Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is the Tea Party over?

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to!  I am never going back there again!

- Lewis Caroll
From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

The 2012 U.S. presidential race has ended, but is the Tea Party over?  The ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party is in control of the party and the hapless Mitt Romney was forced to do its bidding during the campaign.  That's why Romney chose libertarian Paul Ryan as his running mate and it' a major reason why he lost the election.  The Tea Party's reign of error has been disastrous for the Grand Old Party.

If the Partiers' views were not so dangerous, this large but misguided movement would be downright laughable.  Its members just don't realize how out of touch they are with the changing demographics of the United States.  They are not in sync with America's women, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, lower income families and young people.  They cannot comprehend why President Obama was re-elected.  They just don't get it.  They are living in some sort of time warp.  They're not in the 21st century.

Let's explore the roots of the American Tea Party movement, its background and its fundamental beliefs.  First and foremost, the Tea Party is virulently anti-government.  It stands for the reduction of the U.S. national debt and deficit.  It is anti-tax,.anti-immigrant and extremely jingoistic.  Tea Party members regard themselves as great patriots and defenders of the Constitution.  Their attitude is "my county right or wrong."  They regard anyone who criticizes or questions American policy or American military action as unpatriotic, a "lleft-wing pinko."

Although there were Tax Day protests throughout the United States during the 1990s,  grass-roots anti-government protests occurred even earlier when conservative activists began mailing tea bags to legislatures and government officials as a symbol of resistance. Since 2009,  the Tea Party has supported candidates and sponsored demonstrations.

The movement's Boston Tea Party theme, however, is based on a false premise and is, therefore, quite spurious.  Here's why.  On December 16, 1773, when  the Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots, demonstrated against the tax policies the Tea Act which had been passed by the British Parliament, they were expressing their opposition  to the tax policy of the British government and the East India Company - not to taxation itself.  That's the reason why, when officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, several colonists jumped aboard the ships and threw the tea into Boston Harbor.

Although the Boston Tea Party has long been affiliated with anti-tax protests, this grand historical event was not a protest against taxation per se.  It was a protest against taxation without representation.  American colonists opposed the Tea Act because they believed that it infringed on their right to be taxed solely by their own representatives and not by the faraway British Parliament where they were not represented.  Republican stalwart, Newt Gingrich, who embraces the Tea Party's central tenet of cutting federal spending, ought to set them straight on this matter. Gingrich taught history at the University of West Georgia and he is quite aware of the facts.

As soon as  Barack Obama became president, the Tea Party began a relentless campaign to obstruct his actions and to prevent him from winning a second term in office.  On September 12, 2009, Tea Party protesters held a massive Taxpayer March on Washington.  Thousands of extreme conservatives converged on the Capital to express their opposition to President Obama's health care reform and what they perceived as excessive government spending.  They carried signs depicting Obama as Adolf Hitler and The Joker.  They chanted slogans such as "No big government" and "Obamacare" makes me sick."  It was a demonstration fuelled by fear, frustration and pure hatred.  The comparison between Hitler and Obama was particularly odious.

The Tea Party loathes Barack Obama.  Its adherents consider him to be the devil incarnate or at least come kind of radical socialist.  To them, he is a veritable Fidel Castro and a certifiable threat to their freedoms.  They should really take a deep breath and speak to some Canadians because if Obama were a Canadian politician he would be considered somewhat in the centre of the political spectrum, and definitely not a socialist.

If this were another era, Tea Party members would make blatant references to Obama's race. Now they must use code words instead.  They endeavour to characterize Obama as an outsider and not a "real American."  They question whether he was born in the United States and paint him as a foreigner because his father was a Muslim from Kenya.  They take great delight in emphasizing that his middle name is "Hussein."

It is probably more accurate to say that the Tea Party is more of a Mad Hatter's tea party than a Boston Tea Party.  Yet the movement and its impact cannot be summarily dismissed.  Many Americans still subscribe to the basic Tea Party creed that government is the problem and that taxation is bad, even taxation for the most affluent Americans.  This view is patently wrong.  Someone has to pay the piper.  Why should more hardship fall on those who can least afford it?  Why should the poor and  the middle class have to bear all the burden of cutbacks?

Severe austerity measures, especially during economic downturns, only serve to strangle an economy. Employers will not hire if they don't feel confident that people will buy their products or if they think the survival of their company is in jeopardy.  This is the time government must step in to save the economy as Obama did with his stimulus plan and Franklin Roosevelt did with his New Deal.

The Tea Party wears blinders.  It thinks Romney lost the election because he was not conservative enough.  It still believes in the discredited "trickle-down" theory that if taxes on the wealthy are reduced, jobs will immediately follow suit.  Perhaps this can happen in good times, but certainly not in bad times.  In bad times, jobs, not the deficit, must be the priority.  Sometimes government is needed.  Ask the people who suffered great losses in the Hurricane Stanley disaster if FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is not necessary.

Europe is in such an economic mess because the economies of countries such as Britain and Spain have been suffocated by austerity measures.  The continent will not extricate itself from this economic mess until it adopts a new course of action.  Unemployed people do not spend a great deal of money and they do not fill government coffers.  Yet conservatives continually warn that if deficits are not reduced, the fate of Greece awaits. They call for even stronger cuts in jobs and social programs that will cause severe hardships and further weaken economies.  This is truly the madness of the Hatter's tea party.

There is no doubt that The Tea Party is experiencing a downturn in its popularity.  In a recent Gallup Poll, only 28% of Americans held favourable views of the movement.whose popularity peaked in the spring of 2010.  So, is the Tea Party over?  Not yet, but if the Republicans hope to win the White House in 2016, the it will have to end sooner rather than later.  Thankfully, it appears that many Americans have come to realize that, like Alice in Wonderland, they've just been to "the silliest tea party" they ever went to and they "never want to go back there again!"

- Joanne