Unmasking the New Tea Party Movement
You have seen the clips of riled crowds with sadistic posters and heard the discordant lines from their self-appointed spokespersons. Virtually no day passes without some mention of this band of disgruntled objectors and their deranged, shock-peddling cadre of rabble rousers.
But what exactly is going on here? Who are these people, toward what goal do they strive and why are they attracting such stupendous media play?
In its more celebrated context, the term Tea Party originated from that iconic period in American history when American colonists staged protests against taxation by the imperial government in Britain on the grounds that they had no representation in the British Parliament.
In its co-opted present day usage, although it has been applied to buttress a hodgepodge of libertarian and ultra-conservative viewpoints, the central thrust of the “movement” appears to be fiscal conservatism. Beginning in 2009, the group staged a series of protests riling against excessive spending, big government, pork or “porkulus.”
However, over time, this core premise of the group’s grievance has become less lucid. The topics, images, and slogans have gotten increasingly pungent and dreadful. Tea Party rally attendees have grown to accommodate an odd assortment of activists on the fringes of the political spectrum; “birthers,” antebellum nostalgiacs, religious zealots and white supremacists that appear to have found unity in both their disdain for the ascendancy of a black person to the highest office in the land and their personal hatred for President Obama.
It is hard not to see that the “movement” itself has been usurped by this extremist wing. Protest events are now dominated by symbols and innuendoes calculatingly delivered to fan the embers of division and hate. In some instances, vituperative language with violence-inciting undertones has also been used.
It is increasingly less about small government now and more about the propagation of the expression of the worst forms of slur and odium.
What is one to make of Tea Party protesters boldly flashing placards that reference the seating president of this country as “Commander In Thief” or depict him as the Joker, Hitler or Bin Laden with such captions as “Socialist” or Terrorist?”
How about the derisive, disparaging and openly suggestive statements from movement leaders about “re-loading” and “clinging to guns & religion;” the opprobrious distinctions between “the real America,” “Patriots” or “True Americans” and those other bonafide citizens castigated as “un-American” and “foreigners?”
Tea Party adherents generally took issue with the recently enacted health reform legislation not just because they felt it would balloon the size of government but primarily because it was an affront to individual freedoms. They felt that mandating coverage and enforcing penalties for non-participation was an infringement on constitutionally protected liberties. In other words, that the old status quo under which Americans financially able to buy coverage should be free to abstain, and by so doing force the rest of us to pick up the tab, is preferable!
But, where were these Tea Party folks when George Bush squandered the surpluses from the Clinton years and grew the national debt at a pace so drunken and dizzying that the national economy and the entire global economic system nearly collapsed?
How can they possibly reconcile the eagerness to overlook or forgive the fiscal excesses of the administration whose policies or lack thereof sourced the meltdown with the near blind rush to demonize the administration left to stop the hemorrhage?
Where were they when during the first decade of this century, President Bush and Republican Congressional leaders orchestrated the worst civil liberties coup d’état of all times with their Patriot Acts and their advanced surveillance programs---the systematic snooping, wire-tapping & eavesdropping on ordinary Americans?
Uncomfortable as it may be to admit, the timing of the rise of this so-called “movement” could not be extricated from the generalized fear within pockets of the white population that they are losing traditional positions of power and privilege; that the nucleus of the society that once was inherently theirs is irredeemably slipping away. So, you hear the urgent and forceful use of code phrases that bemoan this reality even as they represent a longing for a return to that period in our history that they cherish so much. Their desire to “take back the country” is unconcealed; but, from whom, to what and why exactly?
Nothing personifies the dissonance that this group feels better than President Obama himself; that, perhaps, is why they feel such deep derision or revulsion toward his administration. I personally do not have any reason to think that this would abate anytime soon.
Thankfully, we have seen this play out before. Much the same way as this strident, divisive, irrational approach caused the Republican Party base to shrink to a point where its national electoral viability came under question, once hijacked by its ultra-conservative, religious faction, the Tea Party movement will surely lose steam and fade into irrelevance once the stranglehold of the Palin-Limbaugh fire-breathing extremist wing takes full form.