POSTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2010:
Hey, Tea Partiers: You're Leftists!
Time for progressives to reclaim populism
All the Kings Men. Huey “Kingfish” Long, the populist Louisiana governor, channeled the rage of the poor into political support, wielded power on their behalf. And he delivered.
Huey Long would know what to do.
Angry people were the Kingfish's stock in trade. People dispossessed and victimized, pissed off at a government that only cares about them on Tax Day. The populist Louisiana governor channeled the rage of the poor into political support, wielded power on their behalf. And he delivered.
Born of the Great Recession and ongoing economic collapse, the Tea Party movement is America's latest contribution to a long tradition of populist agitation.
The Tea Party doesn't have a platform, which makes sense, since it isn't a party. The Tea Party movement is a loose, decentralized coalition of radical libertarians, Goldwater Republicans, Sarah Palin-loving populists, black-helicopter militia types, nativist Minutemen obsessed with the New World Order, members of the retro John Birch Society, even a group of sheriffs who swear not to obey "stupid laws." Some of them hate Obama. They say they hate his policies, but some use racist rhetoric. They are almost all white.
(The Tea Party also doesn't have a media spokesman, or one willing to talk to columnists, anyway. I reached out; never heard back. If any major Tea Partiers want to chat, please get in touch.)
What unites the Tea Party, which is more or less symbiotically affiliated with the so-called "Patriot" movement, are three issues. First, they're Constitutional purists. Second, they want the federal government to shrink or go away entirely. Third: they want lower taxes and government spending.
So why is the Tea Party seen as a right-wing movement?
To be sure, many Tea Partiers fiercely deny that they're a branch of the Republican Party. Tea Partiers have declared jihad against Governor Charlie Crist of Florida (because he accepted federal stimulus money), and have forced Senator John McCain of Arizona, no liberal he, to tack right in his reelection bid. But, from the Palin connection to the openly stated goal of "taking over the Republican Party," the GOP-Tea Party overlap is undeniable.
Which makes no sense.
True, America First immigrant-bashing doesn't fit in with the politically correct Democrats of the 21st century. Liberals find the backwater cultural touchstones of Tea Party--country music, NASCAR, county sheriffs as celebrities, for God's sake--as alien as Muqtada Al-Sadr.
On the big issues, however, the Tea Party belongs on the Left.
Tea Party followers are obsessed with privacy rights. They want the government out of their lives. Worried about creeping totalitarian tyranny, they're against Obama's healthcare reform proposal in part because they believe it would grant the feds access to heretofore private medical records. "In New Mexico, Mary Johnson, recording secretary of the Las Cruces Tea Party steering committee, described why she fears the government. She pointed out how much easier it is since Sept. 11 for the government to tap telephones and scour e-mail, bank accounts and library records," reported The New York Times.
Doesn't she remember who was president after 9/11?
Americans have good cause to fear the Democratic Party on privacy rights. During the 1990s, the Clinton Administration ramped up the NSA's Echelon system, which supposedly intercepts and automatically analyzes every single email, phone call, fax and wire transmission on the planet. Obama has kept the USA-Patriot Act and Bush's domestic wiretapping program in place.
But on privacy rights Republicans have been at least as bad. The Patriot Act was their idea. They abolished habeas corpus. They created the Total Information Awareness data-mining program; after Congress protested, they canceled it, renamed it, and quietly reestablished it. As much as Tea Partiers hate Democrats on privacy rights, they ought to hate Republicans more.
The same goes for Constitutional purity. Probably the greatest subversion of the Constitution has concerned war. Only Congress has the right to declare war, but one president after another has stolen that right away. Both the D's and the R's deserve equal blame. But the R's deserve it most recently. The three biggest wars of the last two decades, Iraq twice and Afghanistan once, were started by Republican presidents. Surely, when it comes to respect for the Constitution, the Tea Party should look elsewhere than the GOP.
Most baffling is the Tea Party's willingness to look the other way as Bush ran up record deficits between 2001 and 2009. Yes, part of it was the wars--and guess what? Wars count. A real deficit hawk would have called for cuts equal to the cost of the wars or, better yet, not have fought them in the first place (since they were strictly optional and not required for defense).
If the Left were smart--hell, if it existed--it would talk to the Tea Party folks. "To hell with the Republicans," they'd say, "and to hell with the Democrats too. We might not like the same music, and we might talk a little different, and we sure don't believe 9/11 was an inside job or that the Bilderbergs control everything, but we're all tired of getting ripped off and lied to by a bunch of government scumbags and their dirtbag pals on Wall Street and corporate America. And we're going to stop them."
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