Tea Parties for All
The New York Review of Books (not to be confused with the New York Times Book Review), has an excellent dissection of the recent conservative protest movement in this week’s issue. In it, Michael Tomasky attempts to answer the questions: Who were those protesters outside Capitol Hill on Sept. 12? Where did they come from? What are their aims? And perhaps most important: Should they be taken seriously?
Tomasky’s superb analysis yields some very dismal conclusions. According to him a new coalition has arisen, reactionary and corporate-funded, which comprises approximately 25% of the population. While opposition to “big government” and “bailouts” forms a strong part of their ethos, the movement’s greatest demonstration – the September 12protest – focused its denigration upon one piece of one issue ( the public option and reform in genral). They are heavily patronized both by rich benefactors and the entire conservative media apparatus, most notoriously, Fox News. With manufactured outrage and serious financial support, they give the distinct impression of populism on issues where very little popular outrage exists.
The article is valuable for its discussion of the underlying philosophy of the protest movement: the Ayn Rand – Objectivist viewpoint that has compelled so many to act against their material benefit. The financiers of these protests and the party theorists behind them seek little more than the removal of the programs many of those overwhelmingly middle-class protesters enjoy. Concepts such as the minimum wage, social security, medicare, unemployment benefits and many like them simply cannot coexist with the de-regulated “small government” the protesters apparently wish for. The wealthy capitalists behind this movement seek a government with their wealth in mind – not that of the middle class.
Tomasky makes the astute observation that the sentiments expressed betray a nostalgia for the Bush administration, and that their adherents likely comprise the 24% of Americans who viewed President Bush favorably as he departed. However he spends little time discussing a major hole in the protest’s ideology. There is a distinct difference between the protester’s stated aims of “smaller government” and their tacit support of our wars abroad. Their paragon, President Bush, expanded government almost beyond recognition, with his “Department of Homeland Security”, his 3 Trillion dollar wars, warrantless wiretapping, politicization of the Justice Dept, employment of mercenaries, and many, many other actions. That these protesters choose such a minor manifestation of “big government” shows the divestment between their ideology and practice.
The problem, then, is not so much with the size of government, but the ends to which the government works. Government spending in the direct interest of Corporate America – no-bid contracts, costly wars, so-called “privatization”, etc. – comes under no scrutiny. Instead the objection comes mainly to the public manifestations of government spending, to government in the public interest. Hence, there was no specific opposition to a government mandate that all citizens must carry health insurance (a major goal of the health insurance industry), merely opposition to a public option (which would cut into industry profits.)
It is clear to see why our nation’s most wealthy citizens should wish to curb government spending on items they don’t purvey. But their ability to foment a purely artificial movement (Tomasky calls this phenomenon “astroturf” – corporate-funded grassroots) and manipulate a public, with the major media complicit, into protesting against their tax-paying interest serves as a dismal reminder of the sheer power moneyed interests hold in our country.