Monday, April 19, 2010

Thoughts on the Tea Party

I was asked by our weekly paper to give some thoughts on the Tea Party movement. Here is what I came up with:

The Tea Party movement combines ignorance, anger, and justifiable indignation. For some, this ignorance reflects a degree of racism and ethnic hostility.

The anger has been nurtured by the demise of journalism along with a cynically crafted rhetoric of hate. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was a master of this mode of communication. In 1990, four years before Gingrich ascended to his leadership position, his organization, GOPAC circulated a memo instructing Republicans about the most effective method of communication in the political arena. The memo recommended that his fellow travelers adopt a vocabulary built upon confrontational words, such as "decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, and bizarre." Without a responsible media, this strategy went largely unchallenged until it became common practice.

The Tea Party, crafted by Republican interests, cleverly managed to whip the resulting anger into an Astroturf movement. At the same time, the Tea Party anger made sense, although it was misdirected. As I tried to show in the Confiscation of American Prosperity, since 1970 the United States has undergone a more massive transfer of wealth than either the Chinese or Soviet Revolutions. Damn right, people should be angry -- but not at the poor immigrants or racial and ethnic minorities, who are made out to be causing all the trouble.

One of the big complaints of the Tea Party is taxes. Their complaints are partially justified. The partiers are largely middle-class. Poverty precludes the very poor from paying much in taxes, while influence allows the very rich to avoid paying their share. The burden of taxes largely falls on the middle class.

In addition, people are alienated. They know that they have virtually no say in the way the system works. They are absolutely right to call for a more democratic way of governing. Ironically, of course, the same forces that are behind the conditions that generate this anger are manipulating the Tea Party to serve their own ends.

11 comments: said...


I disagree about the poor avoiding paying taxes. This is another of those false memes the tea partiers and Fox News flunkies have been pushing. Yes, it is true that 47% of Americans pay federal income taxes, with a lot of speakers on "Tax Day" at Tea Parties spouting this stat but leaving out the crucial "federal income."

So, for 75-80% of the population the biggest tax they pay is the paryroll fica, deducted up front so that only the self-employed realize it is there when doing their 1040s. No exemptions for being poor. And the largest source of revenues for state governments in aggregate are sales taxes, also regressive, if not as much so as the extremely regressive fica.

So, Mankiw is right that overall the tax system is mildly progressive, but only mildly, with most poor people paying both fica (at least those who are at least somewhat employed) and pretty much all of them paying sales taxes in the 40+ states that have them (although some states exempt certain necessity items such as food or medicines).

r l love said...

In the interest of not leaving rather obvious "strategy" to go "unchallenged", perhaps it is wise to take a closer look at some of these "confrontational" words:

"The memo recommended that his [Gingrich's] fellow travelers adopt a vocabulary built upon confrontational words, such as "decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, and bizarre."

Those are in fact some problematic words. But what makes the words that follow any less confrontational?

'The Tea Party movement combines 'ignorance', 'anger', and justifiable indignation. For some, this 'ignorance' reflects a degree of 'racism' and 'ethnic hostility'."

From one side we get the words:"decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, and bizarre",

From the other side we get the words:"ignorance (twice), anger, racism, and ethnic hostility".

So I suppose one might argue that in numerical terms the words circulated by Gingrich's GOPAC are the most egregious offenders. But of course only two sentences sentences were taken from the accusatory post. There is also this: "The 'anger' has been nurtured by the demise of journalism along with a 'cynically crafted' rhetoric of 'hate'." And, "Astroturf Movement", gets thrown in along the way at some later point. So, the post has not only the largest number of insulting terms, but those of the most offensive, or "confrontational" nature. Then... just when the hypocrisy seems it can get no worse, there is this:
"Without a responsible media, this strategy went largely unchallenged until it became common practice."

Consider the 'strategy'-- 'challenged'.

Ray L. Love

TheTrucker said...

I suppose that in the interest of civility, michael perelman has attempted to condone or excuse the abject stupidity inherent in the Tea Party movement. The promotion of conservative idiotology has always been based on sewing distrust and fear among the people for any form of social compact extending beyond the local community. And supremely stupid people seem to fall for this colloquial lollipop over and over again. The redefinition of "socialism" by the rightarded to include the basic concept of insurance is probably the backbone of this subterfuge, For any insurance system is, by Republican definition, "socialism". Consider that you pay your premiums and hope you never get your money back. Consider that your protection from loss is dependent upon the contribution of others at all times.

The Tea Party is a marvelous example of rampant stupidity. It takes much more than ignorance to demand that the government keep its hands off of your Medicare. Hate and fear is the true backbone of the conservative "movement". When you remove the abject stupidity that is all you have left. These morons are correct. They are quite fortunately, not well represented in the current government. Let us work to make sure that it stays that way.

michael perelman said...

Barkeley, Of course, the 47% figure is nonsense. I should have said the very poor pay relatively little in taxes relative to a middle class person, who gets hit with an AMT.

TheTrucker said...

I take a different view of taxation and want to see what the payers are getting for the money spent. In that endeavor I want to drive a wedge between social insurance premiums and taxes. I do not see FICA as a tax but as an insurance premium. I see Medicare the same way. These are not programs where government spends the money on defense and law enforcement and investments in education and infrastructure. They are pure insurance systems and should be viewed in that way. The money paid in income taxes is a very different kettle of fish and the primary beneficiaries of that system are the wealthy who must have all the property rights enforcements lest they have no income. That they, as a class, pay all the bills other than social insurance seems quit appropriate to me. The only "middle of the road" expense is education.

Anonymous said...

There is certainly an adequate measure of language distortion dispersed between the posting and the commentary. As a happenstance reader who jumped here from another blog (to which I had jumped from yet another blog maintained by an MIT-grad I often keep touch with), and never having been here before, permit to suggest that when insinuating or outright naming a group with the word 'idiots' or another pejorative of labeling "finesse," one ought to be careful with one's own language on at least two levels -- the first being the 'received thought' pigeonholing practice of labeling, and the second being to know the language well enough to be able to identify even the inadvertent misspelling of the word 'sewing' when one means "to sow," as in grain crops by 'sowing.' This is picayune, I do know, but it is meant to be revealing: even the expression "FOX News" drifting so liquidly off the tongues of prejudiced persons who deal in the broad expanses of a narrowing mind is mere code for "...and We KNOW ALL ABOUT them, don't We!" Slurs are not confined to one side of the street anymore than any one partisan grouping (e.g., Republican/Democrat) holds the market of ideas in the political or economic or social square. [Just call me Doc.]

Anonymous said...

I think Pereleman has it about right. Calling those who are proud of their ignorance "idiots" is not at all unkind, and this is nothing compared to the republicans v. federalists in 1800, the south v. the north in 1857, labor v. capital in 1896, or the rematch in 1936. The question is there something about these times that justifies all this vitriol? There just might be. We might be at one of those tipping points.

And that would not be such a bad thing.


Jessica6 said...

I find the Tea Party is one prong of a two-pronged approache by the Republicans towards destabilizing the Democrats rather than rebuiling their own party.
The 'real' Republicans in Washington are undermining reform at every step and crying either 'bailout' or 'socialism' while pocketing an increasing share of Wall St. lobbying actions while the Tea Party side destabilizes the Democrats by turning (justifiable) anger towards the Elite against the Democrats, casting them as their biggest defenders.
Unfortunately, the Democrats need to do more to counter-act that (somewhat justified) belief but of course, whenever they do they are lobbed with any attempt at regulation, etc being 'politcally motivated'.

TheTrucker said...

I find the "politically motivated" thing to be rather silly. If the majority of the people, having understood the roller coaster ride of non-regulation would like more regulation, then what is wrong with that as a "political motivation". We've ended up with more houses than we can afford and dependent on imports because we didn't build domestic factories instead.

That, and a lot of debt to owed to those who control the real estate is what de-regulation and free trade has brought us. As far as my misspelling of "sewing", you'll just have to "muddle through".

The Republican party is, in fact, being rebuilt. The Republican party will simply be coming out of the closet as the fascists they always were. In their neocon Nirvana, the rich who control the propaganda will own the military and rule the world. "If you don't gimme yer oil for these dollars, we'll just put someone in charge that will." We'll tell the bohunks that you have WMD and are in league with the BOOGERMAN. Republicanism 101.

Jack said...

No dispute from me on your basic points. However, in the interest of more precise terminology it should be either boogieman, bogeyman or boogyman. Boogerman ia a whole other distinction. Otherwise you're giving away your regional dialect. Or, is that a form of dialectic?

Min said...

The Trucker: "For any insurance system is, by Republican definition, "socialism".

Damn straight it is. The so-called insurer simply pools risk among its customers. They collectively underwrite each other. The insurer collects and dispenses money, taking its cut off the top. (It also invests the money, which can be disastrous for its customers when it loses money in the process.) Lately, insurers have been in a tug of war with customers over payouts, instead of providing the best service that they can.

Everything that an insurer should do, government does as well or better. It collects and dispenses money very well. In addition, since it has no profit motive, it does not compete with the insured. So, hell, yes, insurance is socialist, and should therefore be entrusted to the government. :)