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My communication to a friend who was put off by my referring to the Tea Party as morons.  It's long.

Let me know your schedule over the next couple weeks.  I would be glad to connect for lunch.

I know you didn’t appreciate that I called the Tea Party “morons.”  I would be delighted to discuss this with you.  You are a serious and reflective person, with an interest in promoting regional economic well-being, and I have confidence that your perspectives are the product of reflection and thought.

Notwithstanding the strength of my beliefs—as you’ll pick up if you actually read through all the verbiage here—I honestly am open to hearing fact based counter-arguments to my own positions.

I recognize that the term “morons” is a disrespectful shorthand.  Not an accident—I do not respect the Tea Partiers.  

My fuller view of the Tea Party is that its adherents are ideologically driven, at best naively or recklessly indifferent to the hardship adoption of their approaches would cause their fellow Americans, and at worst …..well, evil (that is, deliberately seeking to inflict hardship on other Americans).

Also, once you get away from libertarian or free  market ideology and on to a question like whether climate change science has been accurately conducted, where there really is not a “free market” or libertarian issue at stake, the Tea Partiers are entirely willing followers of those whose financial interests—fossil fuel based industries primarily—coincide with opposing the policy implications of dealing with climate change.  In short, the Tea Partiers go along with those “on the right” who oppose those “on the left.”  Long ago, no self-respecting American would have accepted being played for a chump by big money boys.  So on a topic like this where their ideology does not cause them to be either recklessly cruel, or deliberately evil, the Tea Partiers are happy just to be used as chumps.

Many of the critiques of the Tea Party are critiques that could be made of the Republican Party, but the Tea Party posses a particularly well-refined set of Republican flaws.    Not all Republicans are Tea Party folks, but all Tea Partiers are Republicans.  Not surprisingly, there is also an overlap of the Tea Partiers and the religious right.

Moreover, there is considerable overlap between the Republican Party and that 25% of the population that falls into the category of being an “authoritarian follower” or “authoritarian leader.” See, John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Authoritarian leaders tends to be narcissists who self-justify any actions they take (including actions contrary to the professed standards of morality that they preach).  Authoritarian followers tend to submit to authority but can be targeted to act aggressively against individuals or groups that authoritarian leaders give them license to hate or belittle (scapegoats). (see Dean)   When I hear statements from various Tea Party types, particularly those who have actually been elected to Congress (exclusively as members of the Republican Party—there are no Tea Party Democrats), they tend to exhibit the authoritarian personality type.

“Authoritarians tend to exhibit cognitive errors and symptoms of faulty reasoning. Specifically, they are more likely to make incorrect inferences from evidence and to hold contradictory ideas that result from compartmentalized thinking. They are also more likely to uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs, and they are less likely to acknowledge their own limitations.  Nevertheless, there is no connection between authoritarianism and either low or high intelligence. In terms of the five factor model of personality, authoritarians generally score lower on openness to experience and slightly higher on conscientiousness….They tend to be ethnocentric and prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities, and homosexuals.”

I do set aside racism and xenophobia as meaningful critiques of the Tea Party.  I do not think that racism and xenophobia are the main drivers of the Tea Party, they simply travel along with it.  The racist and xenophobic elements of the Republican party show up at the Tea Party events and they are not discouraged. “Scapegoating” behaviors are consistent with the  “authorized aggression” displayed by authoritarian followers.

Still, by the time someone’s approach to public policy issues consists of putting together a bunch of people who are pissed off about one thing or another, and uniting them under the banner of a politician who tells them, “Go ahead and hate those people, because I hate ‘em too,” you don’t have a political movement, you have a mob.

Right now the elected Republicans are struggling with the fact that if they actually get elected they have to run the government that they got everyone stirred up against, and if you are trying to keep the mob angry to hold their votes, sooner or later they are going to be angry at the guys in charge, even if they are Republicans. The House Republicans v. the Tea Party on passing a budget is Exhibit A in that fight.

My family has a lot of Republicans, and I am not making a critique of the Republican rank and file.  That said, since Arnold Schwarzenegger left office, I can’t name an elected Republican official who is not affirmatively working to undermine the American middle class.   Don’t  mistake these comments as a bias in favor of Democrats, I also see the elected Democrats as being a plodding clump of generally timid and ineffective wimps, who do not represent a clear hope for our country. Kind of passively evil, rather than affirmatively insidious.

Since the Tea Party is not a formal organization but  represents a cluster of attitudes held primarily by a segment of the Republican Party  its primary positions or emphases are anti-tax, anti-government, and a belief in a vision of a classic Adam Smith “free market” that is rooted in theory rather than reality.

My statement that Tea Parties are either (a) ideologues who are indifferent to the suffering they would inflict, or (b) evil, derives from my analysis of their reaction to some key recent economic issues: TARP, health care reform, the 2009 stimulus, and the deficit.

TARP was an emergency measure initiated by the Bush Administration and passed by Democratic houses of Congress, to prevent a collapse of the world wide financial system.  Apparently the problem with TARP for Tea Partiers was that government intervention preventing an economic collapse prevented a free market from establishing a clearing price for financial assets following a general economic collapse.

I do not think that even the Tea Party believes that without TARP there would not have been even greater economic hardship in 2008-forward. As it stands, it was the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression and there was significant destruction of capital and wealth, and destruction of working class incomes as companies cut back in response to the financial crisis.  Apparently, the critique of TARP by the Tea Party is that that not enough fellow Americans lost homes, retirement savings, and jobs.  

Only someone who puts a higher value on ideology than on the real lives of real people—Alan Greenspan comes to mind  (“Today’s competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.” Greenspan quoted in Financial Times, mocked elsewhere. )--would claim to think that running an experiment in laissez faire economics in the 2000s would have been a good idea.  News flash—tried in the 1930s, demonstrated to fail.  

Similarly, the 2009 stimulus bill was flawed—but necessary to replace the missing aggregate demand in the economy immediately following the financial crisis—it was critical to prevent massive deflation, loss of income, depression, and general economic collapse.  

As with TARP, there is plenty to critique respecting the stimulus—but government intervention in the economy to replace the demand that free enterprise did not supply was not socialism, it was a pragmatic requirement to keep the downside excesses and built in market failures inherent in capitalism from destroying families and lives.

Speaking of socialism—another favorite Tea Party favorite catch phrase accusation applied to the activities of the current administration—corporate profits are up, as they always are in Democratic administrations compared to Republican administrations. In what sense is an increase in corporate profits the triumph of socialism?  

There are many fair critiques to be made of the health care reform bill—but the critique is not that it disrupted some fine free enterprise success.  
American health care is the most expensive in the world—by individual and per capita—and yet health outcomes are (depending on the survey) vastly lower than in other industrialized nations, and going lower.   In any other industry but health care, we would be talking about the need to make things better, faster, and cheaper—why does the Tea Party defend the 17% of the economy mired in substandard, expensive performance?  

In point of fact, American employer based health care (which prevents market pricing signals from being communicated through a true market mechanism)  is an accident of history, not a triumph of the free market.  Single payer—expansion of Medicare to all healthcare for example—could result in a less expensive, more effective public utility model that could capture the efficiency of having a sole source that does not have to duplicate expensive equipment on a hospital by hospital basis within a region, but is not attempting to capture monopoly rents.

Finally, there is the federal deficit.  In the post-financial crisis world, where tax revenues would in the normal course have declined along with other economic activity, there would be a deficit. On top of the revenue shortfall, the stimulus was a pragmatic approach to replace the otherwise vanished demand in the economy, and that increased the deficit.  That was the math for any administration coming into the Great Recession. Greatly compounding the deficit problem during the 200s was the non-stimulative and income-inequality driving Bush tax cut—which Obama insanely continued at the end of 2010 (without ourcry from the Tea Party regarding deficit impact).

I am not arguing in favor of all deficits at all times….simply that now is a time to run one, and when the economy recovers (and when the Bush tax cuts expire) capturing revenues and regulating spending to generate surpluses.

I think any Tea Partier claiming to be concerned about the federal deficit is lying.  The Tea Partiers were not complaining about the Reagan deficits, or the Bush deficits.  The Tea Parties are not complaining about the 2-year renewal of the Bush tax cuts driving a huge pieceof  the deficit,.    Deficits are fine with Tea Partiers if they result from tax cuts, and they are fine if Republicans want to spend, and they are bad if Democrats want to spend.  

Given that there is research that demonstrates that for many people presentation of  facts—objective reality—contrary to a belief system does not change the belief system and may even reinforce it, I hold little hope that the impact of the Tea Party on American politics will be affected by argumentation that takes the form of an appeal to reason or to fact.

However, there is polling showing that the Tea Party’s act may be wearing thin for most Americans.

Finally, for a terrific analysis by a Nobel economist, read the Stiglitz essay, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” in Vanity Fair.   A great review of the damage already wrought by the policies that generate income inequality in America.

So yes, I acknowledge that “morons’ is hyperbole.  What I really mean is that Tea Partiers are, depending on the issue,  chumps, or naïve, or outright evil.

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