The 2012 elections are gearing up. Liberals are already going on the apologetic defensive for Mr. Hopey Change who is now begging Wall Street: Brother, can you spare a dime for my re-election? At the same time, the Tea Party will likely “surge” back into the spotlight to “take back America” and to whine incessantly about the budget, taxes and big government. These clowns have been around for a couple of years now and the general public still doesn’t know diddley squat about them (outside of the false images provided by the media). Thankfully, Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio have a new book out that does just that: Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm Publishers; 2011).
What readers will find in this book—and don’t judge it by it’s size because despite it being less than two hundred pages of content there is a volume of information carefully packed into it—is a historical understanding of the real Tea Party that happened in Boston back in the late 1700s. The real Tea Party actually was a bottom-up movement controlled and directed by the lower classes, and was not a political front for the ruling class to garner public support of unpopular policies. You find a big company going through economic hard times and who the ruling class sees as being “too big to fail” and so they are bailed out at the expense of the powerless, who fight back. A stark contrast to today’s Tea Party who doesn’t want to fight power and the dominant social, political and economic order, but enhance it.
You will also find that the Tea Party is way to the right of the general population. Which is good and bad, because as Street and DiMaggio write,
We certainly see little point in mocking or jeering at the Tea Party and agree that it should be taken with deadly seriousness. However, we do not believe that the Tea Party has meaningfully mobilized and connected with the working-class and disadvantaged people that 'the Left' should be organizing in common opposition to concentrated wealth and corporate-state power. (pg. 21)
The good news here is that with the general population being considerably to the left of the Tea Party (and even the Democrats) the prospects of ‘the Left’ organizing them is greater. The bad news is ‘the Left’ is pretty much non-existent. There is no organized leftist grassroots movement trying to build a social power out of the poor and working class. So what is around to appeal to the poor and working class is a hardcore right-wing Astroturf movement funded and directed by billionaires and Republican strategists getting favorable treatment from the press leaving false impressions in viewers that this is an anti-establishment popular uprising.
Crashing the Tea Party is a very methodical account of these Republican stooges. Early on, Street and DiMaggio waste no time in calling it like it is:
The real Tea Party phenomenon discovered here is relatively well off and Middle American (not particularly disadvantaged), very predominantly white, significantly racist, militaristic, narcissistically selfish, vicious in its hostility to the poor, deeply undemocratic, profoundly ignorant and deluded, heavily paranoid, wooden-headed, and overly reliant on propagandistic right-wing news and commentary for basic political information. (pg. 9)
And they skillfully document each of these statements. They provide a wide range of opinion polls that clearly demonstrate all of the above, and the authors even went so far as spending time with Tea Partiers and interviewing them at Tea Party events in and around the Chicago area.
On the issue of race I would like to have seen them reference this video—A Time for TEAHAD—by a Tea Party member. While the guy does the usual “we’re not racist!” routine he apparently doesn’t get that “Teahad”—a word play on jihad—is racist. The cultural ignorance of what jihad really is, is one thing, but the usage in this video is clearly to convey a violent message (that and his tee-shirt)—which fits nicely with the bigoted view of Muslims as violent and depraved. Then there is the singling out of black political figures; how convenient. Or, his use of “niggrah” to describe African Americans. When you end a sentence with “all the niggrah race pimps out there” and then say without batting an eyelash that, “On behalf of the Tea Party, we are sick and tired of being called racist” you shouldn't be surprised one bit at being called a racist. In other videos this same racist can be found saying such gems like, “You [President Obama] have declared war on the white man in America” and “Barack, you, your advisers, pollsters, pundits, talking heads, have wanted to know: Who are the pissed-off people in this country? Well, the pissed-off people, sir, are the white people. It's the white people, stupid.” However, referencing this would only have been icing on an already rich cake, considering how well they did to highlight the racism inherent in the Tea Party.
Crashing the Tea Party also takes an indepth look at the 2010 midterm elections where the Democrats took a hit. A popular narrative has been that the supposed grassroots Tea Party movement handed the Republicans back the House of Representatives. But the number of total votes the Democrats lost between the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections is greater than what the Republicans gained. As Street and DiMaggio put it,
The average vote in stateweide primaries in 2010 was the lowest ever recotrded for Democrats during midterm election cycles [...] This permitted the Republican average statewide primary turnout to exceed Democratic primary turnout for the first time since 1930. (pg. 156)
One of the chapters (Chapter 5) was on the paranoia and ignorance of the Tea Party supporters. From the claims that President Obama and the Democrats are "socialists" and "Marxists" and "Communists" to the absurd claim that taxes are high or that "Obamacare" is a socialist takeover of our healthcare system to the profound historical ignorance of who our Founding Fathers were or what the Constitution even says gets a lot of attention. All of this can hold scary outcomes as the writers note:
America is dangerously bereft of a really existing relevant Left capable of countering right-wing stereotypes, pushing the Democrats to enact effective and progressive programs that might keep right-wing critiques at bay, and capturing legitimate popular anger that is dangerously seized and misdirected by right-wing activists and personalities. It's not a pretty story. (pg. 125)
In closing with the book the authors point to the labor uprising in Wisconsin earlier this year as hopeful signs of an actual grassroots people's movement that challenges power, not serves it. Both authors traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to witness it themselves and the absence of, or obliviously small opposition of the Tea Party showed in clear terms whose side they are on.
Ultimately, Crashing the Tea Party reminds me of the kind of work Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman did with the Propaganda Model in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988). It explodes the popular narrative and is academic in its research and presentation to the point that they really have crashed the Tea Party and it’s undeniable.
Michael McGehee is an independent writer and working class family man from Kennedale, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org