The Tea Party soared to national prominence in 2009 and remains a force to be reckoned with. In November 2012, some 45 million registered voters, a fifth of the U.S. electorate, reported in a Fox News exit poll that they identified with the Tea Party. To build political power through the GOP, in the 2010 midterm elections Tea Party factions helped right-wing Republicans win super-majorities in many states, secure gains in the U.S. Senate, and take control of the House of Representatives. Democrats may have rebounded in 2012, yet more than nine of ten Tea Party-backed Republican House candidates also won election or re-election.
Why is the Tea Party enjoying so much success? Partisans and some commentators point to its stated support for fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and reduced regulation. But support for such long-standing conservative preferences is not all we see in Tea Party politics. Many Tea Party goals – and the angry style of politics – are anything but “conservative” in the sense of favoring social stability. Tea Partiers make flamboyantly extreme claims about President Obama – for example, that he wants to confiscate guns from Americans in order to facilitate massacres of whites. And they have urged Republicans to refuse to raise the debt limit and default on America’s debts, even if that would forfeit our nation’s good credit rating and push the world economy into financial crisis.
Getting at the true wellsprings of the Tea Party requires that we look again at what the late historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the “paranoid style in American politics,” a recurrent tendency characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” In a survey I directed between January and March 2011, questions were put to 1,504 adults across the country. The results show that the paranoid beliefs and political style Hofstadter described have recurred in the Tea Party upsurge of the early 21st century. (more…)
Democracy comes in many different forms, because communities and nations can devise various rules to shape elections and the processes of government decision-making. The specific rules chosen matter a great deal – especially the rules adopted for voting and elections. After all, who gets to vote, how, and when determine citizen access in a democracy – and decisions about such matters influence the balance of power in government and what public officials are likely to decide about war and peace, taxes and the economy, education, and social benefits. The outcomes of fights over the rules for elections can determine who has a seat at the table of government at all, and whose interests will matter or be ignored. (more…)
In its landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. But the Court also explained that, like all other constitutional rights, this “right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Courts have subsequently worked to specify which kinds of firearms are protected for which groups of people – and to determine under what circumstances guns can be regulated. As issues are parsed, one has been too little explored: the question of whether some kinds of places, such as cities, can do more than others to regulate guns.
This omission is unnecessary and unfortunate. The Second Amendment can and should incorporate the longstanding and sensible practice of regulating guns differently in rural and urban areas. Firearm localism would help us move forward from the current stalled debate. (more…)
In many ways, America’s 2012 elections brought government as usual. As an incumbent president was reelected, his party gained nine House seats and two Senate seats – and women continued to be greatly under-represented in Congress.
Only twenty women are found among the 100 U.S. Senators, and 13 of these are the first women to represent their state. Women hold only 77 seats in the House, fewer than 18%. Four U.S. states have never sent a woman to Congress: Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi and Vermont. The U.S. ranks 77th among the world’s nations in women’s representation in the lower legislative chamber – right behind Sao Tome and Principe and just ahead of Madagascar. Not counting ties, the U.S. actually ranks 92nd.
Before the 2012 elections, USA Today had predicted another “Year of the Woman” given an “upward trend of female candidates for Congress.” What actually happened is better characterized as a relatively good year for Democratic women amidst continuing female under-representation. Although neither major U.S. party has nominated sufficient numbers of women for Congress, Republicans nominate fewer and when GOP women are nominated, they very often lose. The difference between the percentage of women in Democratic Congressional delegations and the percentage of women in GOP Congressional delegations hovered between 7% and 11% from 1993 to 2002, but now it has grown to a remarkable 19.5 %. (more…)
The 2010 elections were a high mark for Tea Party funders and voters determined to reshape the Republican Party and block President Obama’s agenda. With low voter turnout and high public frustration during a slow economic recovery, Tea Party Republicans triumphed in Congress and many states. But the 2012 contests proved much more treacherous. In contests where younger and minority voters turned out in force, many GOP candidates could not manage simultaneously to propitiate Tea Party sympathizers and appeal to other voters.
Republicans lost the 2012 presidential contest and gave ground in Congress, but no one should imagine that Tea Party forces have left the field. They remain determined to block Obama initiatives and make new electoral and policy gains in the years to come. (more…)
Ratified in 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States limits the number of terms a president can serve to two – and it is a lifetime restriction. Living two-term presidents such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are thus excluded from ever serving again. The irony of the limit is that even the most politically successful contemporary presidents – those who achieve reelection – reach the peak of their careers and the beginning of their decline at the same moment, when they raise their hands to be sworn in at the second Inauguration.
From that moment, second termers are known to be leaving office on a date certain. Inexorably, their influence is on the wane. So how much can re-elected presidents accomplish in their last four years? Although the options are limited, they are not all bad, because over two and a half centuries the office of the U.S. presidency has accumulated significant powers. (more…)
Low-income parents and parents of color have long demanded well-funded schools to provide their children with the same level of education as that provided for wealthy white children. Often the answer to their pleas is “no,” as educators, politicians, policy makers – even many people in the general public – claim that “money doesn’t matter” for school quality.
But the facts say otherwise, as spelled out in reports from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and other organizations that have compiled local school data from across the United States. In Massachusetts specifically, the top ten school districts whose students score highest on the Standard Aptitude Test spend an average of $16,010 per pupil, while the schools whose students score lowest spend an average of $13,799 per pupil. That’s a difference for each student of more than $2000 a year – approximately the same gap in school spending per pupil that separates U.S. states ranked in the top fifth versus the lowest fifth in terms of student performance on tests. The funding gaps between top-performing schools and states and the lowest performers are not a coincidence. Money matters. (more…)
Images of “student activism” often bring to mind leftist anti-war protests at Berkeley and Kent State. But across America today, conservative youth are active on many campuses, running newspapers and working through groups of College Republicans or Students for Liberty. Conservatives are active even at institutions with strong liberal reputations – the ones denounced as “indoctrinators” of students by pundits like David Horowitz.
Our research on conservative student activism pinpoints two different styles that tend to predominate in different clusters of institutions. A flamboyantly provocative style flourishes primarily at large state universities and lesser-known liberal arts colleges, while a more traditional “civilized discourse” style of conservative engagement predominates at leading private universities. Each style is encouraged by its own set of national advocacy organizations. (more…)
Women make up over half of the world’s population – but they hold only about one-fifth of the seats in national legislatures across the globe. American foreign policies are pushing to increase this important form of women’s representation, using tactics ranging from training programs for female politicians to constitutional assistance and subtle diplomatic pressures. Efforts have stepped up sharply over the past three decades. Back in the 1980s, my research suggests, U.S.-funded efforts to promote democracy around the world paid almost no attention to women’s political engagement. In contrast, today, about ten percent of all such projects deal with women’s rights and political representation. (more…)
Children from disadvantaged households often do less well in school than their classmates from more economically comfortable backgrounds. Researchers have documented this repeatedly – in studies of individual children and through comparisons of schools, districts, states, and nations.
One of every five American children lives in poverty – more than in most other developed countries. U.S. educators and policymakers thus have every reason to look closely at the educational difficulties poverty creates – and take active steps to correct the problems. But lately the exact opposite has happened. Disadvantaged schoolchildren are left to fall behind, because reforms like No Child Left Behind pretend that poverty is unimportant. (more…)