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.