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.
Now, I won't allege to have observed any sweeping displays of multiculturalism at the tea party shindig I attended (though without question, it featured more diversity than my own cloistered rock-ribbed lefty neighborhood). According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, tea party "supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large."
More specifically, the economic strata in which the tea party movement resides will bear the brunt of Washington's economic reorganization, namely the middle class. The majority of Americans are middle-class, and their concerns (the economy, job creation, etc.) more closely mirror the tea party than Washington's progressive agenda (the environment, entitlements, etc.).
Naturally, the hyperventilating and demonization of these crackpots who carry around copies of the Constitution and babble about the 10th Amendment will continue unabated. It is, perhaps, as much a matter of a cultural divergence as it is an ideological disagreement. Yet, once again, the evidence demonstrates that by the very definition of the word, the tea party is less "radical" than are the elected officials busy transforming the nation.
Or, as one sign succinctly put it: "There are no crazies here. They are all in Washington, D.C."
Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say there were "no crazies" there, but I can tell you every word on the sign was spelled correctly.