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Is the Tea Party Real?

by joelado Tue Jan 17th, 2012 at 09:22:25 PM EST


Is the Tea Party Real? The reason that I ask this question is because I was doing research on the Web to get a better understanding of who and what the Tea Party was and what it stands for and found things that seemed inconsistent. For one, according to a Gallup poll conducted on April 5, 2010, the "Tea Partiers Are Fairly Mainstream in Their Demographics." This seemed odd to me because the rhetoric that I heard coming from those said by the media to be most associated with the Tea Party, namely Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and Dick Armey, many times expressed that particular segments of the US population were the sources of our ills.

I couldn't imagine Hispanics, for example, being part of the Tea Party in a big way since many of the Tea Party spokes people have worked xenophobic ideas about Hispanics into their utterances. Without Hispanics, the United State's largest single minority, demographic figures could not be mainstream. Also, given Ron Paul's denial of the importance of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, his refusal to vote to grant Rosa Parks a congressional coin for her part in the Civil Rights Movement and his view that shop owners have the right to deny service to any patron they wish even if the denial is because of their sex, race, religion or sexual orientation, why any of the members of these groups would support the "intellectual godfather of the Tea Party" (The Atlantic) or the Tea Party itself. My feeling is that those that claim to be the leadership of the Tea Party movement actually have little to do with the actual people who answered the poll identifying themselves as of the Tea Party movement. I also think that outside of claiming that they have views that are inline with the Tea Party movement, Tea Partiers don't actually think in the terms that are used by those who have put themselves out in front of the Tea Party.

The Tea Party's beginning dates back to February 19, 2009, when Rick Santelli ranted on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a CNBC on floor editor. In the rant Santelli responded against the idea of helping ordinary American citizens to stay in their homes. Mr. Santelli in his rant doesn't call them ordinary American citizens, however, he refers to them as "losers." Having watched family members go through the pain of foreclosure, I could never lower myself to call anyone dealing with foreclosure a "loser." Most of the people I know that have been caught up with the foreclosure process have done so because of circumstances beyond their control. Santelli's rant showed his upset with the idea of using taxpayer money to help just such people about to be foreclosed on to refinance their loans at lower interest rates. Supposedly this rant went viral. There is some speculation as to the validity of the true viral nature of the rant, because in extremely short order, I am talking within a few hours, there were Websites featuring the rant and calls for the establishment or claiming the existence of a "Tea Party," something alluded to in Santelli's rant and, much of the early activity on the Internet about the rant was conducted by well-established conservative Internet sites.

What doesn't ring true to me is that this request to solve the financial crisis through the refinancing of mortgages compared to what had already been earmarked for stimulus to banks, state and local governments and large corporations was a relatively small amount of money, only a few hundred million dollars as opposed to billions and trillions used so far by the Federal Government. It also doesn't ring true since this part of the stimulus was nearly the only part aimed at helping ordinary citizens, and despite what the media tells you ordinary citizens typically act in their own self-interest. Rick Santelli's rant dealing with refinancing goes against people acting in their own self-interest. By having the Federal Government deal with the deflation that had occurred in houses everyone benefits. For example, if you are a home owner who has borrowed responsibly but there are dozens of homes about to be foreclosed on in your neighborhood, what better way for the value of your home to be protected than having someone, anyone, offer those people a chance to refinance their homes so that the monthly payments are manageable. No one company, no not-for-profit group, no bank has stepped up to offer what the President has proposed. For those struggling to meet their mortgages this would have been a real good thing since it would have most definitely stopped the downward slide of home prices, stopped mortgage-backed securities from becoming completely worthless, something that would have prevented Europe from having as many problems as it is having at the present, and put a large group of Americans back on a solid financial footing. Americans back on a solid financial footing would in turn have spent into the economy quickening the economic recovery. Refinancing is not like granting money, the Federal Government will eventually get it back with interest. Going down the path recommended by Santelli and then forced upon us by the newly elected "Tea Party" candidates actually has helped prolong the problems that we have experienced with the economy. So, with some calm and some understanding of the bigger picture you can see how the Rick Santelli's rant was counter intuitive, counter effective and doesn't make sense as something that people would really want for themselves. This leads me to believe that most people wouldn't go for Santelli's solution and that there was something else at play.

What I believe was at play here was that a relatively small group of people, upset by the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, in particular those who supported Sarah Palin, decided to glom onto this as their rallying cry. They would have glommed onto anything that had a faux patriotic twang to it and was anti-Obama. At its core this was an anti-Democratic and anti-President New Administration as Santelli puts it, thing to latch onto. The right-wing of the Republican Party was ready to pounce on just such a thing through their "Astroturf" program. Astroturf being the Republican program to create fake grassroots movements opposed to anything the Democrats suggest. The difference this time being that the Republicans are unfortunately using the Internet. That the spark for this faux movement came from a crazy business ranter is no surprise to me since many Wall Street commentators have been chaffing at the fact that the financial world has changed and what is worse is that things could never go back to the roaring days of excess. We know we can never go back because 99% of us have figured out that excess only leads to fiscal and financial ruin. So what remains for the financial pundits? To rant how Obama has spoiled the party for them, while in the real world President Obama probably saved their butts. These three things, the upset Wall Street pundit types, the at-the-ready Republican "Astroturf" building machine and those still upset by Barack Obama's win, ultimately led to the first forming of the Tea Party. However, I don't believe that it was that great of a movement until the mass media focused on to it. The mainstream media made this out to be a much larger viral thing than it probably really was and the mainstream media probably led by the conservative media also helped pick the Tea Party's leaders that aren't.

One of the first things I discovered about the Tea Party as a whole is that they support government action and do not hold to a strict "Libertarian" view. I found polls showing that nearly all Tea Partiers weren't Libertarian in their thinking. However, Ron Paul, a true Libertarian, was christened the "intellectual godfather" of the Tea Party very early on by The Atlantic. Mainstream media plastered this all over the place by re-reporting The Atlantic's opinion as if it were news. This led J. Ann Selzer, a Bloomberg News pollster to state, "You would think any idea that involves government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case." The polls also discovered that Tea Partiers believe that they are being taxed fairly, which is another aspect of their beliefs that is inconsistent with the anti-tax agenda that is promoted by its so-called "leadership," namely Dick Armey. We can see clearly that the views of the anointed leadership by the mainstream or right-wing media, doesn't mesh with the views of the actual Tea Partiers. In fact the number one leader that the Tea Party people favor is "no one," 34% of Tea Partiers stated that there is no one that represents the group; that followed by Sarah Palin at 14%, Glenn Beck at 7%, Jim DeMint and Ron Paul at 6% and Michele Bachman at 4%. That means that 94% of the Tea Party does not view Ron Paul as representing their views while the media pronounced him the Tea Party's "intellectual godfather." Which begs the question, is the Tea Party, as portrayed by the media, actually a construct of the media, or could it be a construct of people and organization that have substantial influence on the media, or a construct of the Republican Party?

Unfortunately, the Tea Party made up of people who identify themselves strongly as the Tea Party, is real. Fortunately, they don't hold most of the views that their media anointed leaders hold. Unfortunately, they are far more extreme about the few beliefs they hold in common. Their common areas of support, according to a poll done by the University of Washington, are; 73% disapprove President Obama's policy of engaging with Muslim countries, 88% support the Arizona immigration law, 82% are against gay and lesbian marriage. There you have it. Those who identify strongly that they are Tea Party members in essence are an anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic and anti-gay group. There are finer ways to put this than my putting it so bluntly, but I am talking about the essence of the Tea Party movement. The polls won't say this outright, but in essence the polls say the same thing. People are aware of political correctness and they know how to answer questions to remain "PC" or at least keep themselves from being exposed as extremist. Which is to say that if you asked Tea Partiers straight out in a poll if they hate Muslims, Hispanics and gays they would know to answer "no." But, if you catch up to them at a party, especially after they have had a few drinks in them and you make sure that they feel safe for expressing their true views among what they believe are like-minded people, you will get the answer you won't get in a poll. The University of Washington's poll was extensive and didn't ask right out questions of bigotry, but clearly, the three questions that rose to the surface among all the strong Tea Partiers polled ended up with a particular bent. That bent in essence is what I stated that the core of the Tea Partiers are anti Muslim, Hispanic and gay.

Given the realities of who and what the Tea Party really is, it is amazing that right-wing Evangelicals have moved in to co-opt the Tea Party after the Libertarian Paulbots and the anti-tax Armey Republicans have moved in. They jumped in to force Christianity on the entirety of the American population through government programs, to stop abortions and contraception, and to censor anything that they might think would offend the all mighty God. Evangelicals are not a perfect fit with the Tea Party but maybe better than Libertarians and tax cutters. This has created a sort of Frankenstein's monster of the Tea Party that has to fit in the Republican construct and the mainstream medias creation, which is a Christian, gun-toting, anti-tax, libertarian, fiscal conservative group within the Republican Party. And as it is defined this way in the media, so it has attracted elements of these groups.

Given the partly manufactured and partly grassroots nature of the Tea Party, the Republicans have been having a hard time steering this monster of their own making. The Tea Party politicians that have been put forward in the last election have to have emerged from that soup that the Republicans and the media are now calling the Tea Party, but they also know that they have to feign allegiance to the real Tea Party of Muslim, Hispanic and gay haters. The politicians produced by this supposed construct must be new to avoid a connection with the Republican Party that tanked the economy. What were produced were mainstream Republican politicians that are not so versed in mainstream Republican political gamesmanship. And these new Republican's job is much harder because they have to vote in lock step with the GOP leadership while remaining a "Tea Party" kind of guy. It is a bad mix.

As long as the Republican Party couches what they want in terms that the Tea Party Frankenstein understands it works. But if the Republicans say something like "reduce government spending" the Tea Party Frankenstein drinks the Cool-aid too deeply, and we get, things like the debt ceiling fight, which hurt everyone, Republicans, the Tea Party, American citizens and our nation's credit rating, everyone but the Democrats. Use your best Frankenstein imitation when saying the following. "Master say reduce spending, must not allow debt ceiling to go up, must to stop Obama." You can do a bunch of these using the Frankenstein voice like one for stopping appointments, another for taxing the rich, one for killing Social Security, another for ending food stamps, etc. The Tea Party politicians have turned out to be a blunt instrument at best for the Republican Party, a club when a scalpel will do. But as bad as these Tea Party politicians have been at doing government, they never the less don't represent the actual Tea Party. What you are seeing is rookie mistakes by a new crop of Republican ideologues that lack the experience of good politicking. This is not, however, pure Tea Party ideology at work.

The Republicans can't embrace the real Tea Party because that Tea Party is made up of extremists, who hold extremist views. Views, that once the population as a whole gets to look at rejects, as witnessed when watching how Arizona politicians were thrown from office, the very same politicians who crafted the controversial immigration laws for the state that the Tea Party likes so much. The Republicans in the current election cycle have shown what they really are, and that is puppets for the power grabbing, influence purchasing, media manipulating worst part of the 1%. Scott Walker may have ridden the wave of Tea Party populism into office, but he is most likely going to be recalled for his union destroying, pension killing, slash and burn cost cutting all while handing his masters massive contracts and tax breaks. Walker, is not a Tea Partier, he is a true Republican created by his billionaire overlords. Once the Muslim, Hispanic and gay hating Tea Partiers realized this they jumped on the bandwagon for kicking him out, which, brings me full circle.

Outside of their misguided and extremist ways, the Tea Party is also made up of people who have been swept up in the financial crisis of our time. Tea Partiers are people, who have had homes foreclosed on them, have lost jobs, have been unemployed and underemployed for years. Despite what they have been told what to think, by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the like, the bill collector at your door, the phone or electricity being cut off, the not being able to go to the hospital without going bankrupt are all realities tugging at all of our elbows and Tea Partiers as well. Eventually, the bigoted hatred for having a black President gives way to dealing with the reality in which we all live. Eventually Muslims, Mexicans crossing the border and the private lives of men and woman don't seem as important as keeping the wolves at bay. And though they may resist with their thinking at first, for having been so deeply brain washed by the conservative media, they wake up to the fact that we have been robbed, and it wasn't the gays, it wasn't the Muslims, it wasn't the Hispanics that did it, but white men in suits, in offices in New York. Men who have never known what it is like to work long hours for minimum wage and barely making ends meet and then having that meager lifeline cut by some suit, just so his account at Tiffany's can be higher, or so he can trade in his yacht for a bigger one.

The Tea Party is largely an unorganized group of people who have been influenced by hate speech. Hate speech that blames their current ills on others. Outside of that there is nothing uniform about those who call themselves the Tea Party. They mainly live in the rising anti-Obama and anti-Democrat rhetoric of the Republican "Astroturf" making machine. They are in a word, "against." What they are against is mainly whatever the individuals feeding them what to think tell them to be against. Who makes the message for this multi-headed, multi-issue grassroots movement is the Republican Party. Separately, the politicians that claim Tea Party affiliation are really just inexperienced right-wing Republicans working for their corporate overlords who also are the main contributors to their campaigns. Never has this been more evident than viewing the choices that the Republicans have put forth for Presidential candidates this election year. All of the Republican candidates are running to be puppet and chief for the Koch brothers or the like, one of them, Herman Cain, actually saying so in a speech, another a venture capitalist.

So, is the Tea Party real? It is, but not in the way that other parties and movements are real. The Tea Party exists mainly as the spirit of discontent among people who don't know how to make things better. Because they are discontent and are searching for answers, they are easily manipulated. They have been told that the words "Democrat" and "Liberal" mean accepting things that they don't want to accept, such as Muslims, Hispanics and gays. So they seek answers in "Conservative" forms of mass communication. When the Republican Party failed them by bringing on two wars and a great recession, they went seeking new answers. Since they couldn't seek the answers to what they wanted with the Democrat liberals, the Republican "Astroturf" team was ready to provide them with an alternative, the Tea Party. It was the very same tactic that the Republicans used to get Sarah Palin into the Governor's mansion in Alaska. The former Republican Governor was ousted for corruption. A Democrat should have been a shoe in to the office; however, Sarah Palin came in vowing to clean house, and ran as the anti-corruption candidate for the Republican Party and she won! It was like watching a crime family member named Vinny Gepetto getting caught for steeling money from a church's poor box, so he is fired. When it comes time to hire someone else to watch over the poor box the people of Alaska chose his brother Joey Gepetto over one of the church's trusted altar boys because Joey has assured Alaska that he is going to clean house at the Gepetto family and that his family's stealing days are over. What did George Bush say? Fool me once...

The Tea Party as a political movement as we know it in the end is largely a construct by those who control the Republican Party and the right-wing media, similarly in the way that Sarah Palin is a construct of those who control the Republican Party and put her forward as a capable politician that could have been the President of the United States and withstand the rigors of national and international politics. After having put forth a person who couldn't remember her puppet master's talking points well enough so as to need to write them down on her palm and have her win the Governor's office for Alaska in the midst of a Republican corruption scandal, and again putting her forward as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the nation with all her shortcomings, and having her accepted by some as viable, the puppet masters of the Republican Party realized they could manipulate a good portion of the electorate. When disgusted over the financial crisis and scandal threw the Republicans out of office in 2008, the forces behind the Republican Party knew they had to do something. If the prolonged financial crisis were to remain identified with the Republican Party, then the electorate would most likely continue to punish them for the problems they created. To change their situation the Republicans went to the Sarah Palin playbook and decided to create the Tea Party as an alternative. The Tea Party, carrying their Sarah Palin shovels, were going to clean house while never having to leave the Republican fold. The Republicans imbued the Tea Party with the attributes of the disenfranchised Libertarians, Evangelical and xenophobic groups often independent of the Republican Party and worked them into a frenzy against the Liberal Democrats in 2010, and it worked!

In conclusion, the Tea Party as a true grassroots movement is not real. The Tea Party as a group of politicians representing a large group of a dissatisfied electorate also isn't real. The Tea Party as a mishmash of Libertarians, Evangelicals and xenophobic as created by the Republican Party does exist, but the only thing that holds them together is their xenophobia, something that is not ascribed to by a great majority of American citizens.

A PS of sorts to Rick Santelli's rant on CNBC, his tea party reference in his rant was a description of what he thought should be done to "derivatives" saying in essence that there should be a "tea party" to gather up derivatives and dump them into the Chicago River. Santelli's reference to a "tea party" was at its core a protest against Wall Street. Something that is disconnected from Tea Party rhetoric now.

Mad Hatter politics...

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 18th, 2012 at 02:27:26 AM EST
i feel for them, as they have the first half of a clue, namely that they are the victims of the 1%. short on brains, low-info to begin with, they have been duped, as Joe lays out, into blaming gays, liberals, and furriners.

it was a clever ploy to conquer through dividing the proles by the 1%, and it worked up to a point, making the dem majority history in congress, harnessing primitive minds with dogwhistle appeals to the various bigotries that thrive in redneck america, pace joe bageant.

but it's already backfired on them as Joe says, because the majority of americans have moved on from 50's attitudes, and do not find the raggle taggle carnival of tasteless dissent embodied by palin holds any serious appeal, as it is so obviously intellectually incoherent, irrational, and incapable of holding up in adult debate. it appeals to the brain-dead, because it hooks into limbic thinking, us-and-them, tribal affiliation, and kneejerk fear of 'the other' especially if 'eddicated'.

having a personable, polite, low-key, highly intelligent and accomplished black president has ripped a hole in their worldview, encouraging them to hit the street and act out in numbers.

subtract their racism and gullibility, and they'd add valuable numbers to OWS, with whom they have much more than they realise in common.

hopefully as their brain-dead leaders collapse politically, like perry and palin, their ranks will identify with OWS, the only other grassroots movement that has got out of the womb lately.

i'm guessing after a few more years of climate chaos and austerity, the tea partiers will be on the same page as OWS and the environmentalists, and will have enough power to affect the status quo.

europe has no tea party, but the neolib forces that are creating the mess are doing the same number on us as in america, and the arab nations.

of all the movements the TP are the most cartoonish, but their sense of grievance is real and justified.

arney and the kochs have won a battle with their propaganda, but i think it'll be a pyrrhic victory, as things continue to shake out all the lunatic elements from their respective belfries and the electorate see them for what they are, and more importantly what they aren't, leaders of enough calibre to navigate present times.

they are pathetic, but a lot less scary than some dingbats that are still behind media curtains. how many more like the guy who went ape in norway, or that gang in germany are plotting right now?

the TP have had their 15 mins, they're rapidly running out of gas. if OWS comes back strong in the spring, as i think it will as long as obama keeps coddling the 1%, many TP-ers may realise they're yesterday's news, and want to jump on a bigger bandwagon.

until/unless the link with the environmentalists is firmly established, i don't see much future in either the TP or OWS, because climate change is the 800lb gorilla before which all else pales, and both parties in the biumvarate are still locked in mutually profitable denial about that. conversely, if the TP and OWS energies do converge, and i think they will, then we'd have a grassroots force to be reckoned with.

which is one of the reasons the PTB is trying to provoke Iran, as war is such a convenient distraction for politicians, and the most profitable bidnis for the bankers who are their handlers.

nice diary Joe!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jan 18th, 2012 at 08:27:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
europe has no tea party

But we do have right-wing extremists under different names that thrive on blaming different combinations of furriners, socialists and gays.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jan 18th, 2012 at 09:16:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In a sense they are not real ~ they are the climax of the astroturf skillset, generated largely by oil money to put the brakes on health care reform, in order to put the energy bill into the midterm election year and so kill it.

But in another sense, they are as real as any other greenhouse plant ~ they may not be able to sustain and reproduce themselves without special support, but if that special support is in fact there, then they do exist.

Does the tea party of mass media coverage exist? Of course not ~ manipulating mass media coverage is part of the basic astroturf skillset. Indeed, it was constructed in light of prior experienceon how mass media would react, so any other initial mass media coverage would have implied incompetent execution.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jan 19th, 2012 at 04:29:07 PM EST
Define "real".  The American Populist movement has never been internally consistent and has always had strong roots in racism, xenophobia, and the Protestant Evangelical movement.  The Tea Party doesn't attack the banks because it is against the 1%; it attacks because the banks are part of a foreign, socialist, Jewish conspiracy.  That's why the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street can't agree even when they both target the banks.  OWS is attacking for "all the wrong reasons."  That, and OWS is just a tool of the Kenyan/Muslim/Socialist/overly melanin-ed usurper in the White House.  The Tea Partiers just want the government to keep its hands off everything, including their Social Security and Medicare.  Is there astroturfing and deliberate misleading of the faithful by the lords and masters?  Do the Koch Bros. drink grande champagne hors d'age from the skulls of dead babies?
by rifek on Thu Jan 19th, 2012 at 04:49:17 PM EST
Another factor is that if you don't have an official party platform, you can have members with viewpoints that are pretty divergent. When you write down your positions, people start getting mad and leaving...
by asdf on Fri Jan 20th, 2012 at 12:49:06 AM EST
is the best way to understand what the Tea Party is. In the immediate post Civil War period in the US, dozens of black congressmen and senators were elected during early Reconstruction years, not to mention state level legislators.  Immediately, however, disgruntled Confederate veterans began organizing to suppress black votes and, within a few years, most of the elected blacks were out of office, where they remained for a century more. The original Ku Klux Klan was the most successful of these quite spontaneous and loosely organized groups, and it even included a few black members in the early days. The Tea Party needs to be understood as a revival of anti-Reconstruction politics in reaction to the election of a liberal, black President, and it is very real in that sense.
by santiago on Fri Jan 20th, 2012 at 03:17:53 PM EST

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