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LAS VEGAS, NV — Liberals could face major losses if they continue to ignore the Tea Party movement, a panel of progressive writers said Thursday during a discussion at NetrootsNation, an annual gathering of bloggers, activists and policy makers.
The panelists, which included well-known authors David Neiwert and John Amato of Crooksandliars.com, warned that regardless of whether people have negative attitudes toward the Tea Party, progressives could lose their footing unless they mobilize their own base and treat the right-wing movement as a force to be reckoned with.
“The thing that has me most concerned about the Tea Party movement is the overarching theme on our side of things that we should dismiss these people because they’re nuts,” said Adele Stan, Washington bureau chief for Alternet.org, a progressive website that covers politics and culture. “We really do that at our peril.”
The panelists agreed that the era of writing off the conservative populist movement must end, adding that serious steps need be taken to combat the growing antagonism to the party in power.
“The answer to the Tea Party is to activate truly the populist wing of the progressive movement,” Neiwert said. “That’s the only way we’re going to have a chance to overcome this very threatening and very powerful movement.”
“We have to rise to the challenge,” Amato added.
Amato and Neiwert, who co-authored the book Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane, argued that the Tea Party movement is not a new phenomenon, but a fresh incarnation that is part of a long history of what they called “right-wing authoritarianism.”
“We’ve been studying the right for a long time, and let me tell you, they never give up,” Neiwart said. “They’re relentless.”
Stan pointed out that while the Tea Party has primarily focused on economic issues and left social battles to the wayside, there is no denying that a majority of those who sympathize with the movement do not lean in favor of legislation that promotes gay rights, abortion or immigration reform. She predicted that the Tea Party, which an April CBS News/New York Times poll found makes up 18 percent of Americans, will join forces with social conservative groups come election time, and become “a real force to contend with.”
It’s no surprise that the Left has not taken the Tea Party seriously, said FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon in a phone interview with The Daily Caller. The Washington-based organization has helped organize Tea Party rallies around the country.
“Most of these people who mock the Tea Party have never even been to an event,” he said. “So they think we’re a bunch of knuckle-dragging jerks who are just upset that the president is black.”
“But I want them to underestimate us,” he added. “That’s fine by me.”