Today is Tax Day, which not only means that income tax returns are due at midnight, but the civic and political conversation reaches the boiling point.
Front and center are the conservative Tea Party activists, who emerged one year ago today and have been portrayed as shrill extremists on one side and conscientious patriots on the other. But who are the real members of the Tea Party movement and do they matter?
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 18% of Americans are Tea Party supporters and are mostly "Republican, white, male, married and older than 45." Not surprisingly, 9 of 10 disapprove of Obama's job performance and 92% believe he is "moving the country towards socialism." On the other hand, "most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.”
The Dallas Morning News editorial board applauded Tea Party participants for being "classically involved citizens demanding that their voices be heard." "Agree or disagree with their tax-and-spend concerns, but who would tell them to stay home and shut up?" the DMN wrote. "That said, it's time the Tea Parties moved beyond the emotion and began shaping a coherent strategy," including a serious drive to register voters in order effect real change.
The Los Angeles Times' Kathleen Hennessey writes "the 'tea party' activists have successfully made themselves into a force to be reckoned with in American politics. Beyond that, their achievements are harder to pinpoint." "Their vigorous grassroots opposition to health care reform put lawmakers' feet to the fire – but the bill still passed."
U.S. News and World Report's Peter Roff agrees that "it is a clear force to be reckoned with" that has been somewhat damaged by the media fixation on the "less flattering components...who are relentlessly negative, focused on ephemera or are just plain angry." Beyond the extremists, Roff insists that many Americans can be swayed towards Tea Party ideas, especially since the passing of health care reform. If that happens, "Democrats, if they continue to position themselves as the opponents of the Tea Party, are positioning themselves as the opponents of middle-America, which is not a way to win elections."
Writing for The Nation, John Nichols says he found "something genuine about much of the initial Tea Party organizing...Unfortunately, the movement has not been well-served by the passage of time. It has been too frequently manipulated by Washington, D.C., insiders and political hangers-on like Sarah Palin -- a supporter of the bank bailout and close ally of the Wall Street crowd -- and has been defined more and more by hatred of Predident Obama and all things Democrat than a genuine populist fervor."