The Tea Party, and Know-Nothing Politics
Once again I find myself cobbling together a blog post out of something I wrote on Facebook. In this case, a response to this article: "Reminder: 44 Percent of Tea Partiers Are on Medicare". It (partly) attacks the hypocrisy of this movement, specifically wondering at the end, "Cutting government spending is all well and good when it's happening in the ghettos; what happens when austerity comes to their door?"
Someone responded to the posting of that link, first saying that it is wrong to paint the Tea Party as one homogeneous movement (point taken... after all, that's how they view everything), but also adding that "in this instance, if they've paid into Medicare over their lifetime there certainly is some significant rationale for wanting to see that returned in some fashion."
Absolutely. But that proves the hypocrisy rather than disproves it.
The underlying hypocrisy(*) is this idea that the Tea Party believe in that the government is some vague, shapeless boogeyman... and this leads them to believe even the most mundane things (ie. the census) are conspiracies to rob them of freedom.
Yes, Medicare is a service that they (and we) have paid in to our entire working lives... and they want it. Why? Because it's a much better deal, and much more efficient system, than private insurance.
And that is the point. This is what government does- it provides services to us that we want (whether police, firefighters, roads, schools, libraries etc on a local level... or entitlements, the EPA, military, FDA, Pell Grants, etc on a federal level), and we pay for those services in the form of taxes (which are at a post-WWII low). This is not oppression, or some Orwellian conspiracy. It's just basic governance in a modern, first-world nation.
Part of people's aversion to government is not taking into account the many things it does for them-- that we take for granted-- believing instead in the boogeyman version that the GOP has manufactured through top-rate spin ("job creators" is my new favorite buzzword). See this chart to see how big that disconnect is:
Of course, government-- like any entity, public or private-- is not perfect. Ours has made some very bad choices in the last decade. The answer to that, though, is to fight to make government better and more responsive to the needs of the many... not to try and kill it by attrition, which has been the Tea Party governing philosophy. Moreover, a movement that fights to elect people who privatize/corporatize vital public services and continue America's upward redistribution of wealth can hardly be called "populist" by any honest definition of that word.
To me, the Tea Party is simply a mix of misdirected populist anger, and a rebranding of old Birch Society or Know-Nothing right-wing politics. That it has gained such a strangle-hold on our national politics is as much a failure of the left (to form its own populist movement) as it is a success of the right.
[*And that's ignoring the hypocrisy of a Republican Party which ran to the left of Democrats on Medicare in 2010 (by misrepresenting, once again, the healthcare reform bill) and then voted en masse in 2011 to support turning it in a privatized voucher system. Spoiler alert: They're planning the same trick again for 2012.]