I have to admit that my strong interest in politics has had a big relationship with the emergence of the Tea Party. I became disillusioned by the phony Democratic opposition to George Bush in 2004, and slowly shifted my beliefs to the right. I never let Bush off the hook in my mind for running up the deficit, expanding foreign militarism and turning America into a police state, but I began to see the Democrats in a new light as well.
It seemed to me (and kinda still does) that their heart was in the right place, but they lacked a basic understanding of the fundamentals of economics. They are made up of intellectuals, not businessmen, and so they cannot understand how to create profitable systems that actually work. Everything works in theory for them. That is why, unlike businessmen, they don’t see why an unsuccessful system that they love dearly should have to disappear – not when there’s oodles of money to throw at the problem in the vain hopes that it will fix the problem.
On the other hand, it also didn’t seem fair that corporations could or should get away with becoming unstoppable giants that are unaccountable to anyone, and actually help to eliminate what could potentially be great products that I’d want to buy. I had so much hatred of private markets programmed into my understanding of how the world works, that it took a lot of research on my part to eventually grasp the fallacy of this line of thinking. The more I looked at the actual problems – corporations sending jobs over seas, polluting the environment, taking advantage of tax loopholes and killing mom-and-pop businesses – the more often I would see the work of the government that actually caused it.
The relationship between big business and the government, as it turns out, is like peas and carrots. Politicians getting their backs scratched with campaign donations in exchange for special handouts, lobbyists spearheading legislation that is favorable to their constituencies (like Big Tobacco), and companies (like Monsanto and Pfizer) promoting the kind of regulation that would be more costly and thus harmful to their smaller competitors. These are just some of the unintended consequences of a government that has far too much shit to give away.
But should the government really be involved in choosing which companies get special attention? The Solyndra scandal is only the most recent example of why the answer is a resounding no.
This all has to do with redefining the role of government, which we as a nation are now doing. I never would have thought that changing the way business works in Washington would ever really be possible, but then during the last election cycle, I noticed a guy that was saying all of this. He articulated quite well the new role the government should play, and he was pretty darned consistent about it. I checked him out, found him to be legit, and I know many others did as well. Many of them became the Tea Party. And the man I’m talking about is Ron Paul.
TEA PARTY PATIENT ZERO AND BEYOND
You can’t really begin an analysis of the Tea Party without looking at Ron Paul. He hasn’t gotten as much flack as the Tea Party, but he’s certainly portrayed as Crazy Uncle Jeb by most of the media. It’s believed by many who have heard of him that he is unelectable, and that his beliefs are too radical to be taken seriously.
It is my hope that soon Ron Paul will get the Republican nomination, but even if he doesn’t, he will have been the first to begin the discussion we are all having right now about just how big of a role the government really ought to be playing in our lives. He may be Tea Party Patient Zero (as Jon Stewart calls him), but that does not mean he speaks for the Tea Party and he has never called himself its founder. He is the only candidate that doesn’t need to mention their name to add credibility to himself, as all the other candidates have done.
I remember watching the first Republican presidential debate in 2007 with my friends at a community house I was living in at the time. Everyone in the room with me – most notably my Pakistani friend Haseeb – immediately took a liking to him, just as I did. Towards the end, Haseeb said to me, “he’s the only guy up there making sense.” We all became fans.
At the next debate, we saw Giuliani try to trip him up by calling him un-American for “blaming Americans for 9/11,” and forced him to apologize. I was quite tickled two days later when Ron Paul gave Giuliani a “reading list,” which included the 9/11 Commission Report. The report found – as Paul was criticized for correctly stating in the debate – that our military occupation of Arab holy lands in the Middle-East was probably the biggest reason why our enemies wanted to attack us.
Nevertheless, I knew he was doomed when I talked to my dad about him (who watches Fox News regularly), and he sided with Giuliani. After he later accepted that Ron Paul was actually correct, he had already formed the opinion that he was unelectable.
So when, during all of this election stuff, did the Tea Party come about? Most pundits didn’t register the Tea Party existed at all until around Spring of 2009, but it actually started much earlier. The first big event was probably the protest of Bear Sterns in NYC during April of 2008 People traveled from all over the country to protest the banker bailouts, and it was an early reflection of a growing wave of frustration over Wall Street corruption. And with a Republican administration still in office, one which actually supported the bailout, it is hard to even see how this was a partisan response. Put simply: everyone was pissed off.
Another event happened in Washington that Glenn Beck took credit for, even though it was planned months in advance of him finding out. Later, Ron Paul had a money bomb on Guy Fawkes Day, raising 4.2 million in 24 hours, followed by another on December 16 – the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party – which pulled in 6.2 million. The whole idea of sending a tea bag to your congressman came later.
The Ron Paul run was fun, but I sort of sat it out after that. The Tea Party kept doing their thing, I went back to focusing on my schoolwork and I became increasingly worried that the Tea Party was morphing into some quasi-fascistic nebula of right-wing crazy-talk. How couldn’t I? All of the people on Fox News that I had grown to despise were now praising them, they seemed to be talking about regulating personal business and supporting anti-immigrant bigotry. I didn’t know what to think about them anymore.
So recently, I jumped back in and did some research. I wanted to know: does a real, genuine Tea Party still exist, or has it been absorbed by the RNC with RNC talking points and Faux Tea Party figureheads like Sarah Palin? Well, yes and no.
A FEW THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW FIRST
First of all, any time a “Tea Partier” talks about anything but money, he is off-topic. You can spot a Faux Tea Partier by the scope of his conversation. All of the genuine Tea Party issues concern money: fixing the monetary system, cutting spending, balancing the budget, simplifying the tax code and eliminating unnecessary and costly regulations that hamper private businesses. There should be no talk of Obama’s birth certificate or SB 1070 or gay marriage or any of that crap. Even anti-war discourse has no real place in the Tea Party, unless it’s to point out how much money we are spending on militarism and nation-building.
So with that said, it should be clear that there seems to be either a disconnect within the Tea Party itself, or a grave misunderstanding of it by outsiders and the media. I think it’s both.
At this point in time, the Tea Party has never been more feared and despised. Joe Biden likens the Tea Party to terrorists,
Rep. Luis Gutierrez called them arsonists and Barney Frank compares them to schoolyard bullies who drive teens to suicide. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver called the whole debt deal a “Satan sandwich,” and Maxine Waters wants the Tea Party to “go straight to hell!” And Teamster head Jimmy Hoffa even declared war on the Tea Party, saying: “President Obama, this [the Teamster union] is your army. We are ready to march. Let's take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.” To which Obama responded with great praise, expressing how proud he was of Hoffa and his “army.”
These are all grown adults, and I would hope they would not be saying such things unless the evidence of Tea Party bullying and racism was overwhelming and could cement the notion that the problem is not just a few lone nuts but one that is systemic. I hope that is the case because these are all huge accusations, and they are being echoed by most of the liberals in the media.
I’m not going to get into specifics here, I’m just going to summarize. This list of myths is by no means an exhaustive one, but it contains the ones I feel knowledgeable and confident enough to debunk.
1. They are racists.
Anyone who has spent time with the Tea Party would be absolutely insane to believe this. There are at least two big reasons why anyone believes this. The first is the Tea Party protest of Obamacare early last year. It was from this event that most of the rumors began that the Tea Party was racist. Democratic House leaders walked right through the Tea Party to the Capitol building (instead of taking the underground tunnels between the building that were designed to be used in just such a situation) and their aides reported live via Twitter that they were being spit on and called the N-word. The news spread like wildfire, and pretty soon everyone in the media was reporting that some Congressmen and –women were being harassed by Tea Partiers.
Thing is: there’s no proof this actually happened. Several videos have surfaced of the event, and none of them show any evidence that these things happened. In fact, the Weiner-scandal guy has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone with proof that these things actually happened. And looked at this way, it isn’t hard to imagine why these Democrats (under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi) would want to do such a thing as provoke a confrontation with their political adversaries and fabricate one when nothing ends up happening.
The other reason people might think the Tea Party is racist is a phenomenon known as “nutpicking.” This is when someone with a camera goes to Tea Party events (or scours the web for Tea Party videos) and picks out the nutjobs holding very bizarre and offensive signs and spouting nonsense. These people do exist, and the Tea Party is quite efficient at weeding them out.
Sometimes the Tea Partiers even use force to remove these crazies from events, but not before they’ve left their mark for the evening news. Unfortunately for the Tea Party, one sign reading “Obama is a babykiller” is going to turn more heads than the thousands of “Taxed Enough Already” signs. Added to this are people (usually liberals) who try to make a laughing stock out of them by pretending to be bigoted and ignorant Tea Partiers.
But I have a stress test for you, in case you want to be scientific about your efforts to expose the Tea Party as the racists you think they are: why don’t you find the video of a Tea Partier taking the podium and getting cheered on while he spews his racist filth? At many of these protest events, there is a podium that is made available to anyone who wants to give a testimonial. All kinds of people usually step up to the mic and its open to all, usually. Surely there must be one video or two of some nutjob running his mouth to the adulation of his peers? That would be nice to see. And that brings me to…
2. Sarah Palin is the Tea Party’s leader.
I can see why you might think she is, but she is as far from the Tea Party message as you can be and still be in the same room. She supported TARP – which, if you recall, is the very thing that the Tea Party was founded to protest! Furthermore, she ran on the presidential ticket with a mainstream, establishment Republican, champions military spending, is on the payroll at Fox News and supports the economically dreadful cap-and-trade. And notice that none of these things have anything to do with her character, or the fact that she keeps the guys over a FactCheck.org busy working overtime. These are positions that are antithetical to the Tea Party itself, and anyone with a search engine who had five free minutes to compare her positions to that of the Tea Party would discover the discrepancy.
The same goes for Michelle Bachmann. She is a former government bureaucrat that has profited from government handouts herself and is beloved by the very sort of Wall Street bankers she claims to be opposing.
This is what leads people to believe this next myth…
3. The Tea Party is just Astroturf for the rich.
There may be many well-off people in the Tea Party, but that is a far cry from acting like all of its members are bought and paid for. It is difficult to prove that each and every member of the Tea Party isn’t representing someone else’s interest (although simply going to a Tea Party event and meeting with these people in person might seem like a good place to start). But setting aside the figureheads I’ve just discussed, and the many others like them whose rhetoric doesn’t quite match their record, I’m going to use simple logic to dispel this nonsensical myth.
As I mentioned, the movement began with the banker bailouts, and who but the rich stood to gain from those bailouts? When the common man runs out of money, banks foreclose. When the banks run out of money, they get bailed out. It hardly seems fair.
So carrying this argument further, if everyone who still had money tied into banks, whether it be savings or investments, suddenly saw their banking institution fail, who would lose the most? Those with the most money involved (i.e. the rich). Are we catching on?
As I stated at the beginning, corporations and government are like peas and carrots. If the government were smaller, the super-rich would not be able to profit off of the kinds of crony capitalism I described. They would lose.
At least, the unfairly and unjustly rich would stand to lose. Class warfare doesn’t even need to enter the conversation to see this logic. Genuine Tea Partiers recognize that corporate handouts are just as bad as socialized handouts, and they both lead to class warfare and division.
The argument for limited government is usually and correctly limited to the federal level. No one should be saying that the government shouldn’t be relied upon to maintain our roads and monitor air traffic, the water table and many other things. But why do we lack faith in local governments to handle these matters? It doesn’t make much sense to involve people 3,000 miles away in the decision of what your child learns in school, or what schools to send him to. Even if the argument for government involvement in medicine or education or energy is a good one, why not leave the matter to the states? Not because the constitution says so (although that is a good reason) but because it actually makes sense?
The point is that the super-rich actually depend upon a strong, centralized government to remain super-rich. If government were smaller and more localized, it would become quite difficult to obtain the kind of handouts that make a company like Pfizer a top Fortune 500 company.
That having been said, the fact that the majority of Tea Partiers are middle class Americans is the biggest reason why the Tea Party is a conservative movement, not a liberal one. The middle class represents a big chunk of government revenue – albeit, not as big as the rich, who, despite their efforts, have failed to fully evade paying. It stems to reason that they would be concerned with how their tax money is being spent, just like it’s reasonable to see why those who pay less in taxes would have their sights aimed at those with yachts. But they both are upset about the same things: those who are benefiting from money they didn’t earn and don’t deserve.
If liberals would come to see that their fight and the limited-government fight of the Tea Party are really working to fix the same problem, then real change can happen.
4. The Tea Party halts progress.
The Tea Party has become the scapegoat for any failed piece of legislation. Here’s an example of the Tea Party getting blamed for shit, and here’s why that’s stupid. It is as if anytime Congress doesn’t come together on something, the response is now to look around for the Teabagger that got in the way.
Or take the FAA debacle, for another example. Here is just one article reporting on how the shutdown was eventually averted. Notice how it makes it appear as though one lone Republican named Tom Coburn is somehow to blame for shutting down a major government agency, putting over 70,000 airline sector workers out of work for two weeks and costing the government $400 million in lost tax revenue? That seems like an awful lot of blame to place on the shoulders of one man. Certainly there’s more to the story.
And as it turns out, there is. There already was a bill that was set to be voted on, but the Democrats didn’t want to vote on it because it had a GOP provision that would have cut $16.5 million in subsidies. They went on recess refusing to vote on a bill to temporarily fund the FAA knowing that it was going to shut down, and then blamed the Republicans for playing politics! To be fair, they assert that the GOP inserted the provisions on purpose because they knew the Dems would have to vote for it to prevent a shut down, and they’re right. But is this where you want to draw your line in the sand? Letting a much-needed government agency fail just so that you can make a point? Isn’t that exactly what you are accusing the Tea Party of doing? Good job, Dems.
For all of Obama’s talk of changing the way business is done in Washington and how much fanfare he received for saying so, the Tea Party represents what it looks like when you ACTUALLY change the way business is done. Every Tea Party candidate knows that he is scrutinized like hell by his own constituency, and if he tries to turn on them by going along with another stimulus or bailout or any other kind of over-reaching, wasteful spending legislation, he will have to pray for a miracle to get re-elected.
A big tool for this accountability is the CATO Institute’s No Tax-Hike Pledge. Every member of Congress was given the opportunity when running for office to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. Now, they are faced with breaking that pledge to get something done and risk losing re-election. (If you can keep up with it, you can watch a debate here on whether or not this pledge is helping or hurting our current financial situation)
When Congress has approval ratings routinely in the 20's despite re-election rates of 80-90%, you can see how accountability is lost as a priority. Now, with game-changers like the Tea Party involved, politicians, for better or worse, are held accountable. And just as well.
SO NOW, THEN
In summation, I would just like to give you my definition of what the Tea Party actually is, based on my experience and research:
The Tea Party is a legitimate and effective grassroots movement made up of well-educated, hard-working, mostly-middle-class Americans who are rightly outraged by the perpetuation of a flawed monetary system, uncontrollable spending, crony capitalism and over-taxation, and is a movement which, in the absence of any sense of direction on the part of the Republican Party, has become an empty vessel into which to place all of the hopes and dreams of an increasingly fragmented, paranoid and politically impotent conservative right that nevertheless endeavors to continue joining the left in its abuse of government power.
What are your thoughts?