What the Tea Party Is, and Is Not, and Why Both Are Dangerous


    PART I: Why is the media so fascinated by the Tea Party, a bunch of loud-mouthed kooks who are likely no more than 18 percent of voters, if that? Answer: That’s not exactly what they are (“loud-mouthed kooks”), the media loves an aggressive rant, and the media is also being paid well for their gig as purveyors of right wing agitprop. But wait, there’s more, a lot more, and the reality is far more dangerous.  Indeed. While all those amused or ugly assessments of the TP —-as wild-eyed extremists, as astro-turf funded by sinister Big Money corporotists, or as a flock of little more than your typical Republican Glen Beck dittoheads whose nasty nuttiness will naturally be rejected by the electorate at the polls—– may comfort Democrats because there is some truthiness to them, none of it makes a difference right now, including for the 2010 elections. None of it.

    To begin with, the picture of TP supporters many progressives have in their heads (ignorant-redneck-angry-white-males) is incorrect. An April poll by CBS News and the New York Times, quoted in Alternet.org “Dispelling 7 Myths” on 23 June by Adele M. Stan (AlterNet’s Washington Bureau Chief), says that 23 percent of TP supporters have college degrees (whereas college graduates are only 13 percent of the general public), 33 percent have some college (28 percent general public), and Stan then goes on to quote Chip Berlet, an expert on right-wing populism, “there is no….evidence that people who join right-wing movements are any more or less crazy or ignorant than their neighbors.” This may be a depressing thought, but after talking with a few TP members myself, I think he’s right—- as in, “everyone’s a little bit crazy about something, except thee and me, and sometimes I wonder about thee.”

    It’s what TP supporters believe that makes progressives conclude the whole movement is, well, kookie, According to that same CBS-NYT poll, quoted by the DCCC in a fund-raising pamphlet:

    * 92 percent believe President Obama is leading the country to socialism

    * 66 percent doubt the impact of global warming

    * 66 percent have a favorable view of Sarah Palin

    * 64 percent believe President Obama has increased taxes (he cut them for 95 percent of Americans)

    * 59 percent either believe or don’t know if President Obama was born in a foreign country

    * 59 percent have a favorable view of Glen Beck

    * 57 percent have a favorable view of George W. Bush, and even

    * 24 percent believe it is sometimes justified to take violent action against the government

    This cluster of gag-inducing certainties (57 percent still admire GWB? Gaaah!) will not be dislodged by Democrats’ trotting out “facts.” What we have here is another periodic  upwelling of what Robert Reich calls “angry right-wing populism” that dwells under every bad American economic downturn, but this time it is compounded by two wars and the tectonic change of the 2010 elections which put an African-American into the White House, when at one fell swoop all the culture changes since the 1960’s jumped front and center, creating an instant, angry boiling stewpot “ready,” said Reich, “to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity.” He left out immigrants or the national debt.

    Of course…. and it is a powerful stew which has been cooking for over two generations, so it is not just going to boil over in 2010 and then go away. It has a life of its own, extending back to the original Religious Right of the 1970’s. True, this current manifestation has been carefully nurtured by Fox News and the many far-right nut-hatcheries which have long had homes under the Republican Party umbrella. With remarkable speed the Tea Party was covertly appropriated by professional organizers funded by corporate interests, and the inchoate anger was channeled overnight into very specific themes “favored,” says Stan, “by the billionaires.”

    The real objective of the power behind the screen, which has co-opted the Tea Party, is to win permanent control of the American political system. Stan writes,

    “Over the course of the last 30 years, conservatives have held more years in power than liberals and moderate Democrats. But the men behind the right-wing fury don’t just want their power back; they want more of it than they’ve ever had before….(they) are content to take a long path to their goal of grabbing all the marbles.”

    In other words, 2010 is not the end game, it is the opening gambit. The right may win or lose here and there in the 2010 elections, but they will have accomplished two even more important objectives: they will have moved “both the civic discourse and the Republican Party further to the right,” according to Stan. Remember how, with Reagan, the GOP suddenly shifted far right, and dragged the rest of the political spectrum after them, so that what had been centrist suddenly turned into leftist? That was a mild little trip compared to where we are going now.  The far right’s game plan runs way beyond the presidential elections in 2012. Already, through primary challenges, heretofore far-outside-the-mainstream ideas have been introduced and become routine topics for discussion, such as eliminating the Federal Reserve, abolishing the Department of Education, ending all entitlements from Social Security through unemployment insurance, and outlawing abortion under any circumstances (a sop to the evangelical foot soldiers in the ranks).

    Part II takes up dangerous myths or fantasies about the Tea Party, which lull Democrats into believing the phenomenon will dissipate or not have much long-term influence, and so they need not exert themselves all that much for any election: What will be, will be, and the cycle will come back to benefit Democrats again. This foolishness could be fatal. Part II also touches on the necessary Democratic response.