The so-called Tea Party Movement claims to be "A community committed to standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to protect our country and the Constitution upon which we were founded!" It is at once a loose coalition of like-minded individuals and a highly organized, centrally financed political action committee. It continues to garner media attention that is greatly disproportionate to its numbers and political influence. And it is the darling of the right-wing media from Glen Beck to Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh.
But just where did it come from and what is it really all about? The Tea Party Movement started from the promotion of a "rant" by CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli (you can view that rant here). What's interesting about this rant is that it introduces several of the core ideas of the Tea Party Movement - protesting of perceived "unfair taxation" (harking back to the Boston Tea Party of 1773), returning to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, etc.
What appears to me to be the first and most glaring of the paradoxes of the Tea Party Movement is that it professes to be a populist, "grass roots" movement of "regular Americans" that are fed up with the tyranny of oppressive government. But if you listen to Rick Santelli's rant carefully, he is angry over the February 18th "Help for Home Owners" proposal by the Obama Administration to extend government help to "regular Americans" who are in danger of foreclosure. Santelli is representing the interests of Wall Street traders, investors and brokers who cheer him from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor in the background. He is angry over using tax money to bail out the "losers" and you can see him call to the floor traders to ask if they want to help pay for their neighbor's house with an "extra bathroom" that they "cannot afford".
I actually agree with Rick that there has to be some adherence to the contracts that people signed (i.e. if you really can't afford your home, you shouldn't be in it), but that actually isn't what the Help For Home Owners plan said - it was about providing incentives to borrowers and lenders to come to payment terms that the borrower could afford in an attempt to avoid foreclosures. Compared to the bank bailout plan of 2008, this was not only a cheaper plan, but it was a more free-market friendly plan.
So how did this anti-Main Street rant turn into a grass roots movement against "tyranny"? Simple - a coordinated campaign of misinformation designed to stoke the anger of the right-wing of the Republican party at losing the 2008 election and mix that anger with the broader angst about the economy, the deficit and the mounting national debt (anger being a far more potent motivation than hope). And that misinformation campaign was designed by and disseminated by the right-wing media, including the pundits at Fox News and within conservative talk radio (the left-wing has nothing that compares to the misinformation machine of these conservative media outlets). More on this later.
The Tea Party Movement claims to be "non partisan" and recent polls show that as much as a third of them do not self-identify as Republicans. But this is because among this right-wing faction there is a fair amount of anger at Republicans (who are largely to blame for the current economic crisis as well as the staggering deficits and debt), even though the clear target og their anger is the Democrats and the Obama Administration. Make no mistake that the Tea Party Movement is about creating a Republican renaissance in the 2010 elections and setting the country back on the track it was on under the Bush Administration - a direction soundly rejected by voters in 2008.
So does the Tea Party Movement have legs? Absolutely! It promises to be exploited by the interests behind the conservative movement (industrialists, high income investors, corporatists and international financiers) and promoted vigorously by the conservative media until it appears to be the most powerful political force in the country. The truth will eventually be learned, but by then we will probably have taken many painful steps backward to where we were when the Republicans dominated Washington from 2000 to 2006. I can only wonder at what seeds might be planted then and what kind of economic crisis will we face when those seeds come to fruition.