What’s really driving the Tea Party movement?

    One of my guilty pleasures is attending Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s town meetings. Our politics differ greatly, but I like Jim, who is a month older than me, and the give and take is fun to listen to.

    Four or five years ago, the Congressman would have been the most conservative in the room. Now he has become a moderate…at least in comparison to those who attend these events in Grafton, Germantown and Mequon.

    There are always a few “birthers.” These are folks who, despite the evidence, deny that President Obama was born in the United States. At the last meeting I attended, a lady droned on for 10 minutes, listing Supreme Court cases that proved that Obama wasn’t President. She even, ironically, cited the Dred Scott case. For those of you who slept through History class, this was a Supreme Court decision in 1857 that said that people of African descent were not protected by the Constitution and could never be US citizens. Furthermore, Congress could not prohibit slavery in federal territories. If she had actually read the case, she was forgetting that the Civil War answered this question with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

    Sensenbrenner has responded to the birthers that he has seen Mr. Obama’s birth certificate, that this has been brought to the Supreme Court many times and rejected, and that Obama is his President (although he is part of the “loyal opposition). Furthermore, he has said that we lost the election, accept it, and if you want change, go out and get people to vote.

    I have heard his constituents begging to get “the government’s hands” out of Medicare. Another, a lady I judged to be in her late 70’s or early 80’s, complained that she had to dip into her IRA to pay for Obama’s health care plan (despite the fact that it has not taken place and that this lady appeared to have few assets).

    In short, many of these folks are angry, frightened, and are lashing out against forces they do not understand. But this is more than an adherence to conspiracy theories or frustration with a weak economy. In my opinion, the birthers and many tea party folks are reacting to the shift of power that they are witnessing, but cannot define.

    This shift is from a world run by older white males to a society where women, minorities and youth will be our new leaders.

    Part of this has to do with demographics. Asians, Hispanics and blacks now make up 30 percent of our workforce. 45 percent of all children under 5 are minorities. By 2042, the white population will be reduced from 67 percent to 47 percent. Hispanics and Latinos now make up 15 percent of our population, but will increase to 30 percent by 2050. Asians will almost double from 5 to 9 percent. The surprise here is that the Black population will only increase 1 to 15 percent.

    In addition, our economy has moved from mass production to mass customization. The number of workers in manufacturing was 28 percent 35 years ago; it is less than 10 percent today, thanks to tremendous increases in productivity gains (and not so much to job exports). Women are better suited as managers in this environment because they work collaboratively rather than in the top down hierarchical approach that men like.

    In short, your new boss is likely to be female. Twenty-four percent of all family businesses are now run by women, and 2.5 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are run by women, but this should increase to 30 percent by 2020.

    Demographics – the retirement of the baby boomer-indicates a younger leadership. The young have a very much different view of race, religion, and sexual orientation than older Americans. This is a hopeful sign for our society.

    Lastly, many business and government leaders have shown themselves to be incompetent, incapable and unethical (as well as clueless). You have automobile executives flying to Washington, D.C., in leased jets and being picked up in stretch limos before getting their begging bowls. You have bankers and brokers who were blinded to practices in their organizations that destroyed them- Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual or Wachovia. Do I need to cite the head of Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein who said, “I’m doing ‘God’s work.”

    Then there are government leaders who failed to enforce regulations on the books or their hypocritical sex scandals.

    Demographics, economic shifts, and the failure of leadership are driving the frustration of the Tea Party people, who are mostly retired, upper middle class white males. They see a young, Black president and a strong female head of the House of Representatives. Their economic and social status is changing. Is it a question that they are threatened by the possibility of someone doing better than them? What else can they do but lash out?

    Ironically, the movement might affect more Republicans than Democrats. Utah lost an establishment Republican Senator. In Pennsylvania you had an old and ill politician running again a vigorous, younger man. Dr. Paul- an attractive, tell it as it is- guy ran and won against the Republican’s establishment’s candidate. 

    What will happen in November is anyone’s guess. Will the anger of the Tea Party folk, estimated at 20 percent of the population, translate into votes? It is anyone’s guess. But the change in power and values, as the root cause of this movement, bears looking at.

    Bob Chernow has worked in the financial industry for over 40 years. As a futurist in Milwaukee, he identified the S&L and mutual savings bank and subprime crises prior to them “happening.”

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