When the Poor Defend the Rich (or: Tea Party 2010)

I’ll admit straight away that the recent elections have left me disappointed and just a little bit angry. Not because of the typical cycle of reward/vilify that the short attention span American public is famous for – I typically don’t have a great deal of faith in either party – but more for the quality, of lack thereof, of the rhetoric this time around. If the Tea Party movement has done one thing, it is certainly to “raise the voice” of the national debate. Supporters view this as a tremendous victory for “traditional values”. I consider it a somewhat sad study in a peculiar aspect of human nature.

Taking a deep look at what passes for a Tea Party platform, a few things become clear. There are very obvious “villains” and there are things they very obviously *don’t* like. In terms of what they suggest, beyond “NO TAXES” and “NO ENTITLEMENTS” and “NO HEALTHCARE REFORM” and “NO REGULATION”, there isn’t a lot of detail. Their selection of villains is certainly interesting, however, and the main source of my disconcertion.

There are the obvious ones of course: President Obama and the Democratic Party luminaries are no surprise. But there are some very curious and disturbing additions (spoiler – it *isn’t* Wall St fat cats). The two most unsettling are the labor unions and the “illegals”. How is it possible that, in the wake of the worst financial catastrophe since The Great Depression, these particular groups were successfully targeted? On the one hand we have the folks that build our cars, the cars that the typical flag-waving type *demands* you buy else be labeled a traitor. On the other hand we have the folks who, through pure misfortune have become the pressure release valve of the out of control consumption balloon on which our collapsing economy has come to be based over the past three decades. These folks are doing the work that no one wants to think about or do and as a result of their labor, prices are kept artificially low so folks can artificially consume more than they need to. Foreign factories serve the same function. Many a tea partier has decried the “stealing of American jobs” by these foreign factories. So foreign factories that steal American jobs are bad, and foreign workers that come here and steal American jobs are bad. So then why oppose union workers? These are the folks who fill *American* factories. Unless one supports the implementation of the kind of slave labor that takes place in factories overseas, one would think that active support of US manufacturing workers would be considered *patriotic*. And as the base focuses their hypocritical rage on these “villains”, the nine figure investment banker in the chauffeur driven Bentley has slipped quietly away through a feat of political and sociological sleight of hand of the ugliest variety.

One of the primary points of contention the Tea Party claims is the desire of “Obama” to “raise taxes”. Never mind that what President Obama is calling for is a *repeal* of the Bush era *tax cuts*, even more outrageously, he is specifically calling for a repeal of the cuts on *income over $250,000 per year*. Given the state of the economy, and the admitted lack of jobs and opportunity, it is pretty fair to say that very few “Tea Partiers” are making over $250,000 per year. And thats just where the “increase” begins. It scales from there. Unless one is making substantially more than that, there isn’t much of a hit at all.

So why would a bunch of angry, vocal, self-professed “regular folks”, who are supposedly enraged about a lack of jobs, about “taking back America” from foreign interest, about “too much spending” and “too much tax”, support policies which will *reward* the billionaire investment bankers who *caused* the crash and further empower the global corporations who ship the jobs overseas, and plunder foreign soil, in an endless search for increased profit and share value to feed back to those same investment bankers?

It really is a fascinating phenomenon. Terrifying since it is real and is very likely to destroy our economy completely. It is obvious that the Tea Party tapped into a vein of anger. Much of it, in my opinion, is fueled by ignorance (not as a slur, but genuine ignorance of very complex issues like micro and macro economics), prejudice and xenophobia. “Sound bite politics” works wonders on an angry mob of torch carrying villagers – especially when you can point out a Frankenstein’s Monster. But there is a lot more to it than that, I think.

I think throughout history, the powerful have successfully exploited a sad weakness in human nature. The weak and disenfranchised, the victims, will often idealize their victimizer. The powerful sit in such an exalted position, such an *enviable* position, that rather than rage, I think the emotion they more typically evoke is envy. One thing our system is brilliant at is in making you think “you can do it!” Even though the odds of being a Fortune 500, $30M per year CEO, is more similar to hitting Mega Millions than to being unemployed (>10% are unemployed, what percent hit lotto or are $30M/yr CEOs?), folks want to believe that SOME day, that will be THEM. Because THEY are special. It is this sad self-delusion that the powerful exploit. It is so easy to pit religion against religion, black against white, lower class against middle class, that the powerful are able to retain, and even improve, their stranglehold with the full support of those they victimize. The Wall St billionaire is a glamorous and abstract concept. He flies a cool jet and has a big cool car. The “lazy union schmuck”, on the other hand, is the guy who “couldnt get my damn ESPN on in time!” Because hey, that is what is important. It is vital that we are in front of the TV In time to watch that game so Comcast and the multi-millionaire athletes get paid. That’s one job that everyone seems to agree people of color *are* allowed to hold onto. It’s the lazy union guy, and the “damn Mexican” who is “getting away with everything” and “ruining the country”. NOT the billionaire who pays about 8% tax on a nine figure income. Because hey, we’re more like THAT guy than like those OTHER schlubs. That’s the pathetic fantasy and, what is more pathetic, is that it works.

At no time in recent history has this phenomenon been more clearly demonstrated than the 2010 mid years. This “referendum” that has been issued by “the people” is nothing less than a clear signal to the worst of the worst manipulators of our financial system that it is smooth sailing back to business as usual.


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