Sam Hitchmough: The Rise of the Tea Party: Competing Americas

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Dr. Sam Hitchmough teaches in the Department of History and American Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom.]

The recent victories for the Tea Party brigade have brought an enduring
and fascinating ideological battle in America back into focus.

Ever since the web of American ideas of freedom was spun - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact and the concept of the American Dream itself – there has been a contest for the inherent meaning of the freedoms and rights that engender so much ferocious pride.

The current surge by the Tea Party is another chapter in this battle for the very idea of what America stands for. The 'American dream' can be claimed by the political right as a championing of individual rights and personal liberty, an 'anyone can make it if you work and play by the rules', 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' mentality. Its mantra is small government and low taxes.

One of the many reasons that the Tea Party has been provoked into such a frenzy is the fact that President Obama appears to them to represent the very essence of the alternative, more leftist, meaning inherent within the American Dream, and so the ideological struggle for American identity has become acutely polarised. The other meaning is a much more collective interpretation of what the country represents, that it's the land of the free, a melting pot, a country that lives the creed of all men being born equal (and treated equally, no matter whether they are, say, non-white or Muslim), and sees federal government as a way of helping to realise equality. Within this version of a more open, tolerant America, Tea Partiers are becoming as concerned with race, ethnicity and the disappearance of a white majority, often perceiving the implications of this as a green light for the Islamification of the country, as they are about economic issues....
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