Rowayton native and Pulitzer Prize winner delves into the Tea Party
Rowayton's Kate Zernike is receiving heat from both sides of the aisle for her straightforward account of the Tea Party movement in "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America."
A New York Times correspondent -- and Pulitzer Prize recipient -- Zernike said she tried to "come up through the middle" and present an unbiased report of what the Tea Party movement is all about so Americans could make their own summations. However, it seems that both liberals and conservatives alike aren't happy with her depiction.
"I think a book that was sided one way or another might have done better," Zernike told an audience of 40 that turned out last Friday night to hear her speak at the Rowayton Public Library.
A Rowayton native, Zernike's mother and two brothers were in attendance.
Zernike explained that the Tea Party movement was initially founded by "young libertarians" shortly after President Barack Obama was elected to office in what is, by today's standards a "landslide" victory. However, although its founders believe in the ideology of ridding government of social programs, such as Medicare and social security, Zernicke said the majority of its followers are not on board with these radical concepts. In fact, she added, many joined the Tea Party movement more for its sense of community rather than political sentiments.
Zernike shared that she had been on maternity leave when the Tea Party was initially forming. And, when she returned to work and was assigned to cover this new movement, she was amazed by its momentum.
"It was remarkable how the energy had shifted," Zernike said.
And, by last October, she noted that "it was clear that the Tea Party was here to stay."
During her appearance, Zernike offered some salient points about the origin and overall philosophy of the Tea Party-ers but quickly turned the conversation over to the audience for questions.
When asked about the Tea Party's overall impact for the future, Zernike replied that she feels it will eventually fade away. Much of the movement's strength, she noted, evolves around the frustration people have with the country's economy.
Explaining that "these are impatient times," Zernike predicted that the movement will lose its momentum when the economy picks up.
"In a presidential election, they won't have as much voice," she said. "I don't think we'll see a Tea Party president because I don't think their numbers are that big."
In interviewing Tea Party members for "Boiling Mad," Zernike discovered that people were angry with how things were being run in Washington. They were upset about job loss and government intervening in their lives. They didn't know who to turn to with their rage, so they put their energy in the Tea Party movement. However, many of the members she talked to didn't want to do away with Medicare. In fact, they were relying on it. They had simply ceased to trust in anything that had to do with "The Establishment," Zernike said. This included health care, the media, education, financial and economic matters. Ironically, though, Zernike cites polls revealing that Tea Party members blamed the government -- not Wall Street -- for the financial collapse.
With more Tea Party candidates recently elected into office, though, they will now be able to potentially influence legislation. Early on in her discussion, Zernike described its members as people who felt "shut out of politics."
She said, "They felt a sense of `There is no place for us in politics and we want in.'"
And, following the midterm elections, the issue that they want to immediately tackle is budget reductions.
"The big question going forward is, how much is the Tea Party willing to put their money where their mouth is?" Zernike said.
Zernike described the Tea Party as "More than a movement. It's become a state of mind for some people."
During the 2008 election, Zernike was assigned to cover Sarah Palin.
"There wasn't much to cover, though, because all of us reporters were sent to the back of the plane and she promptly closed the curtain," Zernike commented wryly.
When a member of the audience asked for Zernike's assessment of Palin as a Presidential candidate for 2012, she replied that the Tea Party movement, as a whole, doesn't support her candidacy.
Also, Zernike doesn't believe that Palin would win the election. "But, stranger things have happened," she smiled.
Rowayton residents Ray and Joyce Meurer enjoyed listening to Zernike's discussion about the Tea Party movement. "I think she gave a very unbiased account and made every attempt to be fair," Ray said.
The couple said that as members of the Republican Party, they're interested in "what's happening around the country."
Ray said, "We're concerned about the move towards increasing government's role in people's lives."
His wife agreed and added, "We feel that the individual could take more responsibility."
Frequent attendees at Rowayton Library's Friday night speaker series, Ray and Joyce said that they find the topics to be "interesting and informative."
Library Director Cynthia Johnson said she was pleased with last week's turnout.
After people spent time mingling, sipping on the complimentary wine and hor'doerves provided, she introduced Zernike saying, "Our guest speaker has come home, and I'm happy that you're here to welcome her."