My former colleague Mark McKinnon (former because he abandoned Democrats and worked for Bush, McCain, Palin et al) has a piece in the Daily Beast calling the Tea Party Movement a true grassroots movement that could do for the Right what MoveOn does for progressives.
Much of the media and most Democrats are dismissive of what is truly a grassroots movement. But the Tea Party has shown remarkable energy in its short life span—dating back about a year ago, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli went on a live-TV rant about mortgage policy and suggested a Chicago Tea Party.
Oh, the contradictions and inconsistencies! I am not dismissive of the TP movement. I am dismissive of the claim that it’s some kind of spontaneous and authentic grassroots movement, although I believe a few powerful folk are manipulating for their own ends the anxiety people feel about their lives and the world at large. From the beginning, the movement was funded by some of the richest men in America and pushed by the right wing propaganda network known as Fox News. I also believe that it bears a troubling resemblance to George Wallace’s American Party. Wallace’s segregationist party rose in reaction to the Civil Rights movement. The TP has emerged in reaction to the nation’s first African-American president.
Not all the tea partiers are racists, of course. Some just need others to blame for their own misfortunes. Some others feel powerless in a complex world. Many are misguided libertarians. I say misguided because they somehow believe the control and manipulation by unaccountable corporatists like David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries (who pay to put the tea in the teabags) is fine. Everything an elected government does is bad. Everything an untouchable giant corporation does is good. This leads to a bunch of people on Medicare protesting insurance reform because it might offer some other people Medicare.
I take the TP seriously, though, because I do believe it’s a political force to be reckoned with. It helps clearly define the real American political battle of the 21st Century. It’s not Republican versus Democrat, really, or Left versus Right. It’s a battle between corporatist authoritarianism and egalitarian democracy. As I’ve written before, we are fast approaching a kind of distopian nightmare in which corporations have more rights and privileges than people, including the right to tell us when we can see a doctor and whether we will live or die.
As I’ve said only half jokingly, in the not-too-distant future, I expect the rise of Corporate Creationists who will argue that corporations could not possibly have evolved from human beings, just like today’s Creationists claim humans couldn’t have evolved from apes.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the market or business that’s the danger. Entrepreneurship, responsible business leadership, a transparent, open marketplace — these are essential in any working democracy. There are some obvious roles best filled by public functions that are ultimately answerable to voters. Firefighters and police working within city governments, for instance. The military. Bank regulation (ha ha!). Environmental regulation. With regard to health care, when the pursuit of profit trumps the concern for human life, well, we must act together through the cooperative agency of government to do something about it.
But I share a distrust of big government. The Right wants to over-simplify the debate, making it seem like they are the champions of individual rights while their opponents want to destroy individual freedom on behalf of…..well, they use a bunch of contradictory labels and names. I’ve asked many times, and not a single person on the right has explained away their own contradiction: how is it that a giant, distant, powerful and unaccountable corporation can be as benign but a government elected by the people is bad?
The Teapartiers will get a little more respect in these quarters when they quite representing the colossal insurance industry.