Yesterday I waded into a mass of tea party protesters gathered at the front of Colorado's Capitol and completely forgot to brace myself for a "small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht" (as New York Times columnist Frank Rich once characterized these events).
As it turns out, earlier I happened to peruse a new CBS/New York Times poll detailing the attitudes of tea party activists, who, it turns out, are more educated than the average American, more reflective of mainstream anxieties than any populist movement in memory and more closely aligned philosophically with the wider electorate than any big-city newsroom in America.
What seemed to be the biggest news derived from the poll nationally? A plurality of tea party activists do not deem Sarah Palin qualified for the presidency -- proving, I suppose, that some people have the ability to be exceptionally fond of a political celebrity without elevating her to sainthood.
More significantly, the polling showed that most tea party activists believe the taxes they pay are "fair." The largest number of them want their movement to work to reduce the size of government rather than focus on cutting budget deficits or lowering taxes. Whether you concur or not with this viewpoint, it exhibits more economic sophistication than we often hear from pandering senatorial candidates.
It was news that tea party activists -- unlike our president or most senators -- send their children to public schools. (With a public monopoly in place, where else are they expected to send their children?) The majority of them also deem Social Security and Medicare worthy taxpayer burdens, putting a crimp in the left-wing mythology that the anarchist mob is about to explode.
And though tea party supporters are more conservative than the average voter on social issues, as well -- particularly abortion, according to a separate Gallup Poll -- The New York Times reports that 8 in 10 tea party activists believe the movement should focus on economic issues rather than cultural ones.
How long have we been hearing from moderate, sensible, worldly Republican types that if only -- if only -- the right found God on economic issues and lost God on the social ones, there would be an expansion of appeal and support? Apparently, they were right.