Once upon a time, I associated tea parties with little girls and teddy bears sitting on little chairs around a tiny table. That cute little image has been permanently ruined by a bunch of raging morons marching around with tea bags hanging off their hats. Tea Parties are now associated with bullies tossing dollar bills at a sick man. What’s worse is that now tea parties are associated with screaming racism.
Things became absolutely surreal when the left wing press started calling the Tea Party, populist. When I first saw this on an Alternet article, I could not believe what I was reading. The Tea Party is no more populist than Goldman Sachs or the Democratic Party. The Tea Party is an AstroTurf movement organized by the same Wall Street crooks who tanked the economy. The Tea Party is nothing but a smoke screen. Sean Hannity and our darling Sarah Palin are using time honored advertising techniques to whip the right wing true believers into a lynch mob. The stupid, the bigoted, the ignorant, and the arrogant are frightened. The economy has tanked, their retirements are in jeopardy, their mortgages are foreclosing. Their health care is inadequate. Credit card limits are dropping. Rather than organizing against the Wall Street criminals who caused it, they are organizing against their fellow victims. The poor, the minorities, the educated, and the progressive are all targets of Tea Bagger rage instead of the real cause of their problems.
Populism and populists movements have never been middle class. They have never had the support of Wall Street talking heads. Throughout American history they have been poor people’s movements. When the middle class gets involved it is for reasons of personal ethics, as illustrated by the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. The earliest recorded American populists were the Regulators. In the days before the Rapture was created, a large group of religious non-conformists got together to use government as a means of establishing the Millennium. Poor farmers, freed slaves, and wealthy plantation owners joined together to establish just laws that included abolition, progressive taxation, land ownership for tenant farmers, and free elections.
While the Regulators were finally wiped out in the Whiskey Rebellion, Populism lived on through the Abolition movement. Abolition was a movement that never died and still exists today. Despite attempts by the libertarians and John Birchers to rehabilitate the South, slavery was one of the main reasons the South tried to leave the Union. Abolitionists simply did not give a fiddler’s damn about state rights. Slavery was an abomination and the Abolitionists were out to end it. Like their Regulator grandfathers, the Abolitionists were using the power of the Federal Government to end a monstrous injustice.
Jump forward a few decades and look at the beginnings of the labor movement in the United States. I cannot think of a better example of a Populist Movement. The beginnings of the labor movement can be found in the churches. Free Methodists, Western Baptists, Congregationalists, and even Catholics were amongst the leaders of the early American unions. While there was a socialist labor movement going on in Europe, it had very little to do with the American movement until the beginning of the twentieth century. While the American press was yelling “anarchism” during the 19th Century, the unions were anything but. They were organized by their churches and they were not calling for the end of the American government. Rather they were demanding their voices in the American government. They were demanding that the government oversee safety standards, collective bargaining, and that the rich be taxed the same as the poor.
Here is another reason that the Tea party is not populist. Populist movements were never anti-tax. They knew that government did not happen by magic. All the populist movements from The Regulators to the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s knew full well that it was going to take tax money to make their dreams come true. The difference is that the populists were demanding that the rich be taxed the same as the poor. The income tax was a populist movement. The entire idea behind the income tax is that the corporations pay as well as the poor. “I’m a taxpayer and I have my rights” would mean the same to the poor as well as the rich.
Populism are movements that demand that special privileges become universal privileges. Nothing demonstrates this more than the Civil Rights Movement. Abolition neither died nor went to sleep after the civil war. Citizens of African descent continued to live in conditions little better than slavery. Jim Crow simply rubbed salt into the wounds. Separate can never be equal. Dr. King demanded that the vast resources of the US government be used to correct this injustice. Part of the correction that Dr. King demanded was that more tax money be placed into education and affirmative action.
That’s right, libertarians. Dr. King was behind affirmative action. I know this is not true in your fairy tale world of George Washington meets John Galt, but in the real world, Dr. King demanded affirmative action. The reaction of the bigots was to run around screaming “states rights” while turning the fire hoses on peaceful protesters. I mean really, what relevance do states rights have in the 21st Century? It was an idea that made sense in the 18th Century when it took weeks to travel from Philadelphia to New York by land. By the 19th Century such inventions as the telegraph and the railroads made states rights irrelevant. The civil war showed the practical limits of states rights.
The entire purpose of the Constitution was to establish a national tax base, place the armed forces under one command, and to establish a uniform code of law. Under the Constitution, the DEA has every right to come into California and close dispensaries. We may not agree with what they are doing, and I feel it is just wrong. However, it is constitutional and we are not going to accomplish anything by ignoring that unfortunate fact.
During the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington sent tax collectors and marshals into Pennsylvania to enforce federal law over states rights. The president was made into the commander and chief of the armed forces. Under the Constitution, the state militias were called out to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. The militias of Pennsylvania were called up and those who did not support the Federal Government, were declared outlaw.
So there is nothing populist in the Tea Party movement. First of all, populist movements don’t really care about the Constitution. Quite often, like the income tax and women suffrage, populist movements demand changes in the Constitution. Populist movement are not anti-taxation but demand a fair tax burden and a fair distribution of tax money. But most telling of all, populist movements are all about justice and equality. The Tea Party exists to protect white middle class privilege.
It is fear of change more than anything else that inspires the Tea Party and other libertarian organizations. They live in a fantasy world where the western expansion is still happening and free market capitalism still works. Once again, Wall Street has proven the sham of the free market. Rather than accept this, the Tea Party has dived into a never ending pool of denial, and they have Fox News and Libertarian Radio to egg them on. If the Tea Party was reacting to reality, they would be preparing to dip Rush and Sean into a vat of tar and cover them with feathers.
Nothing exemplifies the American oppression of minorities more than the Tea Party. They cannot see beyond the color of the president’s skin. They ignore the fact that each of them pay more in taxes than Rush Limbaugh, and focus on the fact that minorities demand equality. Like the bigots in Alabama and like Barry Goldwater, they concentrate on non-existent states’ rights and ignore the basic racism of their arguments. They cry over being denied the special privileges enjoyed by Wall Street insiders. Rather than get angry with White Privilege Wall Street, they get angry at a non-existent “Gangsta Government”, demand a return to a Constitution that only exists in their imaginations, and they get ready to kill liberals.
The Tea Party Populist? It is to laugh.