The Netroots vs. The Tea Party

A brief comparison of two very different movements with seemingly similar goals

The netroots movement is a combination of blogs and media outlets that seeks to play a significant role in Party politics and the public sphere. It is a heterogeneous group of activists who gather online to reshape the Democratic Party. Some examples of the sites where members of the netroots movement engage in social and symbolic action include, DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress and Act Blue. The only unifying factor among the members of the netroots movement isn’t a shared ideology, but rather a desire to see the Democratic Party win an election (Kreiss).

The Tea Party is a political movement known for its conservative positions and role in the Republican Party. Its ideologies mainly focus on fiscal conservatism and its members are frequently described as libertarian, populist and conservative activists. Since its inception in 2009, it has sponsored multiple protests and supported many political candidates. While its goals are far reaching and focus on reduction in the national deficit by reducing spending and taxes and a reduction in the size of the federal government, its tactics seemingly revolve around securing Republican candidates in various political offices throughout the nation (Arrillaga).

While the netroots and the Tea Party vary a great deal in ideologies and party support, both movements seem to have similar goals and aspects in regards to their respective parties. On a most basic level, the netroots movement wants a Democratic candidate to get elected, while the Tea Party wants a Republican candidate to get elected. However, while Democratic victories seem to be the primary goal for the netroots, elections seem to only be a tactic, or a secondary goal for the Tea Party. That is, the Tea party is more interested in defending its principles of smaller government and fiscal conservatism from the GOP’s seemingly moderate politicians (Pollack). Additionally, both the netroots movement and the Tea Party have grassroots campaign components. However, while the netroots movement began as a genuine grassroots movement without institutional support from the Democratic Party, the Tea Party’s grassroots authenticity seems to be up to debate. “On one end, it very much is a grassroots movement. It’s a movement that surely sprung up out of the ether in a lot of people’s minds. But then on the other hand, you have sort of an establishment that is somewhat preexisting. And these are the folks who have come to the game with a great deal of money, if not a great deal of energy, which certainly you associate with the grassroots end of this movement” (Inskeep). Furthermore, both movements have similar criticisms of their own parties, such as each party’s dependence on consultants, the constant selection of moderate candidates who don’t win elections, the lack of ideas, a lag in information technology and their accommodation with the status quo (Pollak).

By acknowledging the similarities between the netroots movement and the Tea Party, it becomes apparent the importance of noting their stark differences. Most importantly, the netroots does not have any support from the Democratic Party, while the Tea Party does have support from the major Republican Party leaders. Additionally, the netroots doesn’t have major Democratic donors to fund the various grassroots entities, while the Tea Party does in the form of “astroturf” organizations including Freedom Works and Tea Party Express. The netroots also doesn’t have a surplus of past failed nominees providing the bulk of candidates for office, while the Tea Party candidates have been primarily Republican office holders, party officials and major donors (Hamlin).

While the netroots and the Tea Party are similar in some ways and differ in others, the most important comparison is whether they are successful, and if they are achieving their goals. It’s difficult to distinguish the success of one movement over the other; however, it can be beneficial to elaborate on each movement’s most successful times. The netroots movement was actively involved in influencing the 2008 presidential campaign, and the campaign utilized the efforts of the netroots movement, making this election one of the movement’s biggest successes. “The campaign seeded its network of netroots actors, aggregators such as The Drudge Report, new media outlets such as Politico, and social platforms like Digg which content staffers hoped would win the day in terms of securing the narratives and audiences of professional, general interest journalism, the object of its network building and strategic communications work. In the process, the campaign created a profusion of new opportunities to not only disseminate and promote content, but also elide its origin, making it appear as the work of amateur citizens and professional news gathering” (Kreiss 23). Keeping in mind the “big picture” goal of the Tea Party, which is to make their priorities the Republican Party’s priorities, it seems as though the Tea Party has also had enormous success. “As an organic limited government movement motivated by activist citizens outside the beltway, it has had an enormous impact on reshaping the Republican Party and their policy priorities, in forcing traditional politicians to bend to their will, or at least pretend to until they get re-elected. The old framework where the party elders and K Street set economic policy, temper the social/domestic policy preferences of the coalition, and adopt foreign policy generally as circumstances dictate has been thoroughly smashed” (Domenech).

Arrillaga, Pauline. “Tea Party 2012: A Look At The Conservative Movement’s Last Three Years.” Huffington Post. 14 Apr. 2012. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/14/tea-party-2012_n_1425957.html&gt;.

Domenech, Ben. “This Is How The Tea Party Ends.” The Federalist. 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://thefederalist.com/2014/03/19/this-is-how-the-tea-party-ends/&gt;.

Hamlin, Matt Browner. “The Tea Party vs The Netroots.” Hold Fast. 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://holdfastblog.com/2010/09/15/the-tea-party-vs-the-netroots/&gt;.

Inskeep, Steve. “Is the Tea Party Really A Grassroots Movement?” NPR. 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129926390&gt;.

Kreiss, Daniel. “Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign’s Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race.” Research in Social Movements, Conflicts, and Change. 2012.

Pollak, Joel. “Netroots vs. Tea Party: Oppositions at Odds.” Breitbart. 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.breitbart.com/blog/2013/12/16/netroots-vs-tea-party-oppositons-at-odds/&gt;.


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