cover image The Tea Party: A Brief History

The Tea Party: A Brief History

Ronald P. Formisano. Johns Hopkins Univ., $19.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-4214-0596-4

Though perhaps premature, University of Kentucky history professor Formisano merits attention for providing even-handed perspective on and clarifying misconceptions about America’s recent political phenomenon. The group’s roots, as Formisano suggests, can be found in protest movements dating back to the Whiskey Rebellion, and parallels third parties as recent as those of George Wallace and Ross Perot. Formisano (For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s) makes valuable clarifications: the Tea Party and the religious right are not synonymous, and there are factional disputes within. While the billionaire Koch brothers are among the group’s wealthy advocates, Formisano convincingly argues that “the enterprises of many global corporations based in the United States clearly are in implicit conflict with Tea Party positions.” He notes that the group’s relations with the mainstream Republican Party are prickly, with about half holding an unfavorable view of the conservative establishment. However, party supporters are not isolated zealots, and may, like other Americans, only want to gain control over their destinies. His most trenchant observation might have emerged from a Pirandello play: “Its partisans and critics alike, as if reading tea leaves, often see in it what they wish to see.” (Apr.)