The emergence of the right-wing, populist movement known as the Tea Party has drawn analysis and interpretation from every corner of the political spectrum. With interpretations ranging from the saviors of liberty to the Sturmabteilung, everyone with an opinion and a pen has weighed in. And with the Republican takeover of the 112th Congress, finally, a verdict on the Tea Party's true nature is about to be reached.
Between Fox News and other mainstream promoters of right-wing ideology openly promoting and supporting the Tea Party, and liberal pundits like Keith Olbermann denouncing it as "racist" and Christopher Hitchens characterizing it as a deep, Caucasian fear of becoming a minority, the stunning lack of consensus has dismantled any chance at an objective understanding of the Tea Party. Yet like many historical populist movements, the ambiguity lies in the fact that as the major ideological opposition to the governing party, remaining vague is key. The Tea Party's success as a movement lies in its ability to remain ill-defined, and thus attract diverse legions of disgruntled Americans. Fortunately, for us proud liberals and democratic-socialists, the party is over. On January 5th when the new Congressional session began, the truth about the Tea Party will begin to appear, in all its ugly glory.
The position the Tea Party decides to take on a series of legislative escapades led by the Republican House will quickly force the Tea Party to define itself as either the independent and deficit-minded protectors of America, or the bigoted wing of the Republican establishment. Yet already in the lame duck session, the Tea Party's silence on the large, Obama tax compromise has proven the first hypocrisy in a projected likelihood of many. Both major aspects of the compromise, one would reason, contradict the politics of the movement: the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts will add 561 billion dollars to the federal deficit, and the Keynesian, demand-sided elements of the compromise are contradictory to the so-called laissez-faire Tea Party economic ideology. So then, why did we not see Glenn Beck leading a march on Washington? Surely, if the Republicans would have unanimously opposed the legislation, the Tea Party would have been up in arms (excuse the pun) and rallying, as they have been during other major Democratic legislative victories. Regardless of whether the Tea Party views itself as an independent movement, not one voice was raised when the Republican Party stance was in contrast to the Tea Party's.
Unlike the coalition comprising the Democratic Party, which is made of a plurality of varied interests, the Republican Party is essentially the product of two factions: the pro-business and the social conservative. A shrewd Republican businessman will often throw a bone to the social conservatives in the woodwork and denounce abortion or stem cell research, and the social conservatives will embrace an economic ideology they are not intellectually fit to understand. Since the election of Reagan, this mutualistic symbiosis has worked excellently. Yet because social conservatives tend to rely on populism, and the business community on elitism, any attempt to reconcile the Tea Party with the Boehner establishment will only reveal rift in the Republican Party. This leaves the glorified Tea Party only two options: they can either become subservient to the business interests of the Republicans in the House and thus fade into ambiguity, or they can depart from the Republican agenda when the House prefers its business interests to making Christian fundamentalism the state religion. However, it is likely this decision has already been made, and the Left can sit back and witness the crumbling of one our most hated allies – the Republican Party, or the Tea Party. Anyone for tea?
* * * *
Please check out My Dog Ate My Blog for more excellent essays.