A Tea Party Tale

Current attempts to revive the Boston Tea Party of 1773 are marketing gimmicks to mask conservative interests. A look at the recent history of this faux movement reveals the actors behind the curtain.

One of the earliest revivals of the Tea Party involved 100 people meeting in Seattle to protest the stimulus bill passed by Congress to keep the U.S. from descending into another Great Depression. After bloggers and libertarians issued a call on the Internet for a protest, the media blew it into a major event and right-wing groups poured funding into the nascent movement. These groups include Americans for Prosperity, a pro-tobacco, anti-health-care reform, and anti-tax lobbying organization, and FreedomWorks, a lobbying firm devoted to opposing taxes, immigration, health-care reform, and solutions to global warming. Koch Industries, an oil, mineral, ranching, and securities conglomerate, funds both groups, while the Sarah Mellon Scaife foundation, with interests in oil, industry, and banking, funds FreedomWorks.

After Fox News began promoting the Tea Party as a social movement, their crowds grew. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck invited viewers to "celebrate with Fox News" by attending tax protests in Washington on April 15. A mere 3,000 Tea Party supporters attended the rally, but it grabbed headlines. More people rallied across the country in support of single payer health-care reform, but they received litttle attention. After much smaller groups of Tea Partiers protested in several cities, right-wing commentators—such as Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly—giddily talked about "a growing movement." Soon Republicans Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Ron Paul, Grover Norquist, and Newt Gingrich jumped on board, hoping to revive their failed political careers.

Supporters claimed the Tea Party was "a nonpartisan grassroots movement," but, in reality, it was supported by right-wing money and promoted by the right-wing propaganda mill. In spite of the media hoopla, when asked, 18 percent of Americans replied that they identified with the Tea Party. Only 20 percent of those sent money—about 4 percent of the public—while 78 percent gave nothing in support. Essentially, the Tea Party is a new face of the same old right-wing, reactionary forces that have been working to turn America into a more religious, racist, and militaristic country with an unregulated free enterprise system, weak government, and low taxation.

Analysts predicted midterm elections would reveal large grass-roots support for the Tea Party, but only a handful of their candidates won in the primaries, while two-thirds of registered voters stayed home. Unfortunately, a poor showing at the polls doesn’t mean all is well in the U.S.

According to a comprehensive New York Times/CBS News poll, the majority of Tea Party supporters describe themselves as being "very conservative," more conservative than most Republicans on social issues. They almost always vote Republican and 60 percent favored George W. Bush Jr. A majority are white men who claim the government favors the poor. Twice as many of them as the general public feel black people get "too much attention." Almost 50 percent heard about the Tea Party on TV, 80 percent are white, 60 percent are older than 50, 90 percent are pessimistic about the direction of the country, disapprove of Obama, believe America is becoming socialist, and 75 percent want to have smaller government.

Many Tea Partiers live on Social Security, benefit from Medicare, and are frightened. Although they report their personal financial situation as "fairly good" or "very good," 55 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party fear someone in their household will lose their job in the coming year. Two-thirds say the recession caused them economic hardship and forced them to make life changes.

Progressive forces are organizing to promote social change in the interests of working people, minorities, gays and lesbians, young people, and immigrants, but they confront opposition groups with lots of money behind them. These moneyed interests, with help from conservatives from the Baby Boomer generation, are currently holding off real change. Coupled with GOP obstructionism in Congress, America is deadlocked. What catastrophe will come to break the deadlock is anyone’s guess.


Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes occasional satire.