On Those “Tea Parties”

Ken AshfordObama OppositionLeave a Comment

Krugman notes:

One way to get a good sense of the current state of the G.O.P., and also to see how little has really changed, is to look at the “tea parties” that have been held in a number of places already, and will be held across the country on Wednesday. These parties — antitaxation demonstrations that are supposed to evoke the memory of the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution — have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.

Now, I've been reading about these "tea parties" for several weeks now, and I still don't know what they're protesting.  Blogger extraordinaire Glenn Reynolds has been acting like "Tea Party Central", so when he addressed these tea parties today in the New York Post, I thought he might shed light on what they were actually about.

Unfortunately, the only clue he provides is in this early sentence:

AROUND America, taxpayers have had enough. Fed up with excessive spending, planned tax increases and a federal government that first caused the financial bubble through misregulation, and then grabbed power in order to "fix" it, they're hitting the streets to protest.

This seems to be a disjointed message.  First of all, the only people who are facing planned tax increases are the wealthiest 10% of Americans, and they're not exactly taking to the streets in grassroots protests.

And to the extent that tea partiers are fed up with a federal government that caused the financial bubble through "misregulation", that was the GOP's fault.  After all it was the GOP who led that charge in the last several decades for deregulation.  Obama is bringing regulation back.  So it doesn't strike me as thought that is what the tea partiers are protesting against.

And that leaves excessive spending.  Now, to be sure, that is a legitimate concern, because Obama's economic emergency spending will massively increase the deficit.

But again, it begs the question?  Where were these protesters when Bush massively inceased the deficit?  Remember, Bush inherited a surplus.  Eight years later, he turned that into a massive deficit.  And yet, the tea partiers were non-existent.

And when you actually read about what happens at these tea parties, you find none of these things.  Instead, you find vague grumblings that Obama is turning America into a socialist country.  What does this mean?  Well, who knows.  It could mean that the tea party protesters are upset that the highest marginal tax rate is being raised from 36% to 39%.  But that's not socialism, especially when you consider that throughout most of the 20th century, the highest marginal tax rate was 80-90%.  I mean, was Eisenhauer a "socialist"?

Even an increase in tax rates won't make us much worse.

And reports and signs at those tea party events show that these tea party protesters also rant about other things:

Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America, which follow on earlier claims that he is a secret Muslim. Crazy stuff — but nowhere near as crazy as the claims, during the last Democratic administration, that the Clintons were murderers, claims that were supported by a campaign of innuendo on the part of big-league conservative media outlets and figures, especially Rush Limbaugh.


Add to that some over the top signage (calling for Obama's impeachment, for example), and you've got a big mass of "WTF?"

Furthermore, despite Reynolds' assertions, the core of the tea party drive does not lie at the grassroots level:

[I]t turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.

And finally, even the "tea party" historical reference is in appropriate.  I mean, the original Boston tea parties railed against "taxation without representation".  The modern-day equivalent protests…. well, to paraphrase Jimmy Dean in "Rebel Without A Cause"…. "Whatever you got"