BY JOHN FUND – Liberals in the media seem puzzled about why so many women are showing up at Tea Party rallies, not to mention the existence of Tea Party-backed candidates such as South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Nevada’s Sharron Angle. Lesley Stahl of CBS News gave voice to this confusion on MSBNC’s “Morning Joe” program this week: “I wanted to ask all the gurus here why so many of the Tea Partiers are women. I find that just intriguing and don’t quite understand why that has happened.”
At a recent Tea Party rally in Richmond, Virginia, I also noticed a large number of women present. A Quinnipiac Poll found that 55% of Tea Party members are women; the pollster Scott Rasmussen says women up make up about 40% of voters who say they support the Tea Party. At the organization level, women are clearly very important in the Tea Party. Although it prides itself on not having a central leadership, to the extent the movement does, it’s often female. Six of the eight national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, which organizes the efforts of hundreds of individual local groups, are women.
Even liberals such as Peggy Drexler, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell Medical School, grudgingly acknowledge that Sarah Palin has a point when she says the “Momma Grizzlies” of the Tea Party are the real feminists. “These are women rising up to confront a world they feel threatens their families. They are loud, determined, unafraid and – politically speaking — have very big teeth,” she wrote in the Huffington Post last month.
The Tea Party provides women who have often been given short shrift by party establishments a natural home. “For a long time people have seen the parties as good-ole’-boy, male-run institutions. In the Tea Party, women have finally found their voice,” says Rebecca Wales of Tea Party Patriots.
A new film “Fire From the Heartland,” done for the conservative group Citizens United by filmmaker Steve Bannon, interviews only women in exploring the Tea Party movement. The sole male voice comes from a clip of the February 2009 on-air rant of CNBC’s Rick Santelli, whose criticism of home mortgage bailouts touched off the formation of the Tea Parties.
The women interviewed in the film believe their children will be the losers as government pushes a “dependency” agenda and the country loses its competitive edge. “The current administration is promoting T-ball nation,” says Doreen Borelli. “With T-ball, you hit the ball, everyone gets on base, everyone supposedly wins and everyone goes for ice cream after the game. But life isn’t like that.”
“I was born to a crackhead and grew up in the projects,” says Sonnie Johnson of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. She now supports the Tea Party because she wants local governments to have more autonomy. “How can you make a change locally if your community is run by the federal government?” she asks.
Ms. Johnson told me she is irritated by liberal attempts to paint the Tea Party as racist. She notes that such charges are essentially a political strategy and points out that Mary Frances Berry, the former Democratic chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under Bill Clinton, acknowledged as much when she said: “Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. . . . Having one’s opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness.”
Liberal attempts to smear the Tea Party take many forms. One prominent black professional from Virginia received a phone call warning against attending the Richmond event by falsely saying the crowd would be all white and displaying Confederate flags.
But the Tea Party seems to grow regardless of attempts to pigeonhole or marginalize it. A new Washington Post poll reports that 43% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans are intensely interested in voting this November. Among Tea Party supporters, the number is 74%. Given that a Rasmussen poll this month finds that three out of ten Americans consider themselves Tea Party members or have close friends or family members who are, it has the potential to reshape the political landscape.
John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal