Tea parties, populist rage, America’s new politics of protest

Russ Caditz-Peck

Credit: Douglas
Credit: Douglas

America is angry! A thirsty, populist rage has overtaken our nation!

In case your Whitman bubble has been especially strong of late, I am referring to April 15’s Tea Parties. Thousands of angry citizens took to the Capitol and America’s city squares: including Walla Walla: to protest…taxes? Bailouts? No representation? Obama? All this, and more!

It would be easy to poke fun at Tea Partygoers and infantilize their concerns. Look at their silly costumes and crazy: often incoherent and violent: signs calling for the overthrow of the American government! Tea parties are dainty and girly and French-sounding! Teabagging! However, I’ll leave that to Jon Stewart, David Schuster and our Humor editors.

It would be equally easy to condemn the predictable presence of corporate cash flowing into Tea Party planning. Or to note the hypocrisy of Fox News: which aired 107 tea party ads and essentially organized the event: to claim “we do not pick and choose these rallies and protests” despite years of ignoring and questioning the patriotism of Iraq war protestors.

Lastly, it would be easy to point out how the central conceit: an allusion to the Boston Tea Party: is nonsensical. The big issue in 1776 was “taxation without representation”. These protestors have representation. That is, unless they live in the very liberal, very unrepresented D.C.: which is, ironically, where many protestors congregated without referencing this fact.

Tea Partygoers concerns over taxes and the deficit may be justifiable, but are overblown. Obama just passed the largest tax cut in American history. Obama’s plan raises taxes from 36 to 39 percent for America’s wealthiest five percent. This reinstates the levels of taxation of the wealthy at Clinton era brackets: still 10 percent lower than under Reagan.

An overwhelming consensus of economists has agreed that massive public spending is now necessary to keep the economy on its feet, and Obama’s plan to pay for it is reasonable: if not timid.

It’s clear that the protestors do not suffer from a lack of representation or democracy. Every issue on their agenda was debated in the ’08 election cycle. It’s that the protestors didn’t like the results.

To be fair, not every Bush-era protest stayed on message. Issues were conflated, silly costumes were worn and media powerhouses were there … well, at least Democracy Now! and Air America.

In the spirit of democracy, let us examine the specific policies Tea Partygoers advocate.

According to Matt Yglesias at the Center for American Progress, these would likely include: stopping spending, stopping bailouts, cutting taxes, and pursuing something akin to the alternative stimulus plan proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Not to be apocalyptic, but these spell economic disaster. DeMint’s plan: hailed by conservatives: amounts to $3.1 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. This is about three times as expensive as Obama’s stimulus, and is justified by Bush-era economic logic despite the economic meltdown. As a result, our nation would be left with millions unemployed, a larger deficit and a longer recession. Doing nothing is better than DeMint’s plan, but leaves us with similar results.

The closest credible supporter libertarians or conservatives have on this is former top Bush economist Greg Mankiw: the author of my Principles of Economics textbook here at Whitman: who critiques Obama’s policies on his blog, yet refuses to formally denounce them.

I encourage Tea Partygoers across the nation and here at Whitman: yes, they exist!: to continue this debate. While we disagree for now, American democracy may genuinely be benefited in the long run by a conservative embrace of dissent and protest politics.