Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America

If this Tea Party’s dumping anything, it’s the U.S. Constitution

By Jamie Raskin, Senior Fellow 


What are the politics of the Tea Party movement, which has been hailed since the 2010 elections as the most important new force in American public life?  Because the Tea Party is not a unified national organization but an umbrella for hundreds of local groups with divergent tendencies and beliefs, it is not easy to identify a single coherent program.  Yet the movement strikes similar themes across America and has been commonly described for its vehement anti-tax and anti-regulatory positions as “populist,” “constitutionalist,” and “libertarian.”  

As we shall see, each of these labels falls short in dramatic ways.  The Tea Party rejects the structural democratic reforms advanced by the Populist movement of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century; it seeks to strip from our Constitution the key progressive amendments that prior generations of Americans added to expand democracy, social justice and equality; it hopes to undermine through legislation, conservative judicial activism and direct repeal important parts of the Fourteenth Amendment and the civil rights legislation enacted under it; and while it uses the language of freedom for all American citizens, the principal “freedom” that the Tea Party actually defends is that of giant corporations to escape public regulation.

The Tea Party movement arose in March 2009 shortly after the American people repudiated eight years of misrule by President George W. Bush, a big-government conservative and close ally of corporate America who came to power through an unprecedented outburst of judicial activism by a politically sympathetic Supreme Court.  The Bush administration charged two multi-trillion dollar wars to the national credit card, while sabotaging our ability to pay the bill by repeatedly reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  Although it inherited a budget surplus from the Clinton era, the Bush administration presided over the worst deficits in American history, systematically undermined the American middle class, and brought the nation a staggering economic collapse based on deregulation and complicity with corporate corruption. 

None of this fiscal recklessness motivated a reaction from the people who are organizing today’s Tea Party.  Nor did they rebel against the notorious civil liberties abuses of the Bush administration. When torture was made public policy and habeas corpus attacked, when Americans were arrested for wearing the wrong tee-shirt or when President Bush asserted the power to arrest and lock up American citizens with no due process of law, we heard nary a peep of protest from the future organizers and funders of the Tea Party.  And yet in 2009, these sudden champions of fiscal restraint and civil liberty designated the newly inaugurated President Obama as an unprecedented threat to American freedom and moved quickly to blame America’s woes on his administration and the all-purpose whipping posts of “big government” and “regulation.” 

The 2010 congressional elections should have been centered, at least in the domestic sphere, on three freshly minted corporate catastrophes made possible by industry regulatory capture and systematic deregulation: the subprime mortgage crisis that caused a multi-trillion dollar collapse on Wall Street and the destruction of millions of peoples’ jobs, incomes, pensions and housing security; the BP oil spill, which wrecked an entire regional ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico and registered as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history; and the collapse of the Massey Coal corporation mines in West Virginia that killed 25 mine workers after the company had been cited dozens of times for unaddressed regulatory violations. 

In the wake of these disasters, the Tea Party skillfully mobilized public anxiety about the direction of American politics but turned it against President Obama’s efforts to deal with the mounting crises of the society.  Tea Party activists drew Hitler mustaches on photographs of the president and decried health care reform, which they called “Obamacare” and described as a totalitarian plot.  They railed against President Obama’s efforts to get BP to set up a $20 billion fund to pay the victims of the British company’s recklessness and unlawful conduct: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a Tea Party hero, denounced Obama’s “redistribution of wealth fund” and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP for being “subjected” to “a 20 billion dollar shakedown” by the president.   And, in the debate over financial reform, the Tea Party joined other conservative Republicans in seeking to give Wall Street a free pass for the appalling predatory actions and crimes that brought our economy to its knees.  Today, many Republicans, flush with Wall Street money, are calling for a severe dilution or outright repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act and have placed a bull’s-eye target on the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the entity charged with protecting the public against fraudulent and deceptive financial practices.

In general, Tea Party figures across America continue to obscure the major problems facing the country, from the destruction of trillions of dollars in home equity in the sub-prime mortgage scam to the dramatic economic inequality caused by runaway corporate power and executive bonuses to the horrific effects of global warming, a scientifically established reality that is now being routinely denied by Tea Party leaders. The movement, aided by Fox News and right-wing radio, helps to create a thick fog of corporate-sponsored propaganda that questions the citizenship and religion of the president and blames his administration for all that ails us.

The Tea Party movement dresses up its agenda in populist, constitutional and libertarian rhetoric but these gestures are almost always in service of a conservative corporate agenda.  Who really stands behind the curtain pulling the levers was made clear in Jane Mayer’s scrupulously documented article in the New Yorker, “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging War Against Obama,” (August 30, 2010). Mayer showed that right-wing oil barons David and Charles Koch--whose vast industrial and energy empire is worth $35 billion--have pumped tens of millions of dollars into funding the Tea Party’s activities, always steering the foot soldiers in a pro-corporate and anti-regulatory direction.  As President Obama’s adviser David Axelrod told Mayer, “this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

Americans who still love the promise of political democracy, the real Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the progress of human liberty and equality should carefully read the fine print, as well as  between the lines, before they drink the tea being served at this party.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

I want to hear from you but any comment that advocates violence, illegal activity or that contains advertisements that do not promote activism or awareness, will be deleted.