Countering mainstream media depictions of Tea Party hardliners behind the government shutdown as irrational or delusional, Salon‘s Michael Lind lays out what he believes to be the movement’s cohert meaning:
The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class. They are the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.
For nearly a century, from the end of Reconstruction, when white Southern terrorism drove federal troops out of the conquered South, until the Civil Rights Revolution, the South’s local notables maintained their control over a region of the U.S. larger than Western Europe, turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders, by means of segregation, disenfranchisement, and bloc voting and the filibuster at the federal level. Segregation created a powerless black workforce and helped the South’s notables pit poor whites against poor blacks.
Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest.
While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites who find themselves living in states, and eventually a nation, with present or potential nonwhite majorities.