The tea party spoke! Loudly, powerfully and proudly.
But besides, “Throw the bums out,” what did it say? And now that the party part is over and the nasty business of governing begins, what does it all add up to? What’s its governing agenda? How does it make anything positive out of the disparate mish-mash of issue positions within its own rank and file?
And then there’s the big one – the huge, grotesque, democracy-choking monster that the party invited into the center of its own movement: corporate money. Throughout the election, tea partiers demurely averted their eyes from this ugly dude, for the monster was lavishing millions of corporate dollars on their candidates. But now, whether they meant to or not, they’ve ensconced it as the unrivaled, controlling power in the new Congress. What will they do as it asserts its selfish interests over theirs, devouring their ideals and their pretension that they are in control?
The media establishment insists on referring to the tea party as a “populist” movement – but real populists fight corporate power, they don’t hug it! The party certainly is a popular uprising, and a successful one, but there’s nothing populist about it. Indeed, its leaders and candidates have vociferously opposed the populist ideals of egalitarianism, social justice, cooperative action and the common good.
“Shrink the Government” sounds good as a campaign cry, but its substance, as expressed by many of the most prominent teabag nominees and electees, is to kill Social Security, privatize Medicare and Medicaid, eliminate unemployment compensation, strip away the regulatory reforms on Wall Street’s big banks, undo the EPA and the Education Department, extend the privileged tax breaks of super-wealthy hedge fund speculators, cut food stamps, do away with minimum wage, cripple unions, take away the pensions of public employees ... etc., etc.
That’s the anti-populist agenda, one that greatly increases corporate power over the rest of us – and one that the new Republican speaker of the House (known as “Suntan Johnnie” Boehner for his cozy ties with top corporate lobbyists) will quietly and quickly try to advance. To the dismay of most rank-and-file tea partiers, he’ll advance it in their name.
For America, this was a sad campaign, containing all the gravitas, substance and forward-looking vision of a Paris Hilton event. The positive was that lots of new energy flowed into these elections. The flow mostly sprang from anger, anxiety and anti-ism (all of which are totally understandable, given our disastrous, jobless economy and the relentless undermining of our middle class).
Sadly, however, neither the confused Democrats nor the fused tea party-Republicans even addressed the economic source of the people’s anger and anxiety. Dems mostly said, “Stick with us, for they’re worse,” and Repubs merely retorted, “We’re not them.”
This reduced the election to a massive, despicable blitz of TV ads consisting of lies, shameless pandering and silliness. It was America’s first $4 billion election, with the likes of the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, Dick Armey and other designers of corporate rule secretively channeling unprecedented, unconscionable (and, I believe, unconstitutional) sums of cash directly from corporate coffers to create a House majority obligated and dedicated to them.
Among the saddest results is that instead of throwing the bums out, voters in many cases threw the bums in. One example is Ron Johnson, a multimillionaire plastics manufacturer who is a knee-jerk, right-wing ideologue. He used his own fortune and nearly $3 million from out-of-state corporate front groups to run ugly and defeat Sen. Russ Feingold – a true maverick and one of the genuinely independent and most principled voices in Washington.
The tea party says that it is rebelling against big government, just as the Sons of Liberty did in 1773, when they tossed boxes of British-owned tea from three British ships docked in Boston Harbor. But that particular act of defiance was not against the government of King George III. The ships were owned by the British East India Trading Co., a despised corporation that routinely engaged in the economic repression of the colonies.
It is the modern extension of this repressive corporate power that today’s tea party groups must confront if they’re going to make any real difference.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.