Starting in February 2009, a very small group of people held "tea parties" across the U.S. in a supposed attempt to protest the policies of Barack Obama. I strongly oppose these "parties" for all the many reasons listed below.
My issues with the tea parties fall into several main areas:
1. Their ideology is wrong.
2. They make little political sense.
3. Their methods are wrong.
4. Those behind the movement do not support good public policies.
5. Their priorities are wrong.
6. The teaparties and immigration.
7. The teaparties and race.
8. The teaparties and George W. Bush.
Those are to a certain degree independent; someone can agree with me regarding one or more and disagree with me on the others.
In addition to those:
9. How the subset of smart, non-Randroid tea partiers can achieve their goals.
10. What the Democrats could do about them.
11. Should the Democrats support the tea parties?
While not all tea partiers support "objectivism" - the Ayn Rand philosophy - many do, including leaders of the movement such as Glenn Reynolds. Objectivism is even fringe within the libertarian movement, with the ultimate stage being to "go Galt", i.e., to take their marbles and go home by completely withdrawing from U.S. society. Here's an example of just how fringe objectivists are. Other leaders of the movement are simply libertarians, which in itself is a fringe movement. The parties can be seen as an attempt to mainstream libertarianism or at least extreme fiscal conservatism.
Whatever the underlying ideology, the events are not coming from peoples' better nature. Rather, they're coming from peoples' "lizard brains": the low-level functions involving territorial claims and the like. Instead of promoting good public policy, most of those attending are simply selfish people who want to pay as little tax as possible not due to any intellectual reason - such as limiting government intrusion - but simply because they're cheap. Their fringe ideology isn't even the defensible fringe but is instead focused only on completely self-centered and completely selfish financial matters. They have no interest in what's good for the U.S. as a whole but instead are only concentrating on their own self interest.
The tea party turnout on April 15th, 2009 represented about 0.1% to 0.2% of the U.S. population, despite wall-to-wall promotion on Fox News. That number is nearly insignificant and won't worry any national politician unless they're already very vulnerable. On the local level, their parties in deep blue districts have drawn similar amounts, and all those small rallies do is reassure the Democratic representative from that district just how weak their opposition is. Examples of that here, here, and here.
Actual tea partiers mock and throw dollar bills at a victim of Parkinson's disease. They aren't infiltrators, and they aren't just a few bad apples. This is a raw display of the anti-American, un-American, borderline-sociopathic ideology that the tea parties share with libertarians.
Further, their ideology is fringe enough that they will never attract a significant number of followers. While most Americans oppose profligate spending, the tea parties go well beyond that. Given that the great majority of Republicans support Social Security and similar programs, those who oppose or want to reduce such programs are never going to find widespread support. Rather than concentrating on a salient issue that - handled correctly - could find widespread support (such as opposition to illegal immigration), the tea partiers stand in opposition to the wishes of most Americans.
It's also useful to look at what the opposition has done. As of the end of March 2009, the mainstream media had largely ignored their movement and, most notably, had not done any hit pieces on them. That strongly indicated that those in a position of power weren't worried about their movement. Then, shortly after Fox News began promoting their April 15, 2009 events, some hit pieces did appear. However, as of July 3, 2009 - just one day before their next round of events on July 4th - they're once again off the mainstream media's radar. As of July 3rd, 2009, Google Trends showed a spike of interest in mid-April, but interest remaining at a low level since then. Obama baited the partiers at the end of April, 2009, but he hasn't said a thing about them since.
There were very few Tea Party events on or about July 4, 2010 and nothing even came close to the preceding year's events.
An earlier version of this page stated that "In political terms, they aren't a concern to any politician because they just don't have the numbers or the innate power." Obviously, the first part of that has proved to be in error. Towards the latter half of 2010, the teapartiers did become a national force and were able to complete a "hostile takeover" of the GOP (link), at least in part. Republican politicians now must take them into account, with many pandering or paying lip service to their concerns even if those concerns have nothing to do with good governance.
Note that as of September 2011, even half of Republicans aren't Teaparty supporters (link). That poll matches several other polls which show that support for the Tea Party has held steady for several months, even as their unfavorables have risen. After holding the U.S. hostage over the debt limit in August 2011, a Rasmussen poll had just 55% saying that the Tea Party were not economic terrorists. Needless to say, it's not a good sign at all to have just 55% of Americans saying you aren't economic terrorists.
In any case, it's bad politics for relatively rich people to be complaining about taxation when millions of Americans are out of work. Some of the rallies have featured signs saying, "Don't spread my wealth..spread my work ethic", in effect calling millions of job seekers lazy welfare cheats. That's not just incredibly bad politics, it's not the American way.
Their methods - standing on street corners waving loopy signs, swarming politicians, shouting down their opponents, throwing tantrums, and on and on - are like something the Kindergarten version of ACORN would do. In several cases, they've engaged in intimidating politicians. While the shooter of Gabrielle Giffords doesn't appear to have had a specific political ideology, tea party tactics might have influenced Jared Loughner. Other teaparty tactics have included bringing guns to political meetings, waving "We came unarmed [this time]" signs, and threatening "Second Amendment remedies" if they don't get their way.
Like Ron Paul supporters, the teapartiers think that cheap stunts, playing dress-up games, and the like will carry the day. Their members are unable and unwilling to engage their opponents in any form of debate, preferring instead to shout demands and slogans. And, they aren't able to figure out that the best way to defeat their opponents is to try to show how they think that their opponents' arguments are faulty. They also can't figure out the difference between their ideology and their methods; they've closely linked their ideology to street protests and the like; they refuse to attempt to promote their ideology using civil, pro-American, and more effective methods.
They also had no plan to deal with mainstream media bias, and some of them have a persecution complex causing them to whine about events that were canceled due more to their own incompetence than to actions by their opponents.
In some cases, the partiers and I share a common opponent, from low-level hacks like Dave Weigel to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The partiers are absolutely worthless when it comes to opposing people such as those; most will probably have never even heard of most of their opponents much less have a plan to counter-act them. It would help them to help me discredit groups like the SPLC, but the teapartiers are incapable of that.
As a follow-up to the video above, Teapartiers shout "yeah!" to just letting the uninsured die.
The movement wouldn't be anywhere today without support from inside the Beltway, specifically from groups like FreedomWorks, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, and groups linked to the Koch family (the "Kochtopus"). All of those support massive immigration. Not only does massive immigration lead to more spending, it also gives more power to the far-left. In other words, what those behind the movement support leads to the opposite of that which their followers want.
Spending a trillion here and a trillion here is definitely going to have a delitirious impact on the U.S. However, that impact won't be permanent and is reversible. Meanwhile, the leaders of the tea parties and the vast majority of their followers are ignoring issues that aren't reversible or that will have serious long-term impacts. For instance, if Sonia Sotomayor is approved she'll have an impact on U.S. policies for decades to come. The tea partiers have no plan to block her; none that I've seen have even raised that issue. Likewise with massive immigration. By largely ignoring those issues, they're helping Obama.
In fact, considering all of the many factors outlined above, the Obama administration themselves might have had to create the tea party movement if others hadn't done it for them. The tea parties give Obama what every leader wants: a small and incompetent opposition.
The teapartiers have largely ignored the immigration issue. For instance, the Teaparty Patriots admit immigration "isn't an issue for us". That's despite the following:
* Immigration is more vital and more fundamental than spending. Higher spending might to a slight degree lead to more immigration, but higher immigration inevitably leads to more spending. Higher immigration - especially of the illegal kind - leads to more spending on schools, roads, prisons, social welfare programs, and on and on.
* Higher immigration increases the political power of the Democratic Party and the free-spending far-left. At the same time, it reduces the political power of the teapartiers. There's a reason why the Democratic Party supports massive/illegal immigration, and it isn't because they're "compassionate".
* Massive immigration has a negative impact on low-wage American workers, many of whom aren't being adequately served by either the GOP or the Democrats. Many of them might appreciate an alternative to the GOP and the Democrats, but the teapartiers have little to offer them. (Those few lower-wage American workers who are in the teaparties are, to be frank, being duped.)
* Immigration is the area where the Beltway is most vulnerable. Democrats, Republicans, pundits, reporters, religious leaders, business leaders, practically the entire political establishment consistently lie and mislead about immigration (see the immigration talking points page). Those establishment leaders are allowed to make false or misleading statements without being challenged by reporters. The same is not true of economic issues. Many Beltway leaders could be discredited in varying degrees if enough people exposed their lies about immigration and challenged them on their misleading statements.
* Illegal immigration is only slightly less popular than the teapartiers' fringe economic policies. Most Americans oppose illegal immigration and at the same time most Americans oppose cuts to entitlement programs (the ones the teapartiers call "socialist").
To summarize: the teapartiers have abandoned a popular issue (opposing illegal immigration) to concentrate on pushing unpopular issues (such as cutting entitlement programs). Immigration is more vital and more fundamental than spending, immigration reduces the teapartiers' power while increasing spending, and immigration is where the supposed opponents of the teaparty are weakest.
So, why haven't the teapartiers stressed immigration? Why instead did they choose to stress unpopular, fringe economic ideas while largely ignoring an issue that increases spending and reducing their power?
The answer to that question has been obvious to me since late February 2009: because they're a bogus group that's following leaders who are very bad on immigration.
Dick Armey of Freedomworks supports illegal immigration. The Koch family supports various libertarian outlets that support at the least massive immigration and at the most literally open borders (Reason Magazine). Teaparty leader Grover Norquist even promoted comprehensive immigration reform (aka amnesty) sitting right next to leaders of the ACLU, NCLR, and other far-left groups.
The other leaders of the teaparties are "free market"/"Profits at any Price" types, the ones who at the least support massive immigration and in some cases illegal immigration.
Now, that doesn't mean that the teaparty base is bad on this issue; polls show otherwise. Instead, they're allowing themselves to be led around by those who would actually increase spending at the same time as reducing the political power of the teaparties. And, some lower-level leaders might not want to touch the immigration issue because they can't figure out the best way to handle it. There's no excuse for that, but at least it's not as bad as those like Armey. Some teaparty groups might be OK on this issue, but they're very quiet about it.
None of the above speaks highly of the teapartiers' intelligence. Why would anyone who opposes high spending support a movement whose leaders' policies would increase spending at the same time as reducing their power?
Since they started, the teapartiers have been smeared by their opponents as a racist group. That indicates a flaw in the thinking (such as it is) of their opponents: the teapartiers are not at all like racial power groups. Instead, the teapartiers are all about the money and the long green: the teaparty base are useful idiots for those whose goal isn't to help the U.S. but simply to help themselves.
Certainly, race might have something to do with some people who are members of the teaparties, but that is not in any way their defining characteristic. Those Democratic and far-left representatives who've played the race card have shown just how anti-American and intellectually bereft they are, substituting ad hominem claims that, while somewhat effective, are false and are highly corrosive to the U.S.
At the same time, the teapartiers' response has been just what you'd expect: completely devoid of any intellectual ability whatsoever.
Instead of repelling race-based attacks, the teapartiers have simply made them worse such as by repeating the smears. The teapartiers and their leaders simply do not have the intellectual capability to do things like discredit their opponents; they're incapable of intellectually engaging those opponents and showing how they're wrong.
And, instead of presenting a non-Gramscian alternative to the far-left, the teapartiers have engaged in far-left activities in response, such as stressing how "diverse" they are and engaging in tokenism. Both of those are far-left concepts, yet the teapartiers have engaged in them. The reason is clear: they're all about the money; they have no real basis in opposing the far-left and they have no real non-financial principles.
Who could expect otherwise? The teapartiers have no interest in opposing the far-left on the "divisive social issues" that they've explicitly avoided since they started. Should it surprise anyone that the teapartiers would be completely inept when faced with attacks on issues that they've explicitly decided to ignore?
If you oppose the far-left on cultural issues, the teapartiers are not on your side. Their only interest is financial; if they could make money off something who knows what they'd support.
I've posted thousands upon thousands of entries and comments about politics since 2002, and on the rightwing side of things opposing George W Bush was very rare until about 2007. Yes, many of the numerically-small libertarians opposed him, and the Democrats, liberals, and far-left definitely opposed him. Yet, on the non-libertarian right it was very rare to find general opposition to Bush and fairly rare to find localized opposition to him.
So, the question becomes, where were the teapartiers during that time? Were they in suspended animation, in space, held in FEMA camps?
No, the teapartiers were around then. They were certainly able to conduct protests against GWB just as they do now against Obama. They were able to go to GWB's events and throw tantrums just as they do against Democrats now. They weren't shut off from the internet; they could have set up anti-GWB websites just as they do now about Obama.
Yet, instead of opposing GWB, they either supported or ignored him. Certainly, some of them might have opposed some specific Bush proposals such as amnesty (and, future teapartiers or not, that opposition was successful). And, even some of their leaders warned about Bush's free-spending habits. But, at the end of the day, they fell into line.
The teapartiers ignored or supported Bush as he allowed five million new illegal aliens to remain in the U.S.
The teapartiers ignored or supported Bush as he promoted one of the most anti-American and un-American plans I've ever heard a U.S. leader propose, a plan that would have driven U.S. wages down towards world levels.
The teapartiers ignored or supported Bush as he and the Democrats pushed an anti- and un-American plan to move U.S. citizens out of New Orleans and move in illegal aliens to take the jobs they could and should have done.
The teapartiers ignored or supported Bush as he made a pledge to support amnesty to the Mexican government.
And, the teapartiers ignored or supported Bush as he lied us into a war that's cost thousands of lives and somewhere between one and three trillion dollars.
Now, those same self-styled patriots have suddenly found their voices and are throwing tantrums at public meetings. Where were they before?
The above isn't just a gotcha moment or an attempt to call them hypocrites. It's to point out that the supposed patriots in the tea party movement have little or no credibility. They had eight long years to oppose a sleazy globalist who increased our debt, allowed even more illegal immigration, and who tried to stab Americans in the back every chance he got.
Yet, the self-styled "patriots" who now make up the teaparty said little or nothing.
The much smarter, much more effective technique that the partiers could use would be to ask tough questions of politicians at their public appearances, get it on video, and upload it to video sharing sites. Please note that my idea of what is a tough question probably differs from many; rants, tantrums, and open-ended questions aren't "tough". I'm talking about the types of questions that a lawyer would ask of someone they were trying to show to be untrustworthy, the types of questions that could have an impact on a politician's career by showing that they're a liar or they can't think through the impacts of their policies. See the question authority page for a detailed description and a basic action plan.
Discrediting one national politician on video will have more of an impact than a thousand "tea parties". My repeated attempts to make that point to them have mostly fallen on deaf ears; like Obama cultists they reflexively dismiss anyone who opposes what they're doing in any way. For an unknown reason, the tea partiers glommed onto worthless street protests rather than trying to come up with better, smarter tactics.
The response from liberals/Democrats has been predictable and boils down to just calling names, whether "teabagger" (Rachel Maddow example: peekURL.com/v22exsh ) or "racists" (see Janeane Garofalo). I have yet to see a liberal/Democrat actually try to present even a mostly valid argument against their fringe ideology. If the Democrats weren't what they are, they could point out that even as we have two wars going on and millions of Americans are unemployed and suffering through a recession, the tea partiers are whining about the relatively small amount of taxes they pay. They could mostly correctly portray the partiers as anti-American, selfish, small-minded people who have little interest in the welfare of their fellow citizens and in good government. Instead of trying to catch partiers in gaffes, they could challenge them for actual solutions (which could then be shown to be faulty). Of course, that would require the Democrats to be something quite different from what they currently are.
Yes. The partiers are to a small extent splitting the GOP and demanding purity rather than trying to expand the GOP base. Their ideas just aren't that popular and never will be. It makes political sense for the Democrats to ignore or covertly support the tea parties because they're in effect serving the interests of the Democrats. That doesn't, of course, mean that would be the right thing to do.