A Tea Party is Not a Revolution

I live almost a thousand miles from Massachusetts, but watched the special election for Senate there with interest.  It’s not that I am convinced that the Democrats are better than the GOP.  In fact, I actually believe that there is very little difference in the ultimate product either major party puts out there.  No matter who wins, the result is more war, less money for most of us, and lots more money for the already wealthy.  So, no, I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the two parties.  However, there does seem to be some difference between their backers.  Besides their traditional base among the monied classes, the GOP tends to attract socially reactionary religious fundamentalists and angry  middle class people who are responding to a perceived loss of entitlement.  I say perceived not because many of these folks haven’t lost their previously comfortable life, but because they honestly believed that they were entitled to it, when the fact is that version of the American Dream was never meant to last.  Not to mention that for many of those folks it was built on debt encouraged by Madison Avenue and greedy banks.

At any rate, this voting populace tends to consider themselves the majority in the United States.  I don’t have figures to prove whether or not this is true, but it is probably safe to say that they constitute a majority of those who consistently vote.  Why?  Probably because their vote actually means something to them, having been fundamental in electing a number of right wing politicians over the fast forty years.  So, even if they do not constitute an actual majority, their voting practices have been crucial to the nation’s recent history.
Mainstream pundits write about the anger of the voter.  They point to the over-hyped phenomenon of the Tea-Partiers as proof.  Some left-oriented writers speculate about the possibility of organizing these Tea-Partiers, looking at them as somehow be crucial to the future.  Here in North Carolina, these folks constitute a vocal element of the populace.  They make lots of noise, hold signs with veiled (and not so veiled) references to Barack Obama’s skin tone and carry their guns.  If they represent a potentially leftist upsurge, I’m not seeing it.  What I see, instead, is an angry group of people whose understanding of the political system in the capitalist US fails to see the fundamental fact of that system:  the government works for the corporations.  Plain and simple.  This is a fundamental economic base for fascism.  This fact is underscored by the ever-expanding war budget in the United States and, most recently, by the mutation of the desire for universal health care into a government-enforced insurance system that funnels consumer money into the bank accounts of some of the largest financial institutions in the world — the insurance companies.  Although Tea-Partiers do have it right when they oppose the current health care legislation the fact is they opposed any type of government involvement in health care.  Their solution of completely private insurance is no solution at all.  The fact that these are the two choices presented does makes my point.  The government works for the corporations.  No matter what happens — Obama’s health care bill or the Tea-Partiers’ status quo — the insurance companies win.  Do the voters of Massachusetts honestly believe electing Scott Brown will change the way the system is run?

I am friends with a dozen or so folks who consider themselves part of this movement.  Most of them are retired.  Almost all of them are reasonably well off.  They travel when they want and a couple of them own two homes.  They all worked for what they have and were able to get where they are with that work and a little bit of luck.  However, there are many more US residents who have worked just as hard that have not nearly as much to show for it.  Their interests are not represented by the Tea-Partiers, the GOP or the Democrats. Despite this, it’s hard to convince most people that this is the case.  Almost everyone seems to think that one of these groups represents them.  Even if it’s only the one that places itself opposite the one that doesn’t.

Is the tea-party movement as big as FoxNews would like us to believe?  Is it capable of changing the face of Congress to reflect its anger and scapegoating?  Is it a rising fascist movement?  The answer to the first question seems to be a pretty firm no.  The Tea Party rally held on November 12, 2009 in Washington, DC was originally reported to number between 500,000 and a million.  Re-estimates by a number of partisan and non-partisan sources have reduced that number to 250,000 at most.  While this is a substantial number, it is probably not enough to create any popular groundswell towards right wing populists taking over the Congress.  The question as to whether it represents a rising fascist movement requires a more complex answer.  Certain elements of this movement do share some racial and nativist prejudices with various neo-nazi and other fascist movements.  In fact, these latter groups make no bones about their attempts to attract attendees at these rallies to their organizations.  However, like the fringe groups of the left that appear at antiwar and other protests organized by leftists, their appeal is quite limited.  It seems safe to say that the largest beneficiary of the tea-party movement will be the GOP.  Indeed, according to the Tea Party Patriot website, most Tea-Partiers have decided not to go the third party route, but will work to "revive" the GOP.

Very important is the role of the tea-party’s political, corporate and intellectual sponsors.  FoxNews is foremost among these sponsors.  If the antiwar movement had a media outlet with the reach of FoxNews hyping its cause, all of the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be home by now.

This media source provides what is essentially free advertising for  those politicians and groups going after the angry voter that leans right.  The Tea-Party’s corporate sponsors in the financial and insurance industry also help the Tea-Party organization function.  Sure, there is a grassroots aspect to the movement, but it is the corporate money and FoxNews publicity that has made the movement most of what it is.

Is there a possibility that some of the angry voters who  voted for Republican Scott Brown would consider a progressive third party?  Perhaps.  More likely, however, is that these angry voters  will merely vote for the party not in power, expressing their anger while ensuring more of the same.  This is not so much the fault of the angry voters as it is the failure of the Left to organize a left opposition that does not include the Democrats. The only choice most voters see is Tweedledee and Tweedledum.  So, the revolving door of rule by the wealthy continues. 

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net 



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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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