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Tea Time in America

NEW YORK – Ever since the first “Tea Party” convention was held last month in Nashville, Tennessee, with Sarah Palin as one of the keynote speakers, America’s political and media establishments have been reacting with a combination of apprehension and disdain. The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has called the Tea Party adherents Nazis, while the mainstream media tend to portray them as ignorant and provincial, a passive rabble with raw emotion but little analytical skill, stirred up and manipulated by demagogues to advance their own agendas.

To be sure, the Tea Party’s brand of aggrieved populism – and its composition of mostly white, angry, middle-class voters – has deep roots in the United States, flaring up during times of change. But observers who have drawn comparisons to the Know-Nothings, the racist, paranoid, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant party that surged in the 1850’s, are reading the movement far too superficially.