Who Are the Tea Partiers?

It began last February with an off-hand slap at President Obama's stimulus plan by a cable commentator on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.

"We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July," said CNBC's Rick Santelli. "All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing."

But it wasn't capitalists, or politicians, or any one central group who organized last April's Tax Day protests, or who fueled last September's Washington protest that drew tens of thousands, or helped put Republican Scott Brown in a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

@katiecouric: Tea Party Leaders

In fact, what makes the so-called "Tea Party" movement so significant is that it isn't driven by any one personality or issue. There is no list of members or chapters. Best guess, and that's what it is, is that several hundred thousand participated in one or more of the protests last year. There's no one office or figure who speaks for the movement.

"There is no any definite ideology to the people in the tea parties they really run the gamut," said Republican Congressman Peter King.

King, who has represented a middle-class swing district on New York's Long Island for 18 years, says much of the "tea-party" anger is now aimed at the President.

"As far as the President is concerned that he has lost touch with the middle class, that he has an agenda that he is going to pursue no matter what," King said.

And while you can hear Right-wing sentiments at tea party gatherings, if you were at a Denver rally on health-care last week, you might think you were back at a civil rights rally in the 60s.

"We love Martin Luther King, because he said there were times when you seek justice that you have to take to the streets," said one of the speakers.

There's no doubt that the grass roots tea party energy is stirring Republican hopes and dreams for big gains in Congress this November. But like any powerful force - nitroglycerin, for example - it has to be handled with great care.
  • Jeff Greenfield

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