Whence the Tea Party?

by Mark Grauhuis & Phillip Logan

From the heartland to the coasts, the Tea Party has emerged as a fleeting yet highly visible bullhorn, pushing radically rightwing views about the role of government into public debate, and also appearing as a major player in the national debate over health care reform.

From the perspective of its funding and influence on the nation’s politics, the Tea Party is a top-down interest group led by national and local political officials and financed by corporate America. Millionaire David Koch founded its largest corporate backer, Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The corporation now owned by Koch’s sons spent a stunning $250 million between the period of 1998 and 2008 in order to influence US politics with a right-wing agenda.

In this sense, the Tea Party is not a popular movement, and hence had to run as Republican seats. It was organized to channel the anger and frustration that certain sections of the middle class have over the economic crisis, in an effort to further the divide and conquer strategy led by big business against organized public sector labor.

However, the Tea Party is not simply an Astroturf organization.

A non-partisan Project Vote study described Tea Party members as an “overwhelmingly white, older, middle class and universally
dissatisfied,” despite having “the least reason to for dissatisfaction.”

The study also found that twothirds of Tea Partiers had incomes above the national median, and three-quarters reported being in good financial shape. By contrast, 60 percent of African Americans and nearly one-half of young voters had incomes below the national median.

Moreover, the Tea Party movement finds its core social group in the ‘petite-bourgeoisie,’ who appear high enough on the social ladder to bear the privileges of American society. The Tea Party learned from Karl Rove that a key battleground is metropolitan edges, where white families obsessed with crime, TV, and family values tend to live. Such communities are frequently political monocultures that despise democracy.

Further characteristics of the Tea Party include anti-tax fanaticism, “doublethink,” and “false consciousness,” in the sense of a kind of Stockholm syndrome — of embracing purely imaginary solidarities with one’s exploiter or oppressor.

However, material self interest is still what really drives the populist elements of the Tea Party and not the figure of the devoted family man carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to attend college or have proper health care.

Many of its members see themselves as dissidents who, distrusting all, understand the system to be rigged (they attacked Obamacare at the highest level, for example, if for the wrong reasons) and, as proud alpha-males, seek to maintain their dignity. They have suffered a dramatic erosion of their wage-earning power and cultural status. Why the hell should they trust the latte liberal establishment after what it has done to them?

And with union halls shut down and the independent press almost extinct, it is not surprising that many white men search for answers in the Tea Party, or that they equate the loss of employment security with the decay of patriotism and family values. Glenn Beck epitomized the national backlash culture producing the Tea Party, colonizing commute time when conservatives have used white anxiety, amplified by a shrinking job market, to paint a narrative of America as a zero-sum game between whites and people of color.

Nevada Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, argued that social security needed to be abolished and went on to legitimize her argument by praising Augustus Pinochet — a military dictator who, in a CIA-backed coup, overthrew the democratically-elected Chilean government and implemented free market reforms at gunpoint.

To achieve these ends her campaign ran racist ads that targeted America Hispanics as “illegals.” Racism, a strong (and more or less open) tendency in U.S. “conservatism,” is a constant amongst Tea Party members. It is part of the terrain, and the ‘new’ form taken by the Tea Party adds little except for some lunatic historical revisionism.

The Tea Party can be best characterized as the “We Accept No Responsibility” Party, refusing to accept its own role in producing
systemic problems, and yet it considers its own opinion sovereign.

Everything is the evil doings of the Black-President-Liberal-Socialism- Islam boogeyman. The basic political agenda of its alliance with the GOP is to implement austerity measures, and lower taxes, which require vicious attacks on the American working class and are counterproductive in reestablishing the middle class. In order for Team Obama to continue moving to the right and to continue the Bush administration policies, it needs the Republicans to move even further to the right. They have to be so extreme
that they’re perceived as the crazies.

If the Teabaggers did not exist, then the Democratic Party, the roach motel of the left, would have to invent them. A revolution is not a tea party. Neither is reactionary false populism aimed at evading all collective responsibility for the consequences of one’s ideas. For it is precisely an unshakable belief in “free markets” held the likes of racist Tea Party members that gives us attacks on social welfare and workplace solidarity, increased inequality in America, and which allowed high finance to lead us into yet another global economic crisis.