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Tea Party types are marked by four character qualities: “Authoritarianism, ontological insecurity, libertarianism and nativism.” That’s according to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University.
OK, it makes a good headline for the Left. Those crazy “tea baggers” are paranoid, authoritarian, libertarian (anyone else see the contradiction between those last two?), and racist. But teasing out the specifics of the study paints a different picture — and a bizarre one at that.
For example, the report measures affinity for authoritarianism with three questions:
In the political context of 2011 — where politicos are fighting a battle over the most significant piece of authoritarian legislation in years, ObamaCare — it’s odd that researchers would select questions about parenting to ask. I mean, tea partiers aren’t exactly rallying in the streets because children are obeying their parents, are they?
Similarly, on the libertarian question, researchers opted to ask questions about regulating television content, the Internet, and what people can wear in public. Although the former two issues are pertinent, they’re hardly center stage in our contemporary political debate; and the last one is a non-issue much of the time.
Later in the study, the authors posit a disconnect between tea partiers’ views of the U.S. Constitution and their political beliefs (emphasis mine):
Support for Constitutional principles is not absolute. [Tea party] supporters were twice as likely than others to favor a constitutional amendment banning flag burning; many also support efforts to overturn citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment.
That [tea party] supporters simultaneously want to honor the founders’ Constitution and alter that same document highlights the political flexibility of the cultural symbols they draw on. The [tea party] supporters inconsistent views of the Constitution suggests that their nostalgic embrace of the document is animated more by a network of cultural associations than through a commitment to the original text.
That researchers would highlight support for a flag-burning amendment to the Constitution as evidence of tea party hypocrisy is curious. After all, it’s constitutional to amend the Constitution. Article V lays out the stringent parameters: a proposed amendment must be passed by a two-thirds majority of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states. (Two thirds of the states also may call a constitutional convention to consider amendments).
Ergo, support for an amendment prohibiting flag burning isn’t counter to support for the Constitution itself. Citizens might disagree about the wisdom of such an amendment, but support doesn’t entail disrespect for the document. Interpreting the Constitution however we see fit, regardless of what the text actually means and original intent? Now that’s disrespect for the document. Amending it through a constitutionally specified process isn’t.
Following the researchers’ line of reasoning, any amendment to the Constitution save those contained in the Bill of Rights is out of order, including those freeing the slaves and giving women the right to vote. Huh?
Last of all, the study’s methodology is shaky at best. Its findings are based on two survey methods: the first, two telephone calls of registered voters, conducted by the Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling; the second, “observations” at a tea party rally in Washington, North Carolina.
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