Broadly speaking, tea-party hysteria seems to be originated and peddled by three factions. The first, and most cynical, is made up of perfidious progressives who, because they oppose the Tea Party’s economic agenda and fear its electoral and political clout, have set out with malice aforethought to destroy the group’s reputation. Into this bloc we can reliably throw almost everybody at MSNBC, the Democratic National Committee, the Obama administration, and the parade of political operatives who work around the clock to make politics intolerable for everyone. Given that these people are more committed than they are creative, you will notice that their preferred epithets for the Tea Party are the ones that they throw at everybody. Hence “racist,” “greedy,” and “stupid.”

The second faction consists of the genuinely dangerous Americans who do not grasp the nature, legitimacy, and vital role of vehement political opposition in a free republic. These are the people who, willfully or not, orchestrated and cheered on the IRS’s disgusting singling out of tea-party groups. Evidently, a number of people in America have managed to convince themselves that citizens who rail against taxes and debt and wish to see a reduction in regulation are more likely than most to break the laws they disdain — even though there is precisely no evidence for this. To propose that members of the Tea Party should be more closely monitored by the IRS because they advance an anti-tax message is akin to proposing that the advocates of drug legalization should be singled out for visits by the DEA or that opponents of wiretapping should be targeted for NSA surveillance. In other words, it is to say that there should be tangible consequences for speaking up against the status quo.

The third group is perhaps the most interesting, for it is full of people who have become precisely what they fear. When the history of this period in American life comes to be written, historians will almost certainly come to see the hysteria prompted by the rise of the Tea Party as akin to the “Red Scare” of the 1950s — except, that is, that there were actual Communist traitors in America.