How Vince Gray's coalition is like the Tea Party

Glenn Beck rally photo
The crowd at Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally has more in common with Vince Gray supporters than they realize. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

This afternoon, The American Prospect's Adam Serwer tweeted: "Basically, the Gray candidacy is DC's Tea Party." The tweet prompted some head-scratching.


Long story short

Vince Gray and the Tea Parties don't agree on much, but their coalitions are more similar than you might think


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The comparison is obviously counterintuitive. Gray's coalition is mostly black, the Tea Party members are mostly white. The Tea Party is supporting right-wing candidates, while Gray is running to the left of Fenty. Still, Serwer's statement is more accurate than you might think.

What links the two groups are the forces that are animating them, and generating the anger at the establishment (Adrian Fenty for the Gray campaign, Barack Obama for the Tea Parties). This leads to similar anxieties and rhetoric. Both are trying to preserve an economic and cultural position they feel is slipping from their grasp. Essentially, they are each other in reverse.

THE THREAT OF CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS — The majority white Tea Party is rebelling against a black president during a time when the minority population of the United States is rapidly gaining ground on the white population, generating fears of economic displacement.

Gray's campaign is driven by anxiety over gentrification, and the feeling that most of the District's population growth in recent years has come from white 20-somethings moving to Columbia Heights. As an editorial endorsing Fenty in fancy Washington magazine The New Republic pointed out, D.C.'s black population is projected to lose its majority in 2015.

A PERCEPTION OF RACIAL BIAS — A black D.C. resident told the Washington Examiner's Freeman Kloppott that the new Deanwood Recreation Center, located in heavily black Ward 7, was intended to benefit white residents. "Fenty is getting ready for white people moving into the community," she said. While a Washington Post analysis by Nikita Stewart showed the mayor spread capital projects throughout the city evenly, black residents still believe their neighborhoods are neglected.

And even though black leaders are blaming Obama for not doing enough to alleviate black unemployment, 25 percent of Tea Party members feel the Obama administration favors blacks over whites, compared to just 11 percent of the general population.

THE LOSS OF SECURE JOBS — Earlier this summer, a caller to Kojo Nnamdi's WAMU show raised the possibility that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's firings of teachers were part of a plan to destroy the black middle class in the city. Washington Teachers Union General Vice President Nathan Saunders, who was a guest on the show, didn't dismiss the idea entirely.

Fenty's trimming of the government payroll, particularly union jobs, is a threat to black D.C. residents who thought they could always rely on a local government position as a solid ticket to the middle class and a safe retirement.

Similarly, many Tea Party activists have described being jolted in to action by the loss of a middle-class job.

A FEELING OF BEING IGNORED — Tea Party members were infuriated by the eventual passage of Obama's health care overhaul package despite their protests and widespread public opposition.

"This bill is about to become the main symbol for a government that doesn't listen and just doesn't get it," a Republican strategist said at the time.

Gray's campaign also has the backing of those frustrated with an unresponsive executive. The featured video on their campaign's new Formerly Fenty site features former Fenty director of employment services Summer Spencer talking about how the mayor "doesn't listen."

A DEGREE OF PARANOIA — After a Board of Elections and Ethics hearing earlier this month, a Gray supporter being interviewed by ABC 7's Sam Ford began begging for police protection for Gray, saying the campaign was getting nasty and that Gray's life was in danger. During his speech at the Lincoln Memorial last month, Tea Party favorite and Fox News Host Glenn Beck wore a bulletproof vest.

Fenty's mayoral tenure has reignited worries among black residents about 'The Plan' — an alleged white plot to take over the District. And Tea Party supporters are party to all sorts of conspiracy theories.

A key difference we feel the need to point out — Gray isn't nearly as extreme as the leaders of the Tea Party movement. None of what he has proposed is nearly as radical as questioning the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or eliminating the federal Department of Education.

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This is obviously a controversial thesis. What do you think? Do you know of other ways Vince Gray's coalition resembles the Tea Party? Other ways they might differ? Let us know.

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