The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A look back at the Tea Party

What a lot of leftwing ink was spilled six years ago fretting over the Tea Party (including right here on this blog, alas.)

The Tea Party now seems like a precursor for the sucessful electoral campaigns of Trump and Sanders. It expressed many of the same middle class and working class frustrations flowing from the slow-burning world crisis of capitalist production and trade that began in 2007.

A look back with the help of The Militant archive:


Victories by Tea Party-backed candidates in recent midterm primaries are exposing some fracture lines within the Republican Party in several states.

In Colorado, Tea Party candidate Dan Maes narrowly won the August 10 primary for the Republican nomination for governor against Congressman Scott McInnis, who was preferred by the Republican Party establishment. His Democratic rival in the November election will be Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.

Maes, a businessman, said he “grew up on the wrong side of the tracks” and was campaigning against the Republican Party “kingmakers.”

“Instead of being fueled by special interests and big money, Dan Maes’s campaign is fueled by traditional American values,” campaign supporter Paige Rodriguez told the press.

Tea Party supporters have challenged Republican establishment candidates in Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, and Utah. Like other populist groupings before it, those who identify with the Tea Party are heterogeneous and hold competing points of view. 

Resentment and insecurity

Although the Tea Party burst on the scene with a number of highly publicized demonstrations, its supporters are now focused on making their voice heard through elections, not through mobilizations in the streets, arguing that they are the ones who can best defeat the Democratic incumbents, who they view as especially corrupt and unpopular. The development of the Tea Party is a reflection of growing resentment and insecurity due to the grinding economic crisis and distrust toward both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Based especially on middle-class layers, including professionals, lawyers, and small business owners, it also has won support from some working people.

In an article titled “The Two Faces of the Tea Party” in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, Matthew Continetti writes, “The Tea Party is unified by the pervasive sense that the country is wildly off course. It believes the establishment has bent and twisted the rules for its own benefit.” By the establishment, they mostly mean the Democrats and the Barack Obama administration, who some Tea Party backers label as socialists.

The Tea Party is “opposed to bailouts, which favor the wealthy and connected. It’s opposed to out-of-control spending at every level of government,” Continetti notes.

While often using vague, demagogic appeals to “take back the Congress,” to stop “Obama-care” or “turn things around,” candidates who identify with the Tea Party offer no coherent program or solutions to the crisis. They are united more by what they are against, not what they are for.

But because the working class in the United States does not have its own organization or leadership on a mass scale, the Tea Party populists gain a broader hearing.

The Tea Party is made up of scores of competing national and local groups. The National Tea Party Federation, which claims it is comprised of 85 organizations, emphasizes that it’s for “fiscal responsibility,” “constitutionally limited government,” and “free markets.”

The federation expelled the Tea Party Express and its leader Mark Williams from its ranks after Williams wrote a racist parody attacking the NAACP....

The Militant - August 30, 2010 -- Economic crisis fuels Tea Party campaigns


....In response to the discussion about why some workers and middle-class layers are attracted to the tea party and its candidates, Herbert said, "What drives the tea party is the economic crisis which faces the country. It's not racism."

Campaigning among the crowd, Sarah Robinett, SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from New York, spoke to a man who used to work on Wall Street for Bank of America. He was laid off and now drives an Access-a-Ride van for those who are not able to take mass transportation. "This meeting didn't have anything to offer," he said.

"Many people turning out for events like the Glenn Beck rally have taken blows due to the economic crisis and are looking for answers. They don't see any strong working-class voice from the labor movement," Robinett said. "You can't make capitalism work better. The Socialist Workers Party campaign is about discussing how workers can organize to take power, and when we raise our ideas we find a response."

"The answer is not to vote for the lesser evil,” Robinett told a member of the Transport Workers Union. "I recommend you campaign for the SWP, but more than that, the socialist candidates urge workers to campaign for a labor party based on a fighting union movement." 

The Militant - October 11, 2010 -- Workers need labor party, say socialist candidates


Questions about the tea party 

(Reply to a Reader column)


Two readers asked recently about the Militant’s coverage of the tea party and August 28 “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, D.C. Relevant articles include: “Economic Crisis Fuels Tea Party Campaigns” in the August 30 issue and “Glenn Beck Rally in D.C. Prompts Counterprotest” in the September 20 issue.

What is called the tea party “movement” encompasses various conservative groups and individuals appealing to resentful middle-class layers and working people whose lives have been shaken by the capitalist economic crisis, which they do not understand.

Incorporating competing points of view on many questions, the tea party’s only consistent, collective message is what they are against—“fiscal irresponsibility,” bank bailouts, increasing interference by big government in peoples’ lives, and squeezing of the “little guy” by monopoly and finance capital. Based in the Republican Party, tea party leaders rail against the “establishment,” criticizing the policies of both Democratic and Republican party politicians—with particular focus on the current administration of President Barack Obama and Democratic Party incumbents.

The tea party is not rooted in a racist reaction to the first Black president. If anything, the tea party is less racist than the many demagogic “popular” movements of the past in the United States. While the percentage of adherents who are Black is low, tea party leaders have sought to highlight prominent Black tea party advocates. The Tea Party Federation expelled the Tea Party Express after its leader Mark Williams wrote a racist parody attacking the NAACP.

Neither does the tea party signify a rightward shift in politics or growing social conservative attitudes among working people. To the degree that tea party figures have expressed overtly racist or otherwise bigoted remarks, their support has narrowed, as evidenced by the sharp drop in support for New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino following his recent antigay comments.

Attendance figures used in the Militant for both the Glenn Beck “Restoring Honor” action and the October 2 pro-Democratic Party “One Nation Working Together” rally were based on the most commonly cited and credible numbers in the press, as well as the Militant’s reporters on the scene. Both were large and driven by the effects of the unfolding economic and social crisis.

The composition of the October 2 rally was clearly more favorable to campaigning with a revolutionary working-class perspective. But it is important to recognize that among those attracted to the tea party banner are also workers and farmers who should hear a working-class explanation and solution to the capitalist system that is ruining their lives. 

The Militant - November 1, 2010 -- Questions about the tea party

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