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The Tea Party Poll and Its Implications

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CBS and The New York Times recently collaboarated in a massive poll of Tea Party members, and have recently released their results.

We all knew for sometime that the Tea Party brought together a wide and disparate group of ideologies, from pro-business tycoons, Ron Paul libertarians, national security fanatics, and plain old racists. What we didn’t know was that the Tea Party has as little in common, ideologically, as the public at large:

Their responses are like the general public’s in many ways. Most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools. A plurality do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, they think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers. They actually are just as likely as Americans as a whole to have returned their census forms, though some conservative leaders have urged a boycott.

In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is an intense distaste for Barack Obama The Person (as opposed to The Politician): They feel he doesn’t share their “values”, that he “disproportionately favors the poor over the rich and middle class” (something which his economic policies have definitely not reflected) and their chief concerns are, in order: The health care bill, “government spending”, and the impression that their feelings aren’t heard in an elite-run Washington.

One remarkable trend is the reaction toward his “socialism”, as they understand it. Fully 92% believe he is a “socialist”, or taking the country “in that direction”. The Times thinks that the theme of Christianity, and a perceived departure from “Christian morals” pervades throughout, as exemplified in this quote:

“I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”


The overwhelming likelihood of a Tea Partier to vote Republican should be of especial interest to the GOP – 90% will vote for a Republican in 2010. Contrary to theirname  image, most of the Tea Party does not desire to become a Third Party, nor can it hope to supplant the ruling two (one).

More than three-quarters of them want “smaller government” – again, as they understand it –  but curiously, many had no idea of what that implied. A significant paradox in the Tea Party is its reliance on welfare programs (particularly Medicare), while at the same time venomous dictates on the “size of government”.The article ends with one of the funniest quotes I’ve seen in a serious news piece for some time:

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

A few conclusions follow:

  1. Even though the poll did not ask about the Wars on Terror (a startling omission), a plurality or even a majority of Tea Party members likely support overseas imperialism.
  2. The movement is totally confused as to the definition of “small government”, almost to the point of it being a meaningless propaganda phrase.
  3. The criticisms of President Obama are not compelling, and likely betray a deeper prejudice. His perceived faults are largely fictitious (“socialism”), whereas his true crimes (Wall St. – centered economic policy, aggressive war policy, dismal view of constitutional civil rights, etc.) go unmentioned.
  4. The Tea Party’s members believe in their party’s propaganda only to an extent, but most are willing to ignore their doubts for the sake of unity.
  5. They are, on average, far less radical than their worst elements, but are still motivated largely by anger.
  6. They are a major asset to the Republican Party.

Written by pavanvan

April 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Posted in culture

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Tea Partiers to Raise Private Army

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This doesn’t look good – and of course, because our lawmakers are idiots, several of them support the idea of a non-state “Tea Party militia”; y’know, because our government is just getting too big.

This is a little difficult for me to swallow. Where were these people when President Bush was busy getting us into two absurd wars, creating the Dept. of Homeland Security (which was literally the biggest expansion of government since the ’70s), or reserving for himself the right to detain anyone, citizen or no, indefinitely without trial and interrogate them by torture? This is “big government” by definition, unlike this watered-down “Affordable Care Act”, which leaves the corporate system of health care almost entirely intact.

I guess I shouldn’t be arguing from a logical perspective because from the start this “tea party movement” has displayed an eerie, otherworldly indifference to reality. But from a pragmatic standpoint, well, let’s see what the Tea Parties have already done with the considerable shelter our government has given them:

  • Threatening gun violence if health-care reform passes.
  • Advocating the murder of census workers.
  • Calling a civil rights hero and congressman a “nigger” repeatedly.
  • Beginning a systemic campaign of harassment, including painting a swastika on one congressman’s office.
  • Carrying automatic rifles to town hall meetings (including one where Obama was speaking).
  • Threatening to murder a Democratic lawmaker in Colorado.
  • Severing the gas line of the brother of a Virginia Congressman, with the clear intent of blowing up his house (they got the address wrong).

Et Cetera. Is this legitimate politics? Like, you don’t get what you want so you proclaim the other side illegitimate (the “birther movement”) and threaten to kill them?

I invite the reader to imagine what the result of this behavior would have been had it occurred under the Bush Administration. I have the feeling these “patriots” would have been labeled “terrorists”, rounded up in the middle of the night, and held indefinitely without trial with the media cheering. But there’s no need to speculate! In 2006, more than 71 Iraq War Protesters (who, I might add, were demonstrating peacefully – i.e. without guns) were arrested. In 2003,  more than 275  anti-war protesters were arrested in New York. Shit – just last month, the government arrested 8 anti-war protesters at a rally. And these guys, I hasten to repeat, did not wave guns around, spout racial slurs, or threaten to murder congressmen. On the other hand, not a single Tea Partier has been arrested at a rally (to my knowledge).

It’s clear that this “movement”, such as it is, enjoys vast institutional support, from the corporations who fund the gatherings to the GOP congressmen who actively encourage this behavior (Rep. Steve King from Iowa, Mike Pence of Indiana, and many, many others have given bellicose speeches at these “tea party gatherings”) to the Democratic congressmen who have studiously avoided any serious condemnation of these actions whatsoever. As such, I think one can reasonably assume that these “Tea Partiers” serve a useful role to the corporations who fund senatorial and congressional campaigns. Clearly, if these Tea Party actions went against the wishes of our lawmaker’s benefactors (like, say, the anti-war protest crowd had), we’d be seeing a lot more “bipartisanship” against this movement.

When one takes a brief look at what the Tea Partiers want, it’s not difficult to see why. The Times reports on its front page today that Tea Party hero Sen. Mitch McConnell vehemently opposes new finance regulation (the old regulations worked so well, after all…), and indeed, the Tea Party ethos against all manifestations of “big government” can be seen to be anti-regulation by its very nature. There is nothing our industry elite – the JP Morgans and Monsantos of the world – would like better than a grassroots movement to look out for their interests. When JP Morgan says it’s against financial regulation, it looks, of course, like a crook. But when they convince (and pay) a bunch of ignorant hicks to march against “big government”, well, then it seems like the people are against financial regulation. Sure, some of them tend to get a little out of hand, what with the racial slurs and death threats, but even that serves a purpose – to keep uppity lawmakers in line.

It would be shallow to attribute the Tea Party’s rise only to GOP support of it, which, I admit, has been substantial. The Democratic silence on the matter has done just as much to encourage them. And that makes sense, considering both parties tend to work in favor of their corporate sponsors, who are clearly thrilled with the rise of a grassroots corporatist movement.

If the Tea Party succeeds in cobbling together a “militia” (it seems unlikely at this point), they will serve as the perfect complement to Blackwater. While BW remains a purely corporate mercenary force, it is only taken from the elite sector of society. A Tea Party militia would form the everyman’s Blackwater, as it were – an army made up of the public to work directly against the public interest.

Oh, if Orwell could see us now!

Written by pavanvan

April 14, 2010 at 11:46 am

Health-Reform Foes Hurl Epithets at Civil Rights Icon

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John Nichols:

[Civil Rights Veteran Congressman John] Lewis was leaving the Cannon Office Building Saturday afternoon when a crowd of demonstrators descended on him, shouting obscenities and screaming, “Kill the bill, kill the bill.”

Lewis responded, “I’m for the bill, I’m for the bill, I’m voting for the bill.”

Then, according to Lewis and others who were present, the Tea Party crowd then started began shouting: “Kill the bill, n—–.”

The incident, which took place barely blocks from where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was witnessed by other members of Congress and broadly reported by media outlets, including McClatchy Newspapers and Fox News.

I know one probably shouldn’t extrapolate too much from this one data point, but damn!

Written by pavanvan

March 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm

The Times, Habeas Corpus, and those Bad Ol’ Terrorists

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The Times continues its faux-reporting over the “controversy” that has erupted over whether we should act like tyrants and keep “terror suspects” in cages indefinitely without trial, or act like decent adults and follow the rule of law. Previously, The Times came out in support of the former option, happily announcing that “Detainees will be Held, but not Tried” – but as the political winds shift, so do does the leading newspaper, which now plumps for the worst aspects of both, much like President Obama. They even invoked the mysterious “experts”, who, apparently, do not include the Supreme Court.

As Jane Mayer expertly analyzed in a recent New Yorker, the Justice Department is now in a state of civil war. One one side, Attorney General Eric Holder, who advocates that “terror suspects” be vetted in a court of law to determine what, if anything, they’re guilty of. He is joined by a majority of our Supreme Court, human-rights activists, and other so-called sympathizers of terrorism. Opposing him stands Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, who contends these “enemy combatants” deserve no quarter and should be tried, without evidence, before a “military tribunal” after being held indefinitely (after an interrogation by torture). Joining Mr. Emanual, ironically, is the Tea Party faction, along with “Republicans” in general, all of whom claim that allowing suspects of terrorism a fair trial stands tantamount to treason.

President Obama, as is his wont, has opted for a “middle path”, as The Times reports today. Some detainees, specifically those whom he is sure to convict, will be publicly tried, and the rest will just be held indefinitely because it’s impossible to convict anyone you’ve tortured a confession out of without looking like a butcher.

Granting civilian trials to some “terrorists” and secretly sentencing the others creates a multi-tiered justice system wherein only the suspects for whom conviction is assured will be allowed to go to trial. This is pre-judgment and worse.  It it is a system that does away with even the pretense of caring whether or not these detainees are actually guilty. The government clearly seeks a few nefarious-looking Terrorists to be convicted by a civilian jury – thus proving that “the system works” – and then machinery to convict the rest of the suspects who could not be tried by jury because they were interrogated by torture and their cases would be thrown out (as, indeed, many have already).

It’s worth remembering that a vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were guilty of nothing more than bad luck. An ex-Bush official is on record saying that most of the people we held there were totally innocent.

But beyond this, The Times completely neglects to mention that these military commissions are illegal. The Supreme court has ruled, in numerous landmark cases, that the whole military commissions process is unconstitutional.  Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively nullifies the necessary sections of the Military Commissions Act, and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld restored Habeas Corpus and Sixth Amendment rights (the right to a speedy trial) to detainees.

In fact, the majority opinion of Hamdan states that all detainees be given a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples“, and clearly states that the commissions system set up in Guantanamo does not fit that requirement.

Any article discussing discussing military commissions has the duty to mention these cases, but since they’re  inconvenient to the prevailing narrative, they become “non-newsworthy”. I’m sure the “experts” they quote (nearly all Bush flunkies) know better.

One hears often from opponents of civil liberties that it’s “borderline criminal” to read a terrorism suspect his rights, that such actions provide “comfort to the enemy”, or as Ms. Palin thundered in her memorable Tea Party speech, that we’re allowing Terrorists who “hate our freedoms” to “lawyer up”. As Scott Brown, Massachusetts Senator and Tea Party darling once remarked: “Some people believe our Constitution exists to grant rights to terrorists who want to harm us. I disagree.”

But of course it is not for this charlatan to decide, but for the Supreme Court, who, unfortunately for Mr. Brown, has consistently ruled in favor of detainee rights. And for the record, the Constitution prescribes the relevant clauses to protect the rights of people who have been accused of a crime but not yet found guilty, much like these so-called “terrorists”. Until convicted in a court of law, these people are, by definition, guilty of nothing.

The reasoning employed by the Palin-Brown faction makes the dangerous assumption that anyone the government accuses of terrorism magically becomes a terrorist. In the warped mind of a Tea Partier, suspicion is proof. This works fine for most people, so long as it’s only brown Arabs with weird squiggly writing whom we lock up in cages with no trial, but the danger of promoting totalitarian practices is that you never quite know against whom they’ll be used next.


It’s also worth mentioning that every other country that has had problems with terrorism – India, Greece, Spain, etc. – have all found ways to deal with it within their already existing legal structures. They saw no need to create new levels of “justice” wherein some suspects get trials and others simply go to jail forever.

White Tea

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I’ve largely refrained from commenting on this psuedo-movement, this “populist” Republican party front, this celebration of know-nothing, bible-thumping, war-mongering, “small-government” loving vacuity, because, well, of all the things I just mentioned. But CNN just did a poll of this “movement” and the results are revealing and hilarious.

“Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas,” CNN reports. “Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans, and more than three in four call themselves conservatives.”

Sixty-six percent of the tea party activists reported an income higher than $50,000 per year. Among the overall sample in the poll, that figure was 42%. The group is 80% white, as opposed to 71% among all respondents to the poll.

Politically, the figures are not a surprise. Forty-four percent of tea partiers called themselves “Republican,” while 52% said they were independent. Among all those polled by CNN, 25% were Republicans while 44% were independents. A third self-identified as Democrats.

So this “movement” consists of rich, white, male, educated “conservatives” who happen to identify with the Republican Party. Oh, and they also hate Obama. But they’re not racist!

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Tea Party Poopers

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Stephanie Mencimer has an amusing report in this week’s Mother Jones. The “Tea Party” group of September 12th fame, who rose in opposition to “Obamacare”, “death panels” (and let’s not forget) “socialism”, finds itself riven with factionalism and discontent, according to Mencimer’s article. A picturesque and characteristic study of a “grassroots movement” and its eventual co-option by moneyed forces, her article is valuable for shedding light on how money corrupts.

Would a true Tea Party patriot drop nearly $1,600 in donor money for a small meal at a fancy steakhouse? Robin Stublen says no, and he’s mad as hell about the profligate expenditures of a GOP political organization that has glommed on to his grassroots movement. Stublen is the organizer of the Punta Gorda, Florida, Tea Party and a member of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization that has no offices, no president, raises virtually no money, operates largely on volunteer efforts, and, most important, doesn’t endorse candidates.

The “Tea Party Patriots” are not to be confused with the “Tea Party Express”; the latter derives its funding from major Republican donors and is basically seen as an organ of the Republican party. The former, on the other hand, claims to be the true “grassroots” movement – underfunded and without an institutional voice, they are frequently mistaken for their well-funded cousins.

For instance, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, the PAC that created Tea Party Express dropped $1,597.29 over the summer for a meal for six at a tony Sacramento Chops restaurant, an expenditure that has Stublen seeing red.

“Six people averaged $266; that’s not grassroots. I kill bugs and cut grass for a living. I’m splurging when I spend $19 at Chili’s. Outback Steakhouse is reserved for Mother’s Day,” Stublen says.


Written by pavanvan

January 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Tea Parties for All

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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.

Written by pavanvan

October 3, 2009 at 12:59 am