The Truth Behind the Tea Parties
Editor’s Note: In recent decades, the major U.S. news media generally disregards or downplays political protest movements even when they put hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, such as the anti-Iraq War movement did prior to President George W. Bush’s invasion in 2003.
However, different rules applied last year when the protesters were right-wingers fancying themselves as descendants of Boston radicals who threw British tea into Boston Harbor more than two centuries ago; then even small protests, drawing a few thousand people, were trumpeted as a major new political force, as writer Don Monkerud notes in this guest essay:
Current attempts to revive that Boston Tea Party of 1773 are marketing gimmicks to masquerade conservative forces bent on defeating Obama and destroying any attempt to reform the present
gridlock political system.
Examining the history of this faux-movement reveals the actors behind the curtain.
One of the earliest revivals of the Tea Party involved 100 people meeting in Seattle to protest the stimulus bill passed by Congress to keep the U.S. from descending into another Great Depression. After bloggers and libertarians spread a call for protest on the Internet, the media blew it into a major event.
Right-wing groups poured funding into the nascent movement. These groups included: Americans for Prosperity, a pro-tobacco, anti-healthcare and anti-tax lobbying organization; and FreedomWorks, a lobbying firm devoted to opposing taxes, immigration, healthcare reform and solutions to global warming.
Koch Industries, an oil, mineral, ranching and securities conglomerate, funds both of these groups, while the Sarah Mellon Scaife foundation, with interests in oil, industry and banking, funds FreedomWorks.
After Fox News began promoting the Tea Party as a social movement, their crowds grew. Fox News entertainer, Glenn Beck, invited viewers to "celebrate with Fox News," by attending tax protests in Washington on April 15, the date federal tax returns are due.
A mere 3,000 Tea Party supporters attended the rally and grabbed the headlines. More people rallied across the country in support of Single Payer Healthcare Reform but they received few headlines.
After much smaller groups of Tea Partiers protested in several cities, right-wing entertainers such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly giddily talked about "a growing movement" for weeks. Soon
Republicans Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Ron Paul, Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich jumped on board, hoping to revive their failed political careers.
Seldom has so much been made about so little. Supporters claimed the Tea Party was "a nonpartisan grassroots movement," but the reality is far different. Not only was the idea supported by right-wing money and promoted by the right-wing propaganda mill, Fox News, but it also garnered very little real popular support.
When asked, 18 percent of Americans replied that they identified with the Tea Party. Only 20 percent of those sent money, or about four percent of the public, while 78 percent have done nothing in support.
Essentially, the Tea Party is a new face of the same old right-wing, reactionary forces that have long been working to turn America into a more religious, racist and militaristic country with an unregulated free-enterprise system, weak government and low taxation.
Analysts predicted midterm elections would reveal grass-roots support for the Tea Party, but only a handful of candidates they supported won, while two-thirds of registered voters stayed home. However, a poor showing at the polls by this vocal minority doesn't mean all is well in the U.S.
According to a comprehensive New York Times/CBS News poll, the majority of Tea Party supporters describe themselves as being "very conservative" and more conservative than most Republicans on social issues. They almost always vote Republican and 60 percent favor George W. Bush Jr., compared to 40 percent of the general public.
Most are men who claim the government favors the poor, and twice as many as the general public feel Black people get "too much attention." Almost 50 percent heard about the Tea Party on TV, 80 percent are white, and 60 percent are older than 50. Ninety percent are pessimistic about the direction of the country, disapprove of Obama, and believe America is becoming socialistic.
Seventy-five percent want to have smaller government. Yet, many Tea Partiers live on Social Security, benefit from Medicare and are frightened by the troubled economy. Although they reported their personal financial situation as "fairly good" or "very good," 55 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party fear someone in their household will lose their job in the coming year.
Two-thirds say the recession caused them economic hardship and forced them to make life changes. In
summary, it's fair to characterize the Tea Partiers as fearful, old, white, right-wing Republican men.
Progressive forces are organizing to promote social change in the interests of working people, minorities, gays and lesbians, young people, and immigrants, but they confront unified opposition groups with lots of money behind them.
These moneyed interests, in addition to the conservatives of the Baby Boomers generation, are currently holding off real change. Coupled with GOP obstructionism in Congress, America is deadlocked. What catastrophe will come to break the deadlock is anyone's guess.
Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes occasional satire.
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