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Thread: The Tea Party...Examined

  1. #1
    Atypical is offline

    The Tea Party...Examined

    Jonathan Weiler: Why the Tea Party Is a Fraud

    Lots of folks, including me, have written before about the ugly underbelly of the tea party movement - the degree to which it is animated by racial resentment and a more general antipathy toward outgroups and difference. Admittedly, this gets us into complicated territory, not least because not all Tea Partiers are alike. And that conversation becomes emotional very quickly, making it difficult to evaluate soberly the place of the movement in American politics or its aims.

    What's less difficult to do is to look at the movement's own stated aims and consider their validity. Since it's tax day, I will focus on two undeniably core grievances - 1) taxes and 2) government tyranny.

    There are grievances, of course. Tea Party supporters are strongly opposed to the new health care reform legislation and think government spending is out of control (naturally, however, they have nothing to say about Pentagon spending, by far the single largest discretionary item in the Federal Budget, or about the multi-trillion dollar tax cuts of the Bush years, cuts which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy. And they oppose precisely the kinds of health care reforms that would reduce medical costs, a major driver of our deficits). But I'll focus here on taxes and tyranny because those threads have been woven through the disparate Tea Party elements from the beginning.

    1) April 15 has become a kind of May Day for the Tea Party movement, prompting protests across the country both last year and this to insist that we've been "taxed enough already."

    So what do we know about how much Americans have been taxed under Obama?

    From CBS News:
    ...taxes are at their lowest levels in 60 years, according to William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and director of the Retirement Security Project at the Brookings Institution. "The relation between what is said in the tax debate and what is true about tax policy is often quite tenuous," Gale told Hotsheet. "The rise of the Tea Party at at time when taxes are literally at their lowest in decades is really hard to understand."

    It should be noted that the overwhelming beneficiaries of that sixty-year low in taxation have been the wealthy, a product of a series of tax cuts aimed at the rich over the past several decades. Given their insistence that they represent "ordinary" Americans, one might think that the Tea Party movement would have something to say about this. Nevertheless, just focusing on developments since the Tea Party movement emerged fourteen months ago, roughly 98% of Americans received a break on their Federal taxes for 2009. Some of this has been offset by increasing taxes and fees assessed by states and municipalities due to the financial crisis. But these additional state and local taxes would have been less necessary had liberal stimulus proposals fared better in the final version of the 2009 stimulus bill. That's because most Democrats wanted to provide more direct federal aid to states, precisely to help the states avoid having to levy new taxes on their citizens and were blocked by filibuster-threatening Republicans, the party to whom the vast majority of Tea Party identifiers give their support. But to be clear, Federal taxes went down for most Americans in 2009, not up.

    Some critics argue that it's Obama's plans for the future that has have them so scared. But what are those plans? They consist of proposals that would raise taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 a year and married couples making more than $250,000 a year (these are the income levels at which additional taxes will be assessed both in the new health care reform package and other proposed tax increases). These enacted and proposed future increases will affect no more than 5% of earners.

    So, when it comes to a tyrannical assault on American freedom in the form of new confiscatory government policies, a.k.a, higher taxes, there is no evidence to support the Tea Party's anger, unless they can explain why they only started calling for a new American Revolution in February of 2009.

    2) A second clear grievance is a broader one against tyranny. As I wrote last Fall, when it comes to things that most people think of as manifestly tyrannical forms of government abuse of power - like warrantless surveillance of individuals, torture, and other clear violations of due process and people's basic rights, the Tea Party movement should have become upset at the prospect of tyranny in America long before February of 2009. And if these clear, direct forms of government abuse of power and denial of individual rights were really at the heart of Tea Party concerns, then they'd have plenty about Obama to rant at, since there is no area in which Obama has more blatantly broken his campaign promises than in this realm. Strikingly, the Tea Party, on the whole, has had very little to say about these issues.

    But what about other clear forms of tyranny and abuse of power, including instances where large private corporations rip-off ordinary taxpayers while government either turns a blind eye or actively abets the abuse? Indeed, the Tea Party movement has decried Wall Street bailouts. But the movement's rejection of bailouts has not been accompanied by any policy agenda to stop such things from happening again. Where, for example, is the Tea Party insistence on significant regulatory reform to mitigate abuse by large corporations? (And it's also worth noting that, at least according to one of the Tea Party's top organizing vehicles, The Contract from America, neither government bailouts of banks or financial reform is among the top ten items of concern).

    Surely, given the movement's call to restore our founding constitutional principles, they know that the Founding Fathers' advocacy of individual liberty, including economic liberty, did not extend to protecting the interests of large moneyed interests. The writings of the founding fathers like are clear, in fact, on the threat of concentrations of wealth to the well-being of the Republic.

    In fact, Thom Hartmann has made the compelling case that the original Tea Party movement, in Boston in 1773, was primarily opposed to precisely such incestuous relations between large concentrations of private wealth and indulgent government.

    The equivalent of the ride of Paul Revere for the modern Tea Party movement was the Santelli rant, in February of last year, when CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli fulminated not against the degree to which mega-billion dollar entities had conspired with government to rig the system in their favor at the expense of ordinary Americans (and inspiring the widely circulated bumper sticker "honk if I'm paying your mortgage." No such widespread bumper stickers concerning honking at banking CEOs). Instead, the Santelli rant was directed against a (quite modest) government program to help distressed mortgage holders and against the so-called "losers" who couldn't pay their mortgages. Nevermind that the cost of the proposed homeowner bailout to which Santelli was reacting cost a fraction of the bailouts of the big Wall Street banks.

    And why hasn't the Tea Party movement screamed bloody murder over the despicable rip-offs of Main Street like the one perpetrated against Jefferson County, Alabama and chronicled by Matt Taibbi:

    In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 -- but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world's grandest toilet -- "the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants" is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street... And once the giant shit machine was built and the note on all that fancy construction started to come due, Wall Street came back to the local politicians and doubled down on the scam. They showed up in droves to help the poor, broke citizens of Jefferson County cut their toilet finance charges using a blizzard of incomprehensible swaps and refinance schemes -- schemes that only served to postpone the repayment date a year or two while sinking the county deeper into debt. In the end, every time Jefferson County so much as breathed near one of the banks, it got charged millions in fees. There was so much money to be made bilking these dizzy Southerners that banks like JP Morgan spent millions paying middlemen who bribed -- yes, that's right, bribed, criminally bribed -- the county commissioners and their buddies just to keep their business. Hell, the money was so good, JP Morgan at one point even paid Goldman Sachs $3 million just to back the **** off, so they could have the rubes of Jefferson County to fleece all for themselves.

    If Tea Partiers cared about Main Street and were serious about stopping unchecked concentrations of power from robbing Americans of their freedom and the possibility of living decent lives, they'd be all over stories like this one, especially since a version of what happened in Jefferson County has been replicated in municipalities around the country? Why has such blatant and catastrophic malfeasance by such clearly excessive concentrations of power worth nary a whisper from prominent tea party outlets, protests and leaders, while a relatively modest government effort to help distressed homeowners is the spark for a new American revolution?

  2. #2
    Atypical is offline

    Conclusion

    The Tea Party's most strongly stated grievances do not, on the whole, appear to be based on actual identifiable developments in the world since the movement arose. Whether their grievances are a proxy for other concerns, people can decide for themselves. I've already made quite clear my suspicions in this regard (and the New York Times recent poll of supporters does show that Tea Party identifiers are about twice as likely as the average respondent to say we spend too much time worrying about Blacks).

    Regardless, it's hard to conclude that the movement is anything but a fraud given the vast disconnect between the movement's supposed principles and the targets of their intense anger since their inception.

    Jonathan Weiler's second book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in Contemporary American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, was published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press. He blogs about politics and sports at www.jonathanweiler.com

  3. #3
    Atypical is offline

    More Reality About This People's Movement

    ‘We vote with bullets,’ reads Tea Party sign

    TALLAHASSEE -- Passions were ablaze at a Tax Day Tea Party event held on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, with protesters holding signs that read, "We vote with bullets," "Fire Congress," "9/11 was an Inside Job" and "Return to the Constitution."

    The Tea Party movement proclaims it isn't racist, but there were less than half a dozen black people in the crowd, a head count that supports the recent CNN/Opinion Research Poll finding that only two percent of the Tea Party activists were African-American.

    Organized by the local Fox News radio station, it drew a few hundred people who listened to a taped speech from Glenn Beck and to various Republican and right-wing Christian leaders talk about taking back the federal government, living according to the U.S. Constitution and returning the nation to the "path of Godly virtues."

    The We The People Rally, which draws its name from the first three words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, promised to be "the focal point of Florida's message to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and to elected leaders in every level of government in the Sunshine State." The organizers of the 2009 rally had reported that event had drawn over 2,000 protesters so the Independent News drove three hours to Tallahassee on Tax Day, April 15 to check out if the Tea Party Movement had grown since last year as some in the media claimed.

    We found a crowd of less than 500 protesters and a slate of speakers who knew the Tea Party "buzz words" and how to pander to its audience.

    The speakers, including Beck's video, insisted the Tea Party movement wasn't Republican or Democratic or Conservative or Liberal. However, the speakers themselves were conservative and Republican. They made it clear that they didn't like President Barack Obama or moderate Republicans like Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

    The rally had four distinct layers. Along Monroe Street which runs in front of the historic Florida Capitol, the Mullet haircut crowd squatted-not listening to the speakers, but instead waving at cars turning on to Apalachicola Parkway and trying to coax truck drivers to honk their horns.

    Many waved yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

    On the right side of the plaza, under the shade of towering moss-covered oaks, were Republican candidates trying to get petition cards signed and handing out flyers. The offices they sought ranged from U.S. Senate to Tallahassee mayor. Tanned college coeds wearing tight t-shirts for their candidates and short shorts circulated through the crowd promoting their candidates. Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate campaign signs and stickers were everywhere.
    Rubio is running in the Republican primary against Gov. Charlie Crist and was pushed by some supporters at the rally as the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

    Near the Capitol steps sat the gray-haired warriors, inspired by Fox News to protest the Obama health care plan. Several were in wheelchairs, using walkers and attached to oxygen tanks. They clapped. They cheered and gradually tired as the evening wore on.
    Along the edges were the Florida lawmakers and their aides, also listening and perhaps trying to gauge how authentic the crowd was.

    The ringmaster for the event was Preston Scott, former sportscaster and host of the morning show of the Fox News radio affiliate, WFLA 100.7 FM.
    Scott made a concerted effort to prove to the sea of pale white faces in the audience that the Tea Party and his rally were racially diverse. He had his African-American intern, Jerome Hutson, and State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, speak. Two African-American music ministers from a Tallahassee church led the crowd in singing "God Bless America."

    Hutson, a Tallahassee Community College student who has been featured several times on Glenn Beck's Fox News show, was one speaker. Dressed in 80 degree heat in a khaki blazer, maroon sweater vest and yellow "power" tie, the Clear Channel radio intern looked like Carlton Banks, Will Smith's uptight, unhip cousin in "The Prince of Bel Air."

    Hutson opened by shouting "Welcome Patriots" and professed allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, a document that he claimed President Obama called "a charter of negative liberties."
    "We the people are meant to be free, no matter what race, sex or religion," said Hutson to applause and cheers. "And while we are on the subject of race, I want to say that the Tea Party Movement is not a racist movement. The Tea Party Movement is not anti-black people. The Tea Party Movement is not anti-minority. The Tea Party Movement is not anti-government."
    "The spirit of the Tea Party Movement is Americanism, and it has made it the most free-est and most prosperous nation on earth -- whether you be white, black, brown, man, woman or child," he continued.

    This sentence drew huge applause from the whites in the crowd. One black man just shook his head from side to side.
    Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, and Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, both spoke. Their focus was on Washington, D.C. Hasner accused the Obama Administration of bankrupting the county "both fiscally and morally." He called the national debt "generational theft."

    Atwater talked proudly about how the Florida Legislature has a balanced budget, but didn't mention its use of state trust funds or receipt of Obama's stimulus dollars. He called for a national convention to draft a constitutional amendment that would force the federal government to have a balanced budget.

    In his taped speech, Glenn Beck stressed a return to the Constitution and emphasized the 10th amendment, which states that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states by the Constitution are reserved to the states or the people. The Washington Post had reported earlier in the day that 54 Republican members of the Virginia House of Delegates have signed a letter calling on the federal government to "cease and desist" from passing mandates that exceed its power under the 10th amendment. Nice coincidence.

    "Never in our history has there been such a wide gap between what is legal and what is right," Beck said. "We must demand more of ourselves. We must elect people of character because character does matter."
    "And that will begin that process of bridging that gap, returning our country to a path of Godly virtue," he added.

    The crowd began to fizzle after Beck's presentation. Many left. Others seem to delight in ganging up on the few counter-protesters there. The Independent News staff moved through the crowd interviewing people.
    When a counter-protester was interviewed, people would stand in the background with signs identifying the interviewee as "Infiltrator," "Party Crasher" and "Not One of Us."

    One middle-aged lady with dyed red hair was following a Florida State student who had a sign jokingly declaring he was a "Socialist" and saying, "Where is the party?" When attendees tried to take a photograph of the man's sign, the lady blocked the camera with her "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

    Though the Independent News reporters with their video cameras went unchallenged as they moved through the audience, this reporter didn't escape the attention of event organizers. Dressed in blue jeans, blue Oxford button-down shirt and wearing my Ole Miss baseball cap, I quietly watched the rally from different vantage points, took notes and recorded the speeches, wearing my Independent News press badge.

    I was approached by man in a WFLA 100.7 FM t-shirt who wanted to know if I was with press and who I worked for. When he heard the words, "Pensacola," he backed off and said he worked with Preston Scott and they had noticed that I looked like I was from out of town.
    "Is that a problem?" I asked.
    "No, no, we just noticed you in the crowd," he replied as he moved quickly away.

    He declined to answer my questions about who noticed me or how I looked different. When we walked back to our car after the rally, a couple of rally attendees followed us to our parking spot to get our tag number.

    I waved as we drove away.

    Rick Outzen is the publisher and editor of the alternative newsweekly, The Independent News, which is based in Pensacola, Florida. His blog, Rick's Blog, has been ranked as one of the most influential political blogs in Florida.

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