Charles L. Zelden: New Political Movements Seek a Hold on U.S. Politics





[Charles L. Zelden is a professor of history at Nova Southeastern University and editor of About Federal Government: An Encyclopedia of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches.]

Angry, resentful and scared. This seems to be the state of grassroots politics today. On the left and on the right, political talk among ordinary Americans has taken on an outraged and aggressive tone — showcasing emotion over reason, distrust over unity.

People feel abandoned by their government and lost in a world they once called their own. Whether it's government giving corporate bailouts to banks and auto companies while millions of Americans lose their jobs, or Uncle Sam enacting programs people don't want, or agree with, or understand, the Tea party and Coffee party movements are using this energy to loudly voice their displeasure. In the words of Howard Beale in the movie "Network": "They're mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore."

Of course, what they're mad about differs. Each side, in fact, is nearly a mirror image of the other. Tea partiers distrust President Barack Obama; Coffee partiers support him. Tea partiers want small government; Coffee partiers favor government involvement, if done properly. Tea partiers see tax relief and debt reduction as their core reforms; Coffee partiers see electoral reform as the path to redemption....

There's nothing new with voter discontent in times of political turmoil — nor with grassroots movements such as the Tea and Coffee movements that tap into this discontent. The Republican Party itself had its roots in the parties that opposed the Kansas- Nebraska Act of 1854. Another wave of dissatisfaction that's better known is the Populist Movement of the 1890s, which was spawned by the discontent of farmers, workers and small-town merchants, who felt that a changing economy was leaving them behind in favor of interests, such as big business, which neither knew nor cared about them. More recently, there was the Dixiecrat revolts of 1948 and 1968, and Ross Perot's Reform Party movement of the 1990s....



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