2009 saw the birth of America’s latest political outsider movement. In the 90’s it had been Ross Perot and the Reform Party. After that we had Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Today, in the age of Obama, we met the Tea Party. What was unique about the Tea Party was that they had no singular leader. There was no face of the movement. They were touted as everyday Americans fed up with Washington. An upstart grassroots movement meant to overthrow the establishment and put the power back in the hands of the people. That may be how it started. It didn’t last that long.
Since its inception the Tea Party has seemed to be a conservative movement. They claimed to have members from all walks of life; all political ideologies. They had only one core message. Control the deficit. Get government spending under control. Keep government limited. The banner at teapartypatriots.org reads: “Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, Free Market.” Fiscal conservatism is supposed to be a Republican cornerstone. In the past 20 years that has changed. People who desire a balanced budget do come from both sides of the political spectrum. In fact, the only time recently that we have had a balanced budget was with divided government. When government has been completely in the hands of one party or the other the budget has not been balanced. For a group of people to rise up and demand accountability from the government about its finances, and its intrusion on personal freedom, should be no surprise. That’s what the Tea Party’s message was. That’s what the Tea Party said they had been speaking out against for a long time. That wasn’t what happened. That version of history didn’t exist.
To claim that you are a group fed up with fiscal irresponsibility in 2011 means you need to account for some things. First off has to be why did you show up just now . The earliest references I can find to the Tea Party movement are in 2009. Our fiscal house was certainly out-of-order by then. It had been for some time however. Pres. Bush’s budget proposals led to the highest budget deficits in U.S. history. They were not only record-setting in number of dollars, but even if those dollars are adjusted for inflation. The first time the deficit has gone down since FY2002 (Pres. Bush’s first budget proposal) was FY2010 (Pres. Obama’s first budget proposal.) Yes Pres. Obama passed nearly a trillion-dollar stimulus package and the Tea Party was upset. Pres. Bush pushed a nearly trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. Tea Party members today will tell you they were against it. They weren’t upset enough to protest. There were no raucous town hall meetings. Where was the anger over fiscal irresponsibility spanning a decade of deficit spending that ended with a collapse of the economy not seen since the Great Depression? Where was the anger over TARP? Where was the anti-establishment feeling against Washington run amok? It didn’t exist.
It doesn’t get any easier to explain the Tea Party’s desires for limited government. The Tea Party really gained traction during the debate over healthcare. The original healthcare reform proposals included a provision known as the “public option,” or the “government option,” depending on which party or media outlet you listened to. The idea was that the government would provide an option for citizens to buy health insurance from a government program if they could not obtain it through an employer. Republican’s denounced it as a “government takeover of healthcare.” Town hall meetings about the reform descended into chaos across the country. Finally the “public option” was removed from the final bill. The Tea Party movement generally seemed to be against the bill even after the “public option” was taken out. As the Tea Party Patriots website says, they are for limited government. Are they? The healthcare bill does put government into the healthcare field, but only slightly. It doesn’t even give the people the freedom of government help. It only helps people deal with private companies. That’s something the “free market” Tea Party should be happy about. The real problem is that this is small government intrusion compared to what has happened over the past decade. After Sept. 11th, the Bush Administration used the fear of the American people to start a war and engage in the largest expansion of the federal government in 50 years. They created a new cabinet level post. They established a new level of bureaucracy over the intelligence community with the NID(National Intelligence Director.) It later came out that they authorized the NSA to conduct a warrantless wiretap program that circumvented all laws set by Congress for surveillance. Was that limited government? Was that the freedom ensured in the Constitution? Where was the Tea Party outrage? Where were the calls to end the invasion of our rights? They didn’t exist.
The real story of the Tea Party lies beneath the rhetoric and anger of everyday people. Everyday people may have had the passion for the movement but they didn’t make it happen. The major Tea Party groups all have strong affiliations with some more familiar organizations like American’s For Prosperity. So what’s wrong with that? American’s For Prosperity is a front group funded by the Koch brothers. The heads of Koch Industries. Charles and David Koch are far-right Libertarians with a lot of money. Combined they have more wealth than anyone but Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. It doesn’t end there. Tea Party rallies were organized by all kinds of conservative groups. Tea Party leaders have often been linked to conservative groups. A quick survey of the Tea Party Express website shows that they endorse only Republican candidates, and sometimes far-right candidates over more moderate Republicans. All this points to a movement funded by ultra-conservatives to achieve an ultra-conservative agenda. The Tea Party may have started out with a message of fiscal responsibility, but that has been lost. They are only the pawns of the conservative money movement. They are the far-right’s “Anti-Obama Army.” When Obama comes out and endorses something they will be right there to refute him. That is why Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann have become Tea Party darlings. They oppose Obama no matter what. They will attack him and his supporters no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Evidence doesn’t need to exist.
Third party movements have made huge changes in American politics. The Whig Party shook us in the mid-19th century. Teddy Roosevelt’s third-party bid nearly won the presidency in 1912. The Reform Party can be credited with electing and keeping Bill Clinton in office. Without the Green Party Al Gore would have almost certainly been president. The Tea Party does not seem to be destined for that outcome. A movement based on opposition to a man instead of issues has no future. Until Obama, they were not against a decade of fiscal irresponsibility. Until Obama, they allowed government to expand unchecked and intrude into our lives. Until Obama, they didn’t exist. After Obama, they won’t exist.