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.