Oct/Nov 2010  •   Salon

Why I'm Fed (No Pun Intended) up with Tea Partiers

by Tom Dooley

Be not deceived, bad company corrupts good morals. —Proverbs 4:14-15 NIV

Let me say up front: I'm an unapologetic liberal. Classical liberalism is my political bias. As such, I believe government plays a crucial role in maintaining the overall habitability of this planet for human beings—environmentally, economically, and socially speaking.

Also as such, I adhere to the rational principles set forth by our Founding Fathers—things like separation of church and state, freedom of speech and the press, stuff like that. Principles the Founding Fathers saw fit to include in the Constitution.

(Principles they borrowed from French thinkers like Montesquieu and Rosseau, for all you Frog-hating Tea-Baggers out there who think the Statue of Liberty was given to us by "foreign leaders" so we will remember to stay away from socialism, as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck recently told a crowd of supporters in Alaska.)

I am not, however, a Democrat, nor am I paid shill writing on behalf of some liberal think tank. In fact, I'm an employee of the Department of Defense who edits a free online litmag in his spare time. I believe in responsible, regulated gun ownership, just as I believe in responsible, regulated free-market capitalism. I get teary-eyed when the Star Spangled Banner plays, but I hold no illusions about the things my country has done in the name of liberty over the past 200 years. I am a white male who just turned 40, and I am registered as an Independent voter. The sum of all these things is that, while I might sympathize with some of the reasons so-called Tea Partiers give for their activism over the past year, I nonetheless hold their movement as a general whole in contempt.

I've been wanting to express my aggravation with the Tea Party for months, but I couldn't figure out what I could say without repeating what plenty of other people, better informed and more eloquent than I am, have already said on the subject. I also couldn't figure out how to get around the "If you don't have anything nice to say..." maxim. In the end, it came down to a morbidly obese white man eating pizza at Costco, talking to a younger woman whom I assume was his daughter. After about ten minutes of listening to their conversation, I decided I don't really care if it's been said before, and whether it's nice or not. I feel the need to call a spade a spade, or in this case, a bunch of idiots a bunch of idiots.

The girl started things off with the statement, "I'm just glad I grew up when I did and was raised right."

"Here we go," I thought. I had just sat down to eat my own slice of Costco pizza at the last remaining open table, and for the next five minutes or so, I was going to be a captive audience.

Sure enough, the gentleman proceeded to steer the conversation through all the things Obama (pronounced with as much open disdain as he could muster) has been doing to destroy the country. Turns out, it's not only Obama's fault the economy is in the crapper, illegal aliens are overruning the border, and the gulf oil spill has created such a mess—it was the President's plan all along!

All of which got me thinking about Tea Partiers. See, I don't know whether this individual was actually involved in any sort of Tea Party organization. I can't even guarantee that if asked, he would claim to be supportive of the Tea Party movement. And I will certainly grant there are Tea Partiers out there who are patriotic, educated (that is, with regards to the issues, however they may have come by their knowledge), and possessing legitimate concerns about the state of the Union. My beef is not with them.

My beef is with the Tea Partiers who, like this gentleman at Costco, embody every negative stereotype of conservatism there is.

And because, like it or not, said stereotypes have come to dominate what the Tea Party looks, sounds, and acts like, I have no choice but to view the entire movement for the racist, ignorant, harmful rabble it is. It doesn't matter that some of the people in the movement aren't racist, ignorant, or dangerous. Those reasonable people are not the ones defining the movement. I've seen enough westerns to know while the liveryman might have been a great guy, his presence in the lynch mob didn't make it any less of a problem for the Marshal.

In 1773, a group of 30 to 130 Boston citizens (like the recent Glenn Beck rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, it was difficult to get a reliable count of the participants), some of them dressed up like Mohawk Indians, boarded the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, dumping 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor over the course of about three hours as a protest against taxation without representation. It was a symbolic gesture, and our country being relatively short on symbolically historic moments at the time, it was a big deal and has remained in the history books ever since.

In January of 2009, an undetermined number of New Yorkers, members of the "Young Americans for Liberty," held a Tea Party to protest a proposed 18% tax increase on non-diet sodas. Similar anti-tax, anti-pork spending, anti-government, anti-Obama administration protests began to crop up, promoted by Fox News, the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, and various Facebook pages, primarily funded as a "grass roots" movement by two billionaire brothers named Koch and another billionaire named Rupert Murdoch, eventually leading to a year and a half of national discontent, during which roughly 20% of Americans came to consider themselves "Tea Party supporters."

Different polls provide different profiles of typical Tea Party supporters, but the consensus is they "tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than age forty-five." They claim to be protesting out-of-control government spending and overburdensome taxes, carrying signs saying, "Don't tread on me," a reference to the Gadsden Flag, and "LOL" with the "O" replaced with Barack Obama's iconic campaign hope symbol. They also carry signs depicting Barack Obama alternately as Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, or Adolph Hitler. And they carry signs saying, "Aren't Fraud and Treason Still Against the Law?" and "Seal The Borders NOW" and "Drill HERE, Drill NOW" and "Bring Family Values Back From Liberal Perversions." In fact, there is a website devoted to collecting Tea Party slogans.

The whole thing is an insult to the real Tea Partiers, who were taking on a ruthless regime in a time when people could be hung, shot, placed in stocks (not the Wall Street kind), etc., all without the benefit of corporate sponsored legal representation or slavishly sympathetic Fox News coverage. The real Tea Partiers were arguing not about taxation in and of itself, which they recognized as a necessary and even patriotic duty, but about taxation without representation. Modern day Tea Partiers have a disdain for the political process suggesting they'd be happier if they could just impose their views on everyone else, removing the need for representation of any kind.

Modern day Tea Partiers are partly comprised of hardcore Republicans, white supremacist groups, gun rights activists, New World Order conspiracy theorists, and members of the "Birther" movement (for the uninitiated, these are people who think Barack Obama wasn't born on US soil and therefore should be booted out of office—his parents apparently had the foresight to fake an announcement of his birth in a Hawaiian newspaper, just in case he might someday want to be POTUS), but the majority characterize themselves as having been previously apolitical. That is, until recently, they hadn't voted or paid much attention to current events other than those stories one is likely to see on Inside Edition.

The fact that members of this movement have the gall to think they're somehow comparable to the the original Tea Partiers is tantamount to Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK. Actually, it's a hell of a lot more ridiculous, and the sad part is many of them wouldn't understand the reference.

Why these people chose to finally get engaged in the political process at this late juncture can't possibly have anything to do with the historic election of our first President of color—at least, Tea Party sympathizers with whom I've spoken get pretty defensive at the merest hint of a correlation. Never mind the Bush administration spent eight years exploding the size of government, the authority of the executive, and the national debt. The Tea Party movement, so concerned with bailouts to the wealthy, individual liberties, and the rest of it, ironically didn't exist while the Bush administration was giving no-bid contracts to defense contractors and authorizing warrantless wiretapping. They didn't even exist when Clinton was in office. No, they waited until Barack Obama arrived on the scene to suddenly get concerned about "taking back" America.

And why these people chose to fill their void of knowledge and understanding with the lunacy, stupidity, and duplicity of such "teachers" as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh is anybody's guess. Perhaps it has something to do with being the kind of intellectually lazy and apathetic people who would otherwise spend their entire lives not voting or paying attention to current events.

And why the Tea Party candidates who have emerged include a former witch in Delaware who until a debate a few weeks ago didn't know the Constitution said anything about freedom of religion (it's easy to miss the first Amendment, after all, if one is in an all-fired hurry to get on to the second); a Yale-educated lawyer in Alaska who decries public assistance but has been on the dole on multiple occasions, in spite of his privileged background (apparently, it's only a problem if free-loaders are poor, and Ivy-League lawyers are only offensive to Tea Partiers if they're running on the Democratic ticket), and who has now hired a private security force to arrest or remove reporters who deign to ask him uncomfortable questions or even attend his public events; and the "first Asian lawmaker" in Nevada, who isn't Asian, but who made the claim while suggesting to a group of Latino students that it wasn't readily apparent to her whether they themselves weren't Asian, and who on another occasion suggested it was time to "take out" Harry Reid one sentence after invoking the aforementioned Second Amendment (but to be fair to her, she's also advocated armed insurrection against the whole Federal government, so Harry shouldn't feel too singled out)—why the Tea Party has put these egomaniacal idiots forward is also anybody's guess. My guess is it has something to do with their being perfectly representative of the majority of Tea Partiers themselves.

Sarah Palin. Any group that gravitates to someone this ignorant and dishonest as their de-facto leader is worthy of either scorn or pity.

Glenn Beck. The man admits (according to a recent profile) he has no personal interest in politics. He openly admits he is an entertainer who wants to make money. He takes medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, but not when he's on tour because it (the medication) interferes with his ability to multi-task. His understanding of history, political science, and economics is typical of someone who can't be bothered to learn anything in depth and is only interested in cobbling together information and ideas to a) support whatever thesis he wants to promote and b) provoke the most polarized (i.e., lucrative) reaction possible. Meanwhile, there is no single individual more responsible for fueling the many disparate outrages felt by the many disparate wings of the Tea Party's disaffected members than Glenn Beck. If Sarah Palin is their fuhrer in a skirt, Beck is their Goebbels with a chalkboard (but without the education and modicum of personal dignity).

Of course, not all Tea Partiers are racists or xenophobes, and comparing anybody in modern-day American politics with Nazis is ridiculous (unless you're a Tea Partier looking for a good analogy for Barack Obama—then it's perfectly okay!).

But let's talk about the issues Tea Partiers claim are the real problems: taxes and fiscal responsibility. At present, 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all, subsidized by the wealthiest ten percent of Americans—who, by the way, own about 80 percent (and growing) of the wealth, and who damn sure aren't strapping on firearms and attending Tea Party rallies. I repeat, many of the people who are complaining the loudest are the ones who actually don't even pay Federal income taxes, or who pay very little.

It's not just a talking point. The truth is, in his first year of office, Obama cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. In fact, 40 percent of the much-maligned stimulus package was actually made up of tax breaks. Americans as a whole pay fewer taxes than the rest of the industrialized world, and they forfeit a lower percentage of their income to the Federal government than they have since the 1950s. If the big bitch is about taxes, then where, I'd like to know, is the problem? Isn't the real problem that the rich people in this country have so much money, and the rest of us have so little, that the bottom 47 percent are getting a free ride because they can't afford to pay anything?

I'd also like to know how many of these Tea Partiers screaming about fiscal responsibility have maxed out the equity on their homes and run up their credit cards on flat screen TVs and AR-15 assault rifles (gotta buy those guns now before Obama takes them all away!).

Tea Partiers are pissed the banks and auto companies got bailouts. However, the bank bailouts helped prevent a catastrophic depression and protected working and middle class Americans' pension funds, while the auto companies directly and indirectly employ a crapload of American workers and are one of the main drivers (again, no pun intended) of the American economy. Meanwhile, much of the TARP money has already been repaid, at a profit to the taxpayer, as have the rest of the bailouts. Again, I ask, what is the problem, or more specifically, how does the problems we do have justify vilifying the President (who wasn't even the President when TARP was passed) and comparing him to some of the most infamous tyrants in human history?

Over the past fiscal year, the Obama administration actually reduced the budget deficit. That's right. Bush's last budget had a $1.42 trillion dollar shortfall. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion. These numbers are indisputable facts, but most Tea Partiers don't understand what a government fiscal year is or how the Federal budget actually works, and they're more than happy to convict Obama of high treason based on... what I'm not exactly sure. In spite of what revisionist conservative pundits claim, the increase to the national debt since the last time we had a budget surplus (during the Clinton years) is almost entirely due to two wars kept off the books, a Medicare prescription drug boondoggle, two trillion dollars of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and a crumbling economy destroyed by a free-for-all of deregulated corporate greed combined with Bush's "ownership society." Tea Partiers can say Obama is shirking responsibility by blaming his problems on Bush, and that sounds good for a playground argument, but the fact is Obama did inherit the economy and the debt and the wars, and he is slowly fixing the problems he inherited.

Obama-hating Tea Partiers not only feel unfettered by facts, they're also completely oblivious to logic. On the one hand, they claim the President is a socialist, trying to destroy the capitalist system in favor of non-working welfare chiselers. Paradoxically, he's also supposed to be an out of control capitalist taking money from the taxpayer and handing it over to the wealthy elite. Logic would stipulate, in the absence of a wormhole or M.C. Escher, he can't be both. But he could, as the evidence suggests to those who don't get their news from a conspiracy theorist, be trying to strike a balance between competing ideologies to best serve the interest of all Americans.

The Tea Party is a fundamentally un-American enterprise. At its core, the Tea Party is based on ignorance, lies, racism, and greed. Real Americans love their country, respect their President (or at least respect the Office enough not to openly disrespect its occupant), and support the Constitution of the United States. Tea Partiers spew unfounded hatred of the US government (a government that despite all its shortcomings is still of, by, and for the US people), spew hatred of our duly elected President (who, by the way, didn't need a controversial Supreme Court decision or a bunch of hanging chads to pull off his electoral victory), and wave the Constitution around like a rolled up newspaper they haven't bothered to read but are more than happy to use as a weapon.

I can only pray (in the secular sense of the word) the October surprise turns out to be that enough informed and sane voters send these idiots back to their couches in time to focus on the remainder of the NFL season—something they can more easily comprehend and will give them a suitable outlet for their hostility and flag-waving.