Home National Politics What the Tea Party Is and Is Not, Part II

What the Tea Party Is and Is Not, Part II


PART II: What the Tea Party is not is what far too many Democrats pretend it is, and if Democrats, already behind the power curve in this fight, still cling to what Alternet.org “Dispelling 7 Myths” by Adele M. Stan calls “myths” about the TP, they might lose the war before they figure out what hit them. Among these dangerous fantasies (Stan’s myths) lulling Democrats into laziness are:

1) The Tea Party is nothing but a creation of the media “which devotes too much coverage to… a small constituency of malcontents.” The rabid right media like Fox may have hyped the Tea Party into its malignant growth cycle, but the reality is that now other media are “beginning to internalize some of those themes in their own assessment of the Obama administration, such as the obsession with reducing the federal deficit in an economy that, if history is any guide, will require serious deficit spending to repair.”

Thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal, the Tea Party’s themes are, and will continue to be, embedded into public discussion, something no other movement has going for it. Stan refers to these two Murdoch Media as “movement organizers,” Fox hyping Great Lies to invigorate the TP members at the bottom, and the WSJ providing fodder for more elite types, both then issuing suggestions (read “orders”) for action (like disrupting town halls or marching on Washington). Democrats and liberals have no comparable media under their control—- certainly neither GE-owned MSNBC nor the waffling New York Times, “paper of record” can be considered even allies, much less “movement organizers” or Pentagon-level war rooms like Murdoch’s command post. The media threat is real.

2) The Tea Party is astro-turf, it’s not authentic. Wrong: It sprang up as an “authentic grass-roots uprising,” against the bank bailout, the election of an African-American President, and the terrible economic crunch devastating working- and middle-class Americans. It was co-opted by shrewd operatives in existing astro-turf outfits like Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and Club for Growth, who saw a perfect opportunity to undermine the progressive agenda, especially by pushing de-regulation so as to increase profits for corporations and Wall Street.

The first organizing opportunity happened to be the health care bill, which wasn’t their first choice, but it was a wonderful bird in the hand. Thus Freedom Works produced a “how to kit” for disrupting town halls, Fox News pounded away on “death panels” and other disinformation, and professional far right speakers showed up at TP convocations—- but real people form the on-the-ground membership, and they succeeded in killing the public option,  turning the bill into a “sweet deal” for insurance companies. These successes alerted an “army of political operatives and lobbyists…. and dirty tricksters” who have swarmed aboard, creating new groups, like the Tea Party Express—– the Tea Party is now big business, too.

3) The Tea Party is a movement, and cannot win general elections. Time will tell, but they’ve already won a few primaries, and some polls show TP Rand Paul ahead of the Democrat, Jack Conway, in the Kentucky Senate race.The real threat is not the 2010 elections, but the way the Tea Party is successfully forcing the Republican Party further and further to the right. This is the part of the “movement” which has staying power because that is the objective of the corporotists, i.e., to take power from the Republican establishment, like Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader, and put it into the hands of corporate-owned Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). So far, the master manipulators probably consider 2010 a success because they have weakened the GOP establishment, organized voters, and complied new lists of voters for 2012.

4) The Tea Party is so extreme they make Democrats look good and moderate, especially to independents. (Think how loopy Sharron Angle, TP-Republican candidate running against Senator Harry Reid in Nevada, sounds.) Don’t put too much confidence in the American voter, Democrats. Stan quotes a comment made by Rutgers University Professor Ross Baker in an interview with Politico’s Jonathan Martin: “A rebellious electorate embraces crackpots, and crackpots with certificates of election make policy.” I would also remind you that Adolf Hitler and Huey Long were both democratically elected in hard times when voter frustration level was high. The TP is not something “new,” anyway; it is really just a new iteration of Barry Goldwater’s “New Right,” with strong strands of the Moral Majority, and, I would add, white supremacy, and nostalgia for the myth of the Old South, like states’ rights.

5) The Tea Party movement will burn itself out. Don’t count on it, at least until Obama is out of office. I am sure the TP will be used until it has completed taking over the power points in the GOP, at which time it may be quietly retired.  In the meantime, however, it will continue on its self-absorbed, self-righteous way, unaware of the puppet masters pulling its strings. With its eyes firmly on the rear view mirror, the Tea Party will neither see nor accept the enormous changes of the 21st century barreling down on it, but the puppet masters will, and will doubtless provide the loyal troops with new boogeymen to keep them under control and occupied with doing the grunt political labor necessary to maintain the shell of a republican government, while real power lies elsewhere (if that can be arranged, of course).

6) The Tea Party is disorganized and has no leader, not to mention a lack of “lucidity,” so how can it have much political impact? Lack of organization and leadership make it easy for some paranoid right-winger to peel off a part of the Tea Party, gaining fanatical foot soldiers for his cause—- exactly what a corporate-funded astro-turf outfit would do; it may even be an inevitable evolution.  Something like the “Oath Keepers,” with a membership composed of active and retired military and law enforcement agents, who have “pledged to defy enforcement of laws they deem to be unconstitutional,” would fit very well with the Tea Party. (See my earlier article,“The Anger of the Legions Meets the Tea Party”) All the old war horses of the right, like Richard Viguerie and Ralph Reed, are busy using the TP movement to develop new lists and try out new techniques. It is a fertile field they plough, sowing seeds for harvest far into the future…. just as Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition in 1988 enabled the 1994 Newt Gingrich “Revolution,” which led directly to George W. Bush in the White House in 2000.

7) Tea Party supporters are all stupid or ignorant—- except they aren’t, as discussed in the first section, second paragraph. They may not generally be as well educated as most liberals, but they are not, says Stan, “dolts.” When someone’s comfortable view of the world is upended, as happens when the economy of the wealthiest nation in the world, namely theirs, suddenly implodes, they naturally suffer some psychological trauma, and look around for scapegoats and for explanations that do not force them to give up treasured notions “such as free markets,” or viewing democracy/freedom and capitalism as congruent. The disaster must, they think, be the result of a conspiracy. In these circumstances, I do believe that those on the left also look for scapegoats and conspiracies, by the way—- but for rightists, there is usually also a strong dash of authoritarianism, and a willingness to succumb to a strong leader and an autocratic hierarchy.

The danger is that Democrats will swallow one or all of these myths, believe that it’s just “the cycle” turning, and eventually politics will cycle back to their side and they will get another turn. This time it really is different, and, Stan claims,

“If progressives want to save the republic from the hands of the old New Right, they will have to sell their core principles to a public that is not much in a mood to buy anything. It can be done. But it will require a serious, sustained and strategically designed effort.”

I agree—- also, there is the possibility that the corporotists may lose control of this movement they imagine they can ride to power, (just as the Junker businessmen imagined they could control Hitler and use him against Communist labor unions)—- and then what?

I also believe that President Obama and Democrats completely dropped the ball when Obama was inaugurated and Democrats had big majorities on the Hill. That was the time to abandon Republican Lite, and fulfill Change by promulgating the progressive, alternate views of economics (versus the failed pure free market ideas), of a broad-based social system (versus the elitist measurement of preferences based on wealth), and a government founded on the social contract benefitting and protecting all (versus social and economic darwinism, as rigged to benefit the elite).Instead, of course, Obama and most Congressional Democrats accepted the Establishment’s Conventional Wisdom of “center right” Republican Lite and tried “bipartisanship.”

It is not to late to ditch Republican Lite and attack the Tea Party Republicans on what they consider to be their strong points (such as free market, and freedom equals disaster capitalism). Failure to do so will mean more fumbling, trying to create a campaign fought on hostile ground of Republican choosing, offering no real choice to a confused electorate. But haven’t we been there, done that, and lost before?  

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