The middle class is shrinking. Those in power have run up enormous debts on public credit while shoveling most of the money into private pockets. The corporations that have benefitted from this borrowing binge, meanwhile, leverage the global trade system to transfer their profits beyond the reach of national governments.

Meanwhile, we have been told lies by Democrats and by Republicans, divided into artificial camps and led into debates that are either irrelevant or so dramatically scripted that we fail to realize every choice leads to the same result: the dismantling of the social framework that defined and sustained the opportunity of the last century. National mobilization of resources has given way to radical individualism under a narrative that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we must always expect less.

In this tumultuous time, we search for a way forward - a new Square Deal for the American people.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What happened to the Tea Party?

In the wake of the December 2008 economic meltdown, Americans were righteously furious.  They knew that the banks had sold them out.  They knew that the government had sold them out.  They did not want to pay for the mortgage of a neighbor who had lived it up during the boom years, but that was only the tip of the iceberg.  Their real fury was with the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP -- the $800 billion handout given by the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress to the banks.

TARP was a blank check.  Originally cast as a way to take so-called "toxic assets" off the books of banks, no sooner was the vote passed than Secretary Hank Paulson decided that it was a better idea to just give the money to the banks to do what they liked.

TARP was repaid.  You'll hear that from Republicans in particular: "They paid back every cent with interest."  And that's true.

But here's a twist on that: TARP was repaid not with cash on hand, but with cash borrowed from the Treasury.  Then they used the loans to buy the very same securities that were issued to give them the $800 billion (mostly so their executives could get back to the very-important business of paying themselves more).  So the government "got its money back" by selling the securities to the banks.  And now the banks collect the interest on those bonds.

The Tea Party was a backlash to all of that.  It wasn't made up solely of conservatives, not at first.  But it was always primarily a conservative affair, genuine conservatives who were furious that after decades of hearing about free markets and eight years of "ownership society," it turned out that George W. Bush couldn't move fast enough to hand taxpayer dollars over to private businesses. 

That isn't capitalism; in captialism, failed banks get liqudiated.  It's also not socialism, which would have called for the government to nationalize the banks and run them as public enterprises.  No, handing taxpayer money to private companies with no strings attached is an alignment of government with private profit.  Today, we call it crony capitalism, but several people I know have taken issue with that term, so let's call it what it really is: fascism.

And that -- not a healthcare bill, or homosexuals being allowed to serve openly in the military -- is what set off all of those people who called themselves the Tea Party.  They were furious, fed up, and demanding that someone actually live by those small-government principles of capitalism they had been told for decades by talk-radio personalities to love, respect, and cherish.

So they protested.  They cloaked themselves in the garb of their unassailably patriotic forefathers -- unassailable in large part because of their existence as simplified caricatures rather than historic figures, but unassailable nonetheless -- and managed a number of actions, including rallies on the National Mall and in state capitals around the country.  It was impressive.

But in the end, protest isn't how conservatives work.  Now, here's a little secret: conservatives hate protesters.  Protest is something done by unionists, socialists, anarchists, hippies -- all of "those people," the un-American ones who hate this country.  Protest is for the Left.  Conservatives schedule meetings.  They hold fundraisers.  They lobby.  They can rally, but only until the permit expires.  Everything is about appealing to the system to stand up for them, not about changing the system.

Understanding is relationship between the Right and protesters is critical to understanding why the very people who rallied against corporate cronyism now look with derision at the Occupy series of protests, whether in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., or any city around the country.  The Tea Party wanted to end bailouts for corporations, but not in order to fund bailouts for individuals.  Like the folks who cheered when Ron Paul affirmed that a person who opted out of health insurance should be denied care, the focus for them is on personal responsibility.

There's also the matter of social values.  For all the pretentions that the Tea Party is a fiscal movement, its members are overwhelmingly anti-abortion, anti-sex, anti-drug, and anti-long hair, while being pro-gun, pro-death penalty, and pro-war.  They want the state absolutely out of their lives when it comes to taxes but argue passionately for unlimited state power to arrest, imprison, torture, and execute. 

How do these positions line up with liberty?  These folks trace their ideology to the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded by Puritans.  The "liberty" they seek is to pursue a theocracy without the encumberence of king and country standing in the way, and for several decades now, repetitive messaging has worked to enshrine private profit rather than love of neighbor as the central tenet of their religion.

So, sure: a stray Republican may gamely suggest that if the Occupy protesters really care about America, they should join the Tea Party.  But don't misunderstand what they really means; the goal is to make these people go away, not incorporate their views on what is wrong with America.  The Tea Party of 2011 is only the most radical wing of the Republican Party.

And for the people in Zuccotti Park, or Freedom Plaza, or in Chicago or Pasadena or dozens of other cities around the country?  They have no desire to be folded into a Democratic Party that, talk-radio hype to the contrary, has for two decades pursued a pro-profit agenda.  They can take no lessons from the Tea Party.  When it comes to building a message, the self-proclaimed 99 percent are on their own.

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