Keith Law: The tea party farce

August 10, 2010 

While driving down Highway 99 the other day, I came upon a car decked out in "tea party" bumper stickers. One simply said "DOPE" in the same colors as Barack Obama's "HOPE" bumper stickers from his 2008 campaign.

I felt the urge to respond with a "DUPE" bumper sticker of my own.

The tea party movement is a farce, and it is disappointing that citizens are duped by the snake-oil show. The salesmen include the Wall Street traders who initiated the idea, as well as the defeated Republicans who promote the cause into the spectacle that it has become. These include Texas Republican Dick Armey's organization Freedom Works, and the cast of the conservative broadcasting company, Fox.

The original tea party evokes images of our founders who fought against an imperialist kingdom to create a more democratic union. The "tea party" movement is fighting against a president who was democratically elected by the processes established in the Constitution by those very founders.

Given the political beliefs and the demographic makeup of those who are in the "tea party" movement, a better historical reference would evoke the Confederate side in the Civil War.

In contrast to what they want us to believe, the "tea party" movement is not nonpartisan, it is not attempting to defend the Constitution, and it is not antideficit or antisocialism. What it is, mostly, is disgruntled elderly, white conservative men who lost the 2008 election that brought into office another smart, young politician from Illinois, the land of Abraham Lincoln. Both by his race and his political defense of our nation's underprivileged, Obama represents a threat to this group.

The demographic research is in; those who make up the tea party are primarily white (79 percent), male (61 percent), conservative Republicans (80 percent) and better off financially than the national average.

It is understandable that "tea party" goers would want to distance themselves from the Republican Party given the ruin we suffered under their eight years of governance. However, they would not be a movement if not for the clout received from disgruntled Republicans.

One could sympathize with the tea party's concern for deficit spending, and defer alleging there is a racist motive among many of its leaders, if their first protest didn't take place one month after Obama took office.

Where were these folks when President George Bush was turning the Clinton surplus into the largest deficit in our history? A good chunk of that deficit spending went to fund a war that was based on lies. Is that a better use of our resources than attempting to supply health care to the needy, or to assist the nation during a recession?

The first contemporary president to riddle us with debt was Ronald Reagan, a man conservatives love to love. If one graphs deficit spending since World War II, the picture that emerges depicts a world where Republicans are far less responsible than their Democratic counterparts.

Though they deny it, the stories we hear of the implicit and explicit racism within the tea party are not incidental to the movement. According to polling research done at the University of Washington, tea party members are more likely to believe that African Americans are less hardworking, less intelligent and less trustworthy; and they are less favorable to immigration.

Their grandest farce is the attack on illegal immigration, as if our loss of good-paying jobs beccause to folks came over to do manual labor for minimum wages. This is the same racist scapegoating that goes on in every economic bust since Germany did it to the Jews during the Great Depression.

Our job loss is caused by to many factors, but one of the most prominent is the flight of jobs overseas due to rich folks looking for cheap labor. These are the same rich folks who bankroll the conservative movement.

Before tea party followers assume their self-righteous battle in defense of our Constitution, they should take the time to read it. There, they will find that in the preamble our founders placed liberty last in a list of virtues that included establishing justice and promoting the general welfare. The preamble is important because it established the overall intention behind the rest of the Constitution.

There can be differences of opinion about how to establish a just health care system, or how to promote the general welfare in the deep recession and financial crisis that we inherited from the very Republicans who are now protesting under tea party banners.

However, it is ridiculous to argue that the path taken by Obama is against the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

The strategy of using the government to supply a public good goes back as far as Thomas Jefferson, who argued for a public education system.

Franklin Roosevelt used the government as the consumer of last resort during the Great Depression in order to stimulate the economy.

As everyone who has taken an economics course knows, the intention behind this is to save capitalism. Of course, we can debate the relative effectiveness of the remedy, but no reasonable person believes that it is a plot by an anti-American dictator, as tea party folks allege.

Finally, as research shows, tea party goers are not against socialism, as a disproportionate number are elderly folks who are counting on collecting Social Security checks and enjoying the socialized health care system known as Medicare. Further, the Dick Armey types have been supporting corporate welfare for the rich for generations.

Tea party followers are financially better off than the general population, so they hate paying taxes; however, they sure do like the programs that the government provides to them.

They want to get as much as they can from the government while paying as little as possible to support the government; A simple case of greed.

As long as this sentiment has sway in Washington we will suffer the massive deficit spending that tea party goers say they are against.

Keith Law is a professor of philosophy and humanities at Merced College.

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