The Tea Party phenomenon
The recent mid-term elections in the USA were a predictable setback for the Obama administration, but what has been the most significant aspect has been the rise of the Tea Party. This supposedly grass-roots organisation has been ridiculed by the Left and a number of its leading lights lampooned as clowns, but it deserves to be taken more seriously. I know we are in a completely different historical context, but its rise, not disimilar to that of its less dangerous UKIP counterpart here, has resonances with the rise of Hitler ad the fascists in Germany.
Hitler and his nutters were also seen as extremist outsiders to begin with, but with a deepening economic crisis and a bankrupt political system, the ruling elite soon tunred to the nazis as saviours.
Today we are in a similar situation. The world capitalist economy is in total disarray and the future highly uncertain. The general public has lost faith in traditional parties. However, rather than directing their ire at the capitalist system itself, the business-owned media has cleverly manipulated opinion and diverted blame to individuals and governments. So we blame Brown or Obama and ‘big government’. This lets the real cuplrits – the banks and multi-national conglomerates – off the hook.
In the USA, Fox News’s extremist anchor man, Glenn Beck recently made the same comparison, saying that the current situation is similar that of the Weimar Republic in Germany. He said he had spoken with his ‘deep throat’ in the White House and this guy told him: "Glenn, everybody I know is reading about the Weimar Republic.” He said, “the money that is being pumped in is staggering and I don't know how we'll ever pull that money back." He added, “we're all reading the Weimar Republic”.
Mark Fisher in his must-read book, 'Capitalist Realism – is there no alterntive?' explains very clearly how the ruling class has been able to shift blame from the capitalist system onto government. How it is also manipulting the war on terror and whipping up fear of outside terrorists to divert attention from the real economic terrorositrs who threaten our planet.
The Tea Party movement is known as the tea party because members compare themselves to American colonists who revolted in a tax dispute with Britain in 1773 and emptied barrels of tea from British ships into Boston Harbour rather than pay taxes on it. This is a very populist image, harking back to US founding history.
But the modern Tea Party is far removed from the popular, grass-roots uprising that it is portrayed by the media. It is a movement motivated by hate, fear and prejudice. Its racist and vitriolic hatred of a black president also underpins those feelings.
How has this ‘grass-roots’ movement grown so quickly and how is it financed? The money to support Tea party candidates, Jane Mayer (New Yorker magazine) and others report, comes through such conservative organizations as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks is a conservative group led by former House Republican leader Richard Armey. Armey’s group has its own influential network, and has supported Tea Party candidates. FreedomWorks is is a top down organization, based in Washington – hardly grass roots.
The Christian Science Monitor says: ‘The tea party movement may have all the appearance of being genuinely grassroots, but just beneath the surface are professional fund-raisers, foundations, and political action committees – some of which have been around for years – pushing a conservative-libertarian agenda.’
In the recent investigative report in the New Yorker magazine, quoted above, Jane Mayer details the links between billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and the tea party movement. She writes:
"By giving money to 'educate,' fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, 'The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who [care] about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.' With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, 'everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there – people who can provide real ideological power.' The Kochs, he said, are 'trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.'"
Another major source of tea party funding is the Tea Party Express, which poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the successful GOP primary senate campaigns of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska. The Tea Party Express is a group formed by a long-time California Republican consultant that has raised more than $5 million and financed about $2 million in advertising to help candidates. The organization is an offshoot of a political action committee created to support John McCain’s Republican presidential run in 2008. The Tea Party Express is run by Sal Russo, a Republican fund raiser and public relations guru who began his career working for Reagan. Russo is also the chief strategist for “Our Country Deserves Better,” a political action committee (PAC) formed to defeat Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
“As a pivotal player in the ‘tea party’ movement, Russo has helped drive its cause by raising millions of dollars and crafting caustic ads about its opponents,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “There's no question that Tea Party Express, the political action committee Russo runs out of his Sacramento-based firm, is the advertising muscle behind the tea party insurgency.... As the only tea party group making significant advertising buys, Tea Party Express has become one of the most potent forces in the protest movement.”
Our Country Deserves Better, another right-wing organisation backing the Tea Party, launched the first Tea Party Express bus tour last year, and raised and spent just over $1 million in the 2008 campaign year. So far in 2010, it’s raised and spent more than $5 million. Large chunks of that went to the GOP primary campaigns of tea party favorites Christine O’Donnell ($237,000) and Joe Miller (nearly $600,000).
So much political funding in the US comes from anonymous donors or is channelled through innocuous-sounding organisations. The problem for those trying to ferret out where the money comes from – and for Obama and Democrats as they seek to toughen campaign finance reporting in the wake of the Citizens United court decision – is that it’s getting harder to do so.
“Federal campaign spending by groups other than candidates and parties in this election cycle has far outpaced similar spending from the last mid-term election and could rival the 2008 presidential campaign,” the New York Times reports. “But with recent decisions by the Supreme Court and the Federal Elections Commission, it has become harder to know whose dollars they are.”
The reason the Tea Party has been even more successful in the USA than UKIP here is that the economic crisis is much deeper in the USA and the election of a progressive black president has put frighteners on the business elite and red-neck sections of the population. This elite has found it quite easy to tap into the fears and prejudices of ordinary Americans, particularly the disaffected, poor working class and small business people. The parallels with pre-Hitler Germany are alarming.