At TomDispatch, Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, put the Tea Party movement in a historical context.
[T]he Tea Party movement reminds us that the moral self-righteousness, sense of dispossession, anti-elitism, revanchist patriotism, racial purity, and “Don’t Tread on Me” militancy that were always at least a part of the populist admixture are alive and well. For all the fantastical paranoia that often accompanies such emotional stances, they speak to real experiences — for some, of economic anxiety, insecurity, and loss; for others, of deeper fears of personal, cultural, political, or even national decline and moral disorientation.
Though such fears and feelings are, in part, legacies of the corporate liberal order — one of the dark sides of “progress” under capitalism — in this new populist moment, anti-capitalism itself barely lingers on. Though outrage at the bank bailout did help propel the Tea Party explosion, anti-big-business sentiment is now a pale shadow of its former self, a muted sub-theme in the movement when compared to the Wallace moment, not to mention those of Huey Long or the Populists.
This is hardly surprising since, at least economically, capitalism has, according to recent surveys of Tea Party membership, served many of them reasonably well. Like Goldwater supporters of the 1960s, those who identify with the Tea Party movement are generally wealthier than the population as a whole, and more likely to be employed. They are also apparently better educated, so their fondness for Sarah Palin’s intellectual debilities may be more a case of resentment of bicoastal cultural snobbery than eye-popping ignorance.
Alongside an exalted rhetoric about threats to liberty lies a sour, narrow-minded defensiveness against any possible threat of income redistribution that might creep into the body politic… and so into their pockets. “Don’t Tread on Me,” once a rebel war cry, has morphed into: “I’ve got mine. Don’t dare tax it.” The state, not the corporation, is now the enemy of choice.