The Tea Parties: Add Sympathy
Let’s pour the tea, and see who’s come to the party. More, let’s see why they came.
What binds these good citizens together in a ramshackle and loud fraternity known as the Tea Party movement? The focal point may be the Democratic health care legislation; but there is, as always with popular movements, a back story that is more complex and more compelling.
Could it be, to use Winston Churchill’s phrase, the sum of all their fears?
Indubitably. These are days of change, massive and irreversible change. Change that is undermining but difficult to characterize, and disturbing to experience.
The nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, is the symbol of that change more than he’s its author,
The Tea Party Patriots are people who feel that their lives and their nation is being swept forward to a place they don’t wish to go. They blame Obama and the Democrats for taking them there.
But the administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress have little to do with the buffeting the American image is taking.
Consider these facts:
✔ The United States has gone from the richest nation in the world to the biggest debtor.
✔ Our competitor, China, has grown rich in our market. Now China lends us money to cement the entanglement, while it becomes increasingly obstreperous.
✔ We have the largest and most lethal military machine on earth, but we can’t subdue insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, banish pirates in international waters, or prevail in sanctioning Iran.
✔ Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, crumbles. European trains hurtle at 220 miles an hour; ours crawl at less than a third of that speed.
✔ Broadband in the United States is many times slower than it is in Europe. This is cruel: We invent, they perfect.
✔ More than 10 percent, and possibly nearly double that, are out of work with no chance of employment for years. And new technology has made the skills of many of the unemployed obsolete.
✔ The United States is an English-speaking nation where a second language, Spanish, is creeping towards full recognition. Banks, phone companies and state governments have gone bilingual.
✔ Immigrants, legal and illegal, are changing the culture.
After 43 white, male presidents, there is a black man in the White House and a first family that reminds middle-class white tea partiers that huge changes are afoot.
A general anxiety has crystallized into a particular rage.
In memory, the 1950s have been sanctified as a time when all was well in America–if you were white and not serving in Korea. The United States was strong, the land was fertile and fear was concentrated on the Soviet threat.
As it had been in World War II, the good guys were us and the bad guys were them. The European empires were disappearing and we were the city upon a hill. Tea Party Patriots’ nostalgia for the 1950s is as pretty and disingenuous as a Saturday Evening Post cover.
The tea partiers may not be interested in the new demographics and new realities of the 21st century, but their anger won’t banish reality.
Trouble is the only political home these genuinely worried people can find is on the right: the overstated, overwrought and over-simplistic right. The right of Mark Levin and Glenn Beck.
These polemicists have concentrated the anxiety of tea partiers into a fear of socialism. It’s the undefined dark at the top of the stairs, the threat to liberty, to gun ownership and to private enterprise, according to the fear merchants of the right. Yet, there is precious little government left in the world that can be described as socialist.
The old socialism, with the nationalization of the means of production at its core is dead, sent to its eternal rest in Europe. Only a few leaders. like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, still espouse it.
Already extremists of the right–with death threats and property damage–are undoing the legitimacy of the entire Tea Party movement, and its unlikely members–the well-heeled, well-fed, well-insured but very sympathetic and very fearful activists.
Their fears deserve a hearing individually and in sum. Instead, they’re being exploited and in time they’ll be marginalized, discredited by the company they keep. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate