties are passionately anti-abortion.

Much of the media has failed and continues to fail to do its job on the Tea Party in any real sense. How many of reporters have read and incorporated any of the info in Jane Mayer’s excellent investigative article in the New Yorker on funding, training and sponsorship of the Tea Party by the billionaire Koch brothers whose fortunes are based largely on oil, and who have taken what was an inchoate group of disaffected people and created a “movement” that serves their own corporate interests?  Which one of these media outlets, even such respected and beloved outlets as NPR and the NYT, taken this further and examined how much money self-proclaimed Tea Party candidates are getting from such sources?

And which has focused on the fact that while so-called grassroots say one thing, the candidates are obviously ultra-right wing conservatives getting support from ultra-right wing conservatives from within and outside the formal structures of the Republican Party. 

It is not hyperbole to say that we have a religious war underway today, and it is in fact a new Christian crusade, a crusade based on ideas about society no less fundamentalist in nature than is the Taliban and the most radical elements of politicized Islamists.  This war is enabled by the media writ large every time one of them goes on air or is quoted as if their ideas were not dangerous and without any context of where their support is coming from.  These folks are talking about “social issues,” and lots of other things about which we should be deeply and profoundly concerned.  The media just isn’t listening and certainly isn’t looking.

“Grassroots” folks who affiliate with the Tea Party may not articulate social issues as their priority, at first. But it’s time to stop asking the question about whether the Tea Party is “about social issues,” just as it is long past time to ask whether the Republican party believes in fiscal responsibility (Ans: No).  To do so is naive or simply irresponsible journalism.  To paraphrase Matthew: By their leaders ye shall know them.

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

News Law and Policy

Texas District Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver's license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.

UPDATE, July 26, 2:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Texas dismissed the remaining criminal charges against anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt related to their production of widely discredited, heavily edited videos alleging Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

The criminal charges against the pair originally stemmed from Republican Texas lawmakers’ responses to the videos’ release. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all called for the Harris County District attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast last August, after the release of one video that featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.

A Texas grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff and declined to bring any criminal charges against the health-care provider. More than a dozen state and federal investigations have similarly turned up no evidence of lawbreaking by the reproductive health-care provider.

Instead, in January, the grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver’s license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to entice a third party to unlawfully purchase human organs.

A Texas judge in June dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden on procedural grounds.

“This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought,” said Daleiden’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, in a statement following the announcement that the district attorneys office was dismissing the indictment. “Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”

“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. [Daleiden] and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” Melaney A. Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement emailed to Rewire after publication.

The district attorney’s dismissal of the felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt happened just before a scheduled court hearing requested by their attorneys to argue the felony indictment should be dismissed.

Daleiden still faces three civil lawsuits elsewhere in the country related to the creation and release of the Planned Parenthood videos.