The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement: two sides of the same coin but only the former really gets it

That is, like, soooooooo Tea Party

My mother always used to tell me that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. Apparently not. Many of the same people who get swivel eyed about Tea Party rallies are running out of laudatory epithets for the various ‘Occupy’ protests.

Back in January it only took a pair of crosshairs on a web page for New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to deduce that the Tea Party were behind the horrific shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

But when a speaker at Occupy Los Angeles steps forward to say that “the bourgeoisie won’t go without violent means” Krugman purrs that we are “seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people”.

Krugman is wrong is to paint the two movements as diametrically opposed. In fact, there is much common ground between Occupy and the Tea Party.

Both groups are angry with the vast transfer of wealth from individual citizens to banks.

When the Tea Party movement got going nearly two and a half years ago its protestors, according to CNN, were out to protest against “excessive government spending and bailouts”.

Now we have Occupy Wall Street protesting “against bank bailouts, corporate greed, and the unchecked power of Wall Street in Washington”.

Both groups see people like former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson bailing out his former employers Goldman Sachs to the tune of $12.9 billion of taxpayers’ money and are justifiably outraged. The only difference is that while the Tea Party focuses its anger on the politicians who are so free with taxpayers money, the Occupy movement focus theirs on the banks who received it.

They are in many ways working on the same problem from opposite ends. Big government and big, bailout dependent business are just two sides of a corporatist coin.

There are differences though. Whereas the opposition of the Tea Party to Federal bailouts is part of a more general belief in lower government spending, the Occupy movement has no problems with massive government per se; they are just opposed to this government spending.

The Tea Party want less Federal spending full stop. The Occupy movement want more Federal spending on them. The Tea Party, in other words, is more ideologically coherent.

And its incoherence compared to the Tea Party means that the Occupy movement is unlikely to be as successful.

The Tea Party can state clearly that they are for smaller government. Occupy Wall Street is forced to come out with confusing statements like “It’s not about ‘small government’ or ‘big government’. It’s about who controls the government”.

The Occupy movement may well win support as long as its sticks to vague statements having a go at bankers, but if it settles on a list of demands including, as one suggests, “Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end” and “Open borders migration”, it is hard to see others coming along for the journey.

Even though it’s early days, tactically it is unlikely that the Occupy movement will match the effectiveness of the Tea Party.

By working hard within the political system the Tea Party have reshaped American politics, reenergised the Republican Party and won control of Congress in less than three years. It is difficult to see how the Occupy movement expects to achieve whatever its aims are by mildly inconveniencing a few bankers and tourists.

And let’s not forget, the Tea Party were doing this first. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the Tea Partiers can look at the Occupy movement and feel rather pleased with themselves.

But let’s end on a note of harmony. In 2008 candidate Obama received more funding from Wall Street than anywhere else, nearly twice as much as John McCain and he is still desperately schmoozing them.

One Wall Street Occupier rails that “Right now the 99% can’t participate, except through ‘representatives’ who are bought and paid for ahead of time. Time to shift the power! Time to take this country back from the 1%!”

If this angry protestor wants to stick it to the bankers’ candidate he too will be voting against Obama in November 2012.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator


Misunderestimating the Tea Party

More than a storm in a tea cup

Just after the Presidential election of 1972 Pauline Kael, a critic for the New Yorker, is reputed to have said “I can’t believe that Richard Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him”. Given that Nixon had just won by a 23% margin and 18 million clear votes, the widest margin in the history of presidential elections, you have to wonder who Kael had been talking to.

The success of the Tea Party movement in a little over two years has been just as spectacular as Nixon’s. They have energised a Republican party which was moribund in 2008 and helped them take control of the House, bring the Senate near balance, and sweep up governors mansions and seats in state legislatures across the country. Incredibly, the Republicans now have a good shot at winning back the White House in 2012.

And this success has been just as baffling for some as Tricky Dicky’s. Take Max Blumenthal, author of 2009’s ‘Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party’, for example. On openDemocracy in September last year he set out “to unravel the mix of driven personalities, feverish rhetoric, toxic hatreds, and flirtation with violence that fuel [the Tea Party] sub-culture’s insurgent activism”. Not surprisingly, having set out to find extremist nuts, he found them.

Blumenthal attended what he called one of the Tea Party’s “days of rage” in 2009. “While covering the rally”, he wrote,

“I witnessed sign after sign declaring Obama a greater danger to America’s security than al-Qaida; demonstrators held images that juxtaposed Obama’s face with images of evildoers from Hitler to Pol Pot to Bin Laden; others carried signs questioning Obama’s status as a United States citizen. ‘We can fight al-Qaida, we can’t kill Obama’, said an aging demonstrator. Another told me, ‘Obama is the biggest Nazi in the world’, pointing to placards he had fashioned depicting Obama and House of Representatives’ majority leader Nancy Pelosi in SS outfits. According to another activist, Obama’s agenda was similar to Hitler’s: ‘Hitler took over the banking industry, did he not? And Hitler had his own personal secret service police. [The community-organising group] Acorn is an extension of that’”

The phrase “far right” appeared nine times in Blumenthal’s piece.

Blumenthal also found plenty of racism at the event claiming “The racial subtext was always transparent”. Indeed, to opponents it is an article of faith that the Tea Party is racist, 61% believing it motivates the movement according to the Washington Post.

The message of Blumenthal and others is clear; the Tea Party are a fringe bunch of psychotic, racist loons who want to turn America into a fascist state. The trouble for Blumenthal and other opponents is that this view isn’t actually true.

Let’s begin with race. The Tea Party lacks a central organisation, it is more an amorphous constellation of groups and individuals, some overlapping and some contradictory, and it is obvious that any collection of people that size will contain some weirdo’s. The Tea Party is no exception.

However, one poll found that views on race “are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement”. Contrary to Blumenthal’s Nuremburg Rally like experiences the Washington Post analysed Tea Party placards in October 2010 and found that “the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events”. 50% of placards at the rally showed a “limited government ethos” while just 5% reflected anger with President Obama directly and a tiny 1% questioned his citizenship. Emily Elkins, the UCLA graduate student who conducted the research, commented that “media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does”.

So what does drive the Tea Party? The BBC’s US correspondent, Mark Mardell, has “spoken to many supporters of the Tea Party and been to lots of rallies” and found, agreeing with Elkins far more than Blumenthal, that “talk to people for more than a few minutes and fury tends to dissolve into concern, worry about the economic direction of the country, worry about the size of the government and the level of taxation”. The ABC poll quoted earlier found

“Tea Party supporters broadly agree on motivations for backing the movement – economic concern (cited by 83 percent), distrust of government (79 percent) and opposition to President Obama and the Democrats (72 percent). Many fewer supporters, but still 39 percent, cite dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as a reason for favoring the Tea Party.

At the same time, the movement’s supporters broadly reject the suggestion of racial prejudice against Obama. Eighty-seven percent of Tea Party backers say this is not a reason people support it. (One in 10 say it is)”

And far from being the extremist psychotics of Blumenthal’s fevered imagination the Tea Party are in tune with most Americans here. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans worry about the economy “a great deal”. A CNBC poll found just 14% of Americans believed that the economic policies of the Democratic Congress and Obama administration had helped them. Rasmussen found that 52% of Americans said their own views were closer to those of Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin than President Obama and that 61% supported repeal of Obamacare. And on the size of government a CNN poll showed that 56% of Americans thought that the government is “so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens”.

Despite what people like Mr Blumenthal might like to believe the Tea Party articulate views much more commonly held than he thinks, views which are much more commonly held than his. This is why the Tea Party has been so successful. And as long as people like Mr Blumenthal continue to mischaracterise it the Tea Party will continue to be successful.

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine went on CNN in September to predict “I think it’s become very clear now…that the control of the Republican Party is in tea party candidates who do not speak for independent or moderate voters at all…We have a feeling that we’re going to do very, very well in closing that gap with independent voters between now and the second of November, because independents do not like what they see from this ascendant tea party and the Republican Party”. He said this two months before the Republicans best result since 1938.

It’s obvious why Kaine couldn’t see the train hurtling down the tracks towards him. He persisted with the same comfortable view many Tea Party opponents have, namely that people who hold views opposite to theirs must be a mere handful of extremists. Even though all the polling evidence was there Kaine, like, Pauline Kael back in 1972, wasn’t speaking to the right people. This led him to make his stupid prediction about “closing that gap with independent voters”. In fact independent voters chose Republican candidates over Democrats by a margin of 56% to 38% in November’s mid terms.

That is because, as we’ve seen, independent and moderate voters do share the Tea Party’s concern about the spiralling national debt, stagnant employment and collapsing currency. Furthermore, it’s a concern that is shared by rating agencies, the Chinese Central Bank and now President Obama himself.

“Its the economy stupid” is one of the most famous aphorisms in politics. But until they ditch the slurs and engage with these issues the Tea Party’s opponents, to their detriment, will continue to “misunderestimate” them.

This article originally appeared at openDemocracy

Max Blumenthal – Master of Irony

“To say the stuff I do take balls this big”

In September last year left wing American journalist Max Blumenthal wrote on openDemocracy that

“Members of the Tea Party “Patriots” did not seem to care that their rhetoric was irrational, or that comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin was contradictory and obviously hyperbolic”

In the same article he wrote

“The seemingly incongruous Tea Party propaganda recalled signs waved by right-wing Jewish settlers during rallies against Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his support of the peace process, portraying him as an SS officer and as the French collaborator Marshall Pétain. In 1995, amid this provocative atmosphere, a young right-wing Jewish zealot assassinated Rabin. The Israeli tragedy was a cautionary example of targeted hatred leading to violence.”

What does the ‘far right’ believe?

The former editor of the Socialist Party newspaper

Today a friend of mine brought this to my attention, perhaps the most witless attempt yet to make political capital out of the dreadful Arizona shootings.

Ive talked about some of the reaction to this awful event previously but something struck me about this one. What does being ‘far right’ involve?

Look at the National Front in France. They are labeled ‘far right’ just like the Tea Party. So what beliefs do they share? According to Newsweek the incoming National Front leader, Jean Marie Le Pen’s daughter, is “a big believer in the state’s ability and obligation to help its people. ‘We feel the state should have the means to intervene’ she says. ‘We are very attached to public services à la française as a way to limit the inequalities among regions and among the French’ including ‘access for all to the same level of health care'”

In the UK the British National Party are called ‘far right’. Yet they support nationalisation and higher taxes. Given that Margaret Thatcher also gets called ‘far right’ you have to wonder what ground they do share. Indeed, the BNP call themselves “the Labour party your grandparents voted for”.

The Tea Party dont have a leader but if you visit the Tea Party Patriots website youll see that they list their core values as “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets”. Where, exactly, is the synergy? What do these two phenomena have in common that would make them both ‘far right’?

So as for what being ‘far right’ is supposed to involve, Im still stuck. Any suggestions?

A tragedy is not an opportunity to score political points

The woman who blamed Sarah Palin for inciting violence

On January 8th a 9 year old girl who had just been elected to the student council at her local elementary school was taken to see Representative Gabrielle Giffords at a mall in Tucson Arizona as a treat. Shortly after 10 am Christina Taylor Green was shot dead along with five other people. Representative Giffords, shot in the head at point blank range, remains in a coma.

A 22 year old man named Jared Lee Loughner has been charged with the shooting. Like Arthur Bremer, who shot Alabama governor George Wallace in 1972, Loughner may simply have wanted “to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of my manhood for the world to see”. On his YouTube account Loughner lists his favourite books as ‘The Communist Manifesto’, ‘Mein Kampf’, ‘We the Living’ by the libertarian Ayn Rand and Plato’s ‘Republic’. On the morning of the shooting he posted on MySpace “Goodbye friends. Please don’t be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven’t talked to one person who is literate. I want to make it out alive. The longest war in the history of the United States. Goodbye. I’m saddened with the current currency and job employment. I had a bully at school. Thank you. P.S. –plead the fifth!”

Quite simply we do not know what prompted a deranged lunatic to carry out these awful acts.But where most saw tragedy some saw opportunity. The horrible death of Christina Taylor Green quickly became simply the latest stick with which beat Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

It started with the reaction of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, a Democrat, who said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”

This is quite a jump. Already the motives of the gunman are seen as political despite the fact that Dupnick had not yet spoken to him. Dupnick can be forgiven for his this lapse. A local Sherriff thrust into the media spotlight and also dealing with the death of his friend, John Roll, a local judge.

But from there a gaggle of left wingers were ready to hijack the tragedy.

On MSNBC Keith Olbermann blamed, not the gunman who shot Christina Taylor Green, but a list of well known conservatives such as TV hosts Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, former Senate candidate Sharron Angle, former Congressional candidate Jesse Kelly, Congressman Allen West, the Tea Party as a whole and bete noir of the left, Sarah Palin. Olbermann, a Democrat, made the nonsensical statement that

“If all of these are not responsible for what happened in Tucson, they must now be responsible for doing everything they can to make sure Tucson doesn’t happen again”

The argument seemed to be that the rhetoric of those on the right is ‘extreme’ and had pushed the Arizona gunman to act. That there was no evidence for this is one thing, but it is also grosly hypocritical. Olbermann, after all, routinely claims that the “Worst man in the world” is not Osama Bin Laden or Josef Fritzl, but Bill O’Reilly, a man who’s political opinions he happens to disagree with. When Republican Scott Brown was surprisingly elected to the Senate for Massachusetts, Olbermann called Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, Tea Bagging supporter of violence against women, and against politicians with whom he disagrees”

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, revealed a hitherto unsuspected gift for clairvoyance when he wrote on his blog for the New York Times “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was”.

The left quickly bumped Palin to the top of its suspect list for those ‘really’ guilty of the shootings. Jane Fonda who, during the Vietnam War, posed for photographs at the controls of a North Vietnamese anti aircraft gun which was used to shoot down American pilots, accused Sarah Palin of “Inciting to violence” (she also threw in Glenn Beck and the Tea Party).

The reason for blaming Palin seemed to boil down to a map on her website which highlighted Congressional districts she wanted the Republicans to win in October. She marked them with cross hairs which, in the minds of some, equated to an incitement to violence.

These people have probably never been involved in a political campaign before. You have ‘target seats’ and the people stuffing envelopes through doors are routinely called ‘foot soldiers’. Indeed, the very word ‘campaign’ was also used to describe the German invasion of Soviet Russia. If Sarah Palin is guilty then everyone is. Even President Obama who said, back in June 2008, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans”

Obama is no more or less guilty than Palin. The truth is that the guilt lies with the psychotic who murdered six people.

The deaths of these six people at the hands of a maniac are heartbreaking. As human beings our first reaction should be to empathise with those who are wounded or bereaved. That the reactions of some on the left has simply been to try and pin a political rosette to the coffin of Christina Taylor Green ought to make them ashamed of themselves.

Happy Anniversary Mr President!

Mr Brown goes to Washington

January 20th 2010 saw the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. But he is unlikely to have felt like celebrating as, the previous day, the voters of Massachusetts had elected the Republican Scott Brown.

It’s hard to overstate just how strange a result this is. The Senate seat won by Brown had been held by Teddy Kennedy, perhaps the biggest name in Democratic party politics, for 47 years until his death last year. In 1972, the last year it had a Republican Senator, Massachusetts was the only state to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon. It is as though a Conservative had won in Glasgow East.

Neither is this a one off. In November the Democrat governors of New Jersey and Virginia were ousted and this despite the presence of President Obama on the campaign trail. Or perhaps this was a cause? Obama’s approval rating has slipped from highs of 68% on election to barely 50% now. TEA parties (Taxed Enough Already) have sprung up across the States protesting about the $1.6 trillion deficit and town hall meetings have revealed a profound unease with the administrations plans for healthcare. Perhaps Americans voting for change in 2008 have come to realize that a man who was the product of the political machine of the most corrupt city in the country was, perhaps, not the person to achieve it.

This remarkable turn of events has come about because the change promised so repetitiously by Obama and his followers has turned out not to amount to very much. President Obama is a solid believer in big, activist government. But so was George W Bush.

President Obama has hemorrhaged more political capital on his health reforms than on any other issue. His aims have been to correct what he sees as the failure of the market in health insurance to cover all Americans and to make healthcare cheaper. Quite what form his eventual bill will take remains a mystery, the House of Representatives and Senate have a bill each with only the Senate’s bill actually passed. Besides, the election of Scott Brown now gives the Republicans the 41 Senate seats they need to filibuster any bill that shows up there. What was clear though, at every stage, was that ‘Obamacare’, in whatever form, amounted to a massive expansion of the role of the Federal government.

But this does not represent any kind of change from the administration of George W Bush who said “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move”. Indeed, the Bush administration oversaw the largest increase in spending since Lyndon Johnson gave the US ‘The Great Society’. Between 2001 and 2007 education spending rose 18% annually as a result of Bush’s cherished No Child Left Behind Act. Agricultural spending was doubled from its 1990s levels by the 2002 Farm Act. Spending on Medicare doubled during the Bush years reaching $431.5 billion in 2007. According to academics at George Mason University, in his eight years in office “President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent.”

After the disastrous Bush presidency which left Americans less safe and less prosperous than they had been before, change was necessary. But the change from Bush’s big government to Obama’s big government is no change at all. 235 years ago Massachusetts was the birthplace of a revolution against overbearing government and perhaps the election of Scott Brown signals a new one. It is long overdue.

Written for the UCL Conservative magazine, February 2010

Palin’s Popularity

Sarah Palin is the most divisive figure in American politics. 46% of Americans view her favourably while 46% view her unfavourably. 80% of Republicans have a positive view of her while 70% of Democrats have a negative one. Only 8% don’t care either way.

It is difficult to see where these feelings come from. An October 2007 Newsweek profile of Palin and Janet Napolitano, the Democrat governor of Arizona, said “(G)overnors like Napolitano, 49, and Palin, 43, are making their mark with a pragmatic, postpartisan approach to solving problems, a style that works especially well with the large numbers of independent voters in their respective states”. It continued “In Alaska Palin is challenging the dominant, sometimes corrupting, role of oil companies in the state’s political culture…Although she has been in office less than a year, Palin, too, earns high marks from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle”.

Palin’s popularity stems from the fact that she is like a lot of Americans. Like 76% Americans Palin is a Christian. Like 43% Palin supports the right to bear arms. Like 12.5 million Americans Palin goes hunting. Like 51% Palin opposes same sex marriage. Like 82.5 million American women Palin is a mother. Like 40% of children born in US, Palin’s grandson was born to an unmarried mother.

Palin resonates in other ways. In a recent speech to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement she claimed “America is ready for another revolution”. This might sound odd considering Americans voted for ‘change’ in 2008 but they have seen very little of it.

Americans seeking change are now looking elsewhere. In November the Democrat governors of Virginia and New Jersey were ousted by Republicans. January saw a Republican elected to the Senate by solidly Democratic Massachusetts. Obama’s approval rating has slumped from 68% to 49%. A recent poll put Obama on 44% against a hypothetical Republican candidate on 42% in 2012. At 11%, just three percent behind the Republican favourite for the 2012 nomination, Mitt Romney, the Pitbull may yet have a run at the White House.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 10, 01/03/10)