Tea Parties- Pffftt

Posted on April 16th, by matt_schiavenza in US Politics. 9 comments

I’ve been tracking this “tea party” movement back in the US with a combination of bafflement and mild amusement. As has The Washington Post, who actually attended the DC party:

Without the spectacle of a 1773-style tea-bag dump in the square, the handmade signs became the focus of the event. Though ostensibly an anti-tax protest, it was more of an anti-Obama festival. Among the messages: “The Audacity of the Dope,” “O Crap” and Obama as an acronym for “One Big Awful Mistake America.” Some messages were ugly (“Napolitano — Obama’s Gestapo Queen,” “Hang ‘Em High Traitors,” and a sign held by a young girl saying “Victim of Child Tax Abuse”). Others were funny (“Don’t Talk to Me! I Forgot My Teleprompter”). Certain ones had sinister overtones (“Tax Slavery Sucks,” and “Obama bin Lyin”). Then there was the guy holding a Cabbage Patch doll by its hair with the message: “My kid’s growth stunted by your stimulus.”

And this, in a nutshell, is why I wouldn’t worry about these “spontaneous” gatherings. I imagine that there is a constituency for people uneasy with the present volume of government spending. That these people largely kept their mouth shut when our previous president spent like a drunken sailor, well, seems to be forgotten, but let’s just say that a certain segment of the population is unhappy with Obama’s economic plan.

But just when these tea parties are beginning to get press, they’ve already been exposed as a broad, disorganized batch of people whose only unifying feature is their general dislike of Obama. Some, as the Post reports, are still bringing up the “Un-American” angle, for instance. I imagine before long the anti-immigrant, anti-choice, and good old-fashioned racist groups will make an appearance at these rallies.

In some ways, these gatherings remind me of the Bush-era anti-war protests organized by the left earlier in the decade. Like the tea parties, many of these anti-war protests began with a very specific policy goal (preventing and then ending the war) and devolved into a potpourri of left-wing grievances, ranging from freeing Tibet to raising the minimum wage to prison reform. As a result, the anti-war protests never had the effect their organizers wanted.

Then again, let’s consider the implications. Anti-war protestors were rallying against the biggest foreign-policy blunder in a generation, a decision by the president that directly led to the deaths of thousands of Americans and countless more Iraqis. These “tea party” people are arguing against the possible restoration of Reagan-era tax rates and fairly standard-issue government spending in a recession by an elected official.

These tea parties, I’d say, are an indication of the right’s current weakness, not its growing strength.

9 Responses to “Tea Parties- Pffftt”

  1. richard says:

    Excellent post. Agree with every word.

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  3. Jascha says:

    I wouldn’t write off these “tea partiers” just yet. Rick Perry, the governor of one of the wealthier states in Texas, spoke at the tea party here in Austin and suggested that if things get worse, Texas will secede from the Union. While I am pretty sure that is an empty threat, those are serious words from a major politician. At no point did any major politician from CA, MA, or NY threaten such a thing under Bush.

    You are right about how the left failed in their protests to the war. They were all over the place and disgusted centrist viewers who may have been against the war but did not support the other 90% of the cries of the protesters. However, this has the potential to be different. If things do get worse, and people continue to get laid off as expected, you now have a bunch of people all with a common cause that everybody can relate to: they want to be able to earn a living. They may not understand economics, but they do not like having an enormous amount of their paycheck going to Washington.

    Just an anecdotal story. I was hanging out on a party boat in Lake Travis with a family from South Padre Island, which is near the Mexican border that relies on illegal immigrants from Mexico. They were pissed that the government set up a program where they have to pay Mexicans “American” wages. Then when getting on to drug policy (I realized I should not be talking politics with these people until too late) the mother exclaimed “God damn those feds. I just wish someone would shoot all of them.” And this is the kind of people that will be angry and pissed off at the current situation. This is more dangerous than the left against Bush because a) most leftists wouldnt use that strong rhetoric and instead have the more hippy one love kind of rhetoric b) the grassroots right is probably more capable of organizing things through church meetings and whatnot and c) they have enormous guns and the NRA.

    I would not write off these tea parties yet. They scare me.

  4. matt_schiavenza says:


    I’m tempted to defer to you on this because you’re actually in the US and have a better sense of the right-wing by being in Texas, but I’m still not convinced this tea-party (or is it tea-bagging?) movement will escalate much further.

    For one thing, Obama’s popularity seems to be stable, and if anything has increased recently upon his announcements of increased government involvement in the economy.

    These activist gatherings, I think, represent the first efforts of an aggrieved minority to unite behind a cause, but given the heavy-handed involvement of Fox News, the muddling with other right-wing pet causes, and their underwhelming numbers, I think these will prove to be a mere footnote in retrospect.

    Very good comment, by the way.

  5. matt_schiavenza says:

    Thanks for the comment and link.

  6. Jascha says:

    Obama’s popularity nationwide may be stable at the moment, but unfortunately it is also stable in places like Texas, where he is not popular. I was also in agreement that these tea parties were bunch of conspiracy-theory spewing nutjobs with no actual power other than they guns they own. That was until the governor of Texas showed up in a hunting outfit and pandered to them by not only acknowledging that they were right-wing extremists, but by giving them props for being so. And when people in the crowd shouted for secession, not only did he not completely ridicule this suggestion, he actually cited it as an option. This is the GOVERNOR of the second-largest state, not some preacher or local community leader. He was voted in to be the head of the executive branch by the people of Texas (which, by they way, has the funniest system of government I’ve ever seen. The legislative branch only meets for 2 months every other year. One of the major powers of the governor is that he can call an emergency session, but this almost never happens).

    I realize the motivation for this is that Perry is trying to paint his future oppenent (Kay Bailey Hutchinson) as a Washington insider and that Washington is stealing Texan money, but this kind of rhetoric is dangerous from a major politician. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me (falsely) that Texas negotiated the right to be able to secede whenever it wants to and without US Congress approval. Texans are very proud of being Texan, more so than any other state I’ve lived in. If the economy does get worse, and major politicians pander to the extreme right, things could get pretty dicey.

  7. DDW says:

    Mostly spot-on post, but don’t discount the Ron Paul element of the Tea Parties. They’ve been consistently anti-war and anti-deficit, unlike so many other knee-jerk conservatives.

  8. C.H. says:


    If I may, I must some disagreement with you.

    I live in San Francisco, and I have had a front seat to some of the left-wing protests against Bush. I look at it this way: I don’t care which wing they are on, both sides scare the living daylights out of me because neither of them care about the country, they only care about their political viewpoints. A couple months back, I went to SF with some friends and there were 9/11 “truthers” mingling amongst pro-Obama supporters.

    In the weeks running up to the election, there were posters of Obama hanging of the sides of high-rises and apartments and there were countless people wearing t-shirts with a smiling Obama. Stuff like that freaks me out…when I was walking downtown all I could think of was “dear leader” and Kim Jong Il.

    Nevertheless, I do not believe Obama is associated with those people…I like Obama, to tell you the truth and I was very impressed with how he handled the pirate crisis…equally important was how he handled his pledge to “draw down” troops in Iraq–he didn’t bow to the far-left and is instead making sure that Iraq will be able to succeed on his own.

    I also believe that Bush did the right thing holding firm in Iraq after the 06 elections, despire a mandate clearly opposing our efforts there from voters. We can argue about whether or not we should have went into Iraq, but nothing would have justfied running away and leaving the Iraqi people to be slaughtered like Bush 41 did in 1991–after urging the Iraqi people to revolt.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Very well-written post, btw.

    Also, I am curious…how often do you have the chance to visit the US?

  9. C.H. says:

    As for Governor Perry threatening secession, hasn’t Texas tried that already? The history books say it didn’t go to well.

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