Tea Party Movement?
23 Mar 2009 16:35
Some of the Tired Donkey’s loyal readers have asked him to comment on the so-called “Tea Party” movement now afoot in the land; he assents to their request.
As is the Tired Donkey’s wont, he will begin with a brief history lesson so as to keep his readers immunized from emotion-laden rants of little consequence. The Tea Party movement takes its name from the justifiably celebrated Boston Tea Party, a grand and important tax protest which happened on the evening of December 16, 1773. On that night, three ships of The East India Company were moored in Boston Harbor loaded with a cargo of tea. Though the tea carried a tax that the colonists refused to pay, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, had ordered the tea to be unloaded rather than returned to England.
Great patriot Sam Adams was having none of this. He quickly organized a group of sixty colonists who—disguised as either Mohawk or Narragansett Indians (there is argument on this point)—boarded the ships, broke open 342 chest of tea and threw all of it overboard. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the tea was worth nearly $1.9 million. This direct action protest by the colonists helped precipitate the Revolutionary War as it both emboldened the American revolutionaries and unified opposition to the colonies in England.
Cut to February 19, 2009, when CNBC talking head Rick Santelli had a little on-air tantrum about paying his neighbor’s mortgage. Overnight—and, according to some, under suspicious circumstances—Squawking Donkey Santelli became a cause celeb, and the current Taxpayer Tea Party movement was birthed. The “movement” has spawned a number of protests across the country which object to “the ridiculous economic polices of President Barack Obama”; they have been sparsely attended by penny-loafered people who bring their children along to carry anti-Obama signs printed on poster-board.
You may notice a tone of scorn in the Tired Donkey’s description of these protests, and you would be right to notice it. It is not that the Tired Donkey is opposed to what appears to be upsetting these people; it is the futility of it all that gets a donkey down. If carrying signs and getting a little television coverage makes these poor donkeys feel better, than the Tired Donkey is happy for them. But he doesn’t want them to believe they are making a difference. At a time when Myrmidon Donkey Obama’s approval rating is well above 60%, these little blips of grassroots anger simply don’t matter. Please allow the Tired Donkey to explain.
It is good that some people are unhappy about the way their tax dollars are being spent; there is much to be unhappy about. The Tired Donkey is also pleased that these people are willing to do something about their anger. But the Tired Donkey is not happy that what they are doing is ridiculous. This “movement” is being co-opted by the all-but-dead Republican party, and—as the Tired Donkey has pointed out elsewhere—the Republicans are every bit as irresponsible with donkey money as this or any other Democratic administration. Except under exceptional circumstances (think 1994 mid-term elections—more on that below), populist rage cannot be effectively channeled by the major parties because they are beholden to too many special interest groups with too much power.
The last time we had this much anger about the way our tax dollars are spent was in the run-up to the 1992 presidential elections when Crazy Donkey Perot and his balanced-budget push threw the election to horny Myrmidon Donkey Clinton. This example proves that it is possible to harness widespread anger given the right circumstances, but a herd of enraged donkeys cannot do it alone. The time is right for the change the Tired Donkey wants, but the anger must be harnessed; it must be turned into a real movement, not a phony puppet movement with the strings being pulled by a neutered major party with no new ideas and no future. So let’s discuss how this can happen.
In order to be effective, any “movement” must have intellectual vigor, a direct action component and pressure applied at a tipping-point. If you want a perfect example of this, the Tired Donkey suggests you reacquaint yourself with what Newt Gingrich accomplished with the Contract with America. The Boston Tea Party had all of these elements; the Taxpayer Tea Party movement has none. “Our tax money is being spent badly” is not an intellectually rigorous position as it offers no alternative, marching around in small groups with signs is not direct action that matters and there is no tipping point on which to apply pressure. In short—to answer the request of his readers directly—the Tired Donkey’s opinion of the Taxpayer Tea Party is, for the moment, quite simple: who cares? But the movement could turn into something that matters given the right circumstances and the right leadership. More tomorrow.