I've been critiquing the Tea Party since its first stirrings in 2009. I've blogged, tweeted, reported, and even given public lectures about its roots in the socially conservative New Right, its wealthy backers in corporate America, its close ties to the GOP establishment, its racist and anti-immigrant tendencies, and so on. I'd be happy to come to speak to your group on the subject.
As a health care blogger for the Media Consortium, I was denouncing the antics of the town hall mobs on a weekly basis. National leaders of the movement were sending out talking points with tips on how to shout down pro reform politicians. That summer, a pro-reform rep was burned in effigy. Legislators got death threats.
That summer the anti-reform leaders did everything they could to whip their supporters into a frenzied rage, including circulating lies about how Obama's plan included "death panels" to bump off elderly relatives and free abortions for all. Remember the folks who made a point of toting their guns at peaceful protests? It was a calculated display of intimidation.
I was scandalized, but no one seemed scandalized by me. Little did I know that a shadowy private listserv would be my ticket to notoriety.
Luckily for my brand, I also repeated these sentiments on now-defunct private email group called Journo-list. You may have heard of j-list, which was a group of about 400 liberal reporters, bloggers, and academics. Recently someone leaked a substantial portion of list's archives to the right-wing Daily Caller, which is republishing them to illustrate some kind of left wing media conspiracy. The Caller has been dribbling out "revelations" in small doses. With each new installment I was disappointed that my radical comments didn't make the news.
Yesterday, I finally got my wish. The Daily Caller finally leaked some of my comments. As I recall, this was part of a discussion about whether there was a fascist undercurrent to the town hall rabble rousing last summer. Some people thought the protesters were coming across that way, what with the loaded guns, the incessant preening macho bullshit, the burning in effigy, the revolutionary pretensions, the constant comparisons between Hitler and Stalin (tyrants anyone could feel good about removing by force) and President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, the racially charged conspiracy theories, and so on:
“I’m not saying [the Town Hall mobs] are capital F-fascists,” added blogger Lindsay Beyerstein, “but they don’t want limited government. Their desired end looks more like a corporate state than a rugged individualist paradise. The rank and file wants a state that will reach into the intimate [lives] of citizens when it comes to sex, reproductive freedom, censorship, and rampant incarceration in the name of law and order.” [Daily Caller]
I wish the reporter, Jonathan Strong, had contacted me for comment because I would have liked to expand on the point I was making in that email. The Tea Party isn't new, it's the same old conservative movement re-energized by a black president and an economic crisis. Therefore the same old contradictions that have always plagued American conservatism are manifest within this amorphous group of pissed off people.
If the Tea Party policy agenda were ever enacted, you'd see a simple repeat of the domestic policies of George W. Bush: tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, bailouts, and heavy-handed religiously-motivated government interference in the lives of individuals from abortion to obscenity.
Obviously, the Tea Party movement isn't gunning for a totalitarian state. Why would a movement dominated by current and former Republican elected officials want to get rid of a system that serves them so well? These people are terrific at getting elected. It's their main talent in life.
What sets fascism apart from other authoritarian ideologies is the ideal of the corporate state: a nation run by a strong leader, a strong military, a strong church, and a handful of private mega-industries which have allied with the state to crush labor opposition.
American conservatives embrace both democracy and the corporate state. Democracy can coexist with the corporate state when individuals retain free votes and free speech but entrenched interests control most of the resources that we would need to shape public opinion in a mass society (i.e., campaign funds, lobbyists, the corporate media).
Skeptics often point out that there's nothing new about the so-called New Age. It's just a jumble of very old ideas that are continually remixed and repackaged to suit the prevailing market conditions. The same can be said of the Tea Party. Koch Industries was bragging about its role in nurturing the Tea Party just the other day. FreedomWorks is run by GOP royalty like former Rep. Dick Armey. I get Tea Party spam from conservative junk mail baron and godfather of the religious right Richard Viguerie, aka "Reagan's postmaster general," at least once a week. The key leaders and institutions haven't changed--they've just upped their visibility by tapping into popular anger and frustration. Think about how close our last several elections have been. The right wing didn't go anywhere, it just moved into opposition mode. Hence the Tea Party. The movement isn't new, it's just larger and more active.
It's ironic that the media portray the Tea Party as a movement of rugged individualists when their message is shaped by the likes of FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity--big business leagues whose members love subsidies, no-bid contracts, and bailouts. Even your average protester on the street couldn't seem to decide if s/he opposed health care reform because it would cut Medicare benefits or institute socialized medicine!
It's also ironic that the Tea Party is so often described as libertarian when its leading lights are arch social conservatives like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann who oppose abortion rights and want their religious beliefs imposed on everyone. Notice how many signs there are about God at your average Tea Party and think about what that code means.
[Photo credit: flickr user Amphis d'@illeurs, licensed under Creative Commons.]