Thursday, April 15th, 2010

The Tea Party Is As Depressing As It Is Predictable

This is long and ranty, you might want to skipThe Times does a bang-up job on answering the question of who makes up the "Tea Party." There's a ton of information to parse, but your short answer is wealthy older conservatives who hate the idea that poor people might ever enjoy any of the benefits of the state. Also, they are not fans of Barack Obama. Let us first get this out of the way. It is the opinion of a 67-year-old retiree.

I just feel he's getting away from what America is. He's a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he's a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don't care what he says. He's been in office over a year and can't find a church to go to. That doesn't say much for him.

Okay, fine, you've got a certain element of craziness in every movement, and cherry-picking the more outrageous quotes is probably too easy. Still, it does seem indicative of a large part of the Tea Party's animosity and resentment. This is always a subject that evokes angry dissent, but it is hard not to concede that there is more than a small element of the movement that can be traced back to the difficult subject of race.

The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves. More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites – compared with 11 percent of the general public.

They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

This would, of course, come as news to blacks, whom the President has gone out of his way to seem not to be helping. If we were somehow able to dispense with the racial component to all of this-which is impossible, but let's give it a shot-we might generously say that it's purely a coincidence that the massive deficits racked up by this country over the last eight years, many of which went to pay for wars and bailouts of the financial system, only became a concern once an African-American entered the Oval Office. It was just serendipitous timing, really. Even so, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between what these people think the government is doing for the poor and what it does for everyone else. Gail Collins, who has been on an amazing streak for so long now that one routinely expects excellence when turning to her column, captures a small bit of this in her piece today.

Discussing a recent study showing that only 47% of American households pay federal income tax last year, a number which has been trumpeted all over the place as an example of how we are forcing our hardworking rich people to subsidize the poor, Collins notes of the figure that:

Even the Tax Policy Center, which came up with it, doesn't seem all that thrilled with the attention it's getting.

"That viral number," sighed Bob Williams, a senior fellow at the center. He is worried that the country is getting the impression that the bottom 47 percent is not paying anything for government services. But there are, of course, a lot of other taxes, particularly the big whoppers that are taken out of paychecks to pay for Social Security and Medicare, the programs everybody seems to like.

"This is looking only at income tax," Williams said. "If we toss in payroll tax, only 13 percent are exempt from both – almost all low-income elderly."

Social Security and Medicare are indeed the programs the Tea Party people favor, a contradiction discussed in the first article. "Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security," a member of the movement tells the paper. "I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

Another fact worth keeping in mind, from Collins: "The after-tax income of the top 1 percent more than tripled since 1979, while the bottom-dwellers barely moved an inch." And there's the crux of it. We have spent the last thirty years enriching the very highest caste in this country at the expense of everyone else, even the relatively wealthy who are now so upset that some money may wind up in the hands of poor black people. We've been fed a steady diet of vitriol and fear regarding the terrible manipulation of labor unions, which are ostensibly running this country into the ground with their all-powerful grip on the government when, really, they cannot even organize their own offices. We always hear about the pension obligations that are draining our budgets, but there are rarely any discussions of the various subsidies and tax breaks given to major corporations which find ways to effectively avoid contributing altogether. But, yes, by all means, let's let a bunch of angry older folks with good incomes and decent educations set the tone of the debate. It's probably the last chance they have to raise their voices in protest before we're living in a socialist Islamic dictatorship.

61 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt Wilstein (#4,163)

watch the new video, Teabagging since 1773:

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Does Cafe Press still make foam fingers? Because I want one that says "Gail Collins is #1!!!"

You know, to wear on the subway.

dado (#102)

How can we let people enjoy the benefit of the state when there are people out there who may not even be enjoying their kobe carpaccio?

stimguy (#555)

Thank you Alex.

Moff (#28)


HiredGoons (#603)

This becomes far less surprising or disheartening when you take into account that most people are fucking idiots.

Also, "well-educated" "well-informed".

Woo, that didn't work. I was trying to imply, via HTML, that "well-educated" and "well-informed" weren't the same thing, but let it pass, let it pass.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

This is why I tend to use both [s] and [strike] – you never really know which will work. (It is not sstrike.)

brent_cox (#40)

I wonder what the ratio of Grumpy Privileged Older White Folks to Insane Provocative Yelly White People is?

cherrispryte (#444)

Based on the metro this morning, the population was skewing heavily towards Grumpy Privileged Older White Folks.

bb (#295)

I passed a sign that said on one side, "TEA – Taxed Enough Already." OK, I can respect that (sort of). Other side? "POOP" – with the O's as obama campaign logos. They sure are smart.

bb (#295)

Also, I think that the Yelly White Folks are more visible, but the Grumpy Olds more plentiful (and – typical boomers- they seem really excited just to be out and part of an event).

I see this one same truck with an aborted fetus on the back of it and signs all over proclaiming the end of the world b/c of "Obamacare" periodically around town. Wonder if he has a twitter?

sailor (#396)

Paranoid, self-involved, racist, simple-minded whiners who would have gotten their fat asses kicked across the Boston Common by the original Sons of Liberty.

Historical note: A significant portion of the Boston Tea Party protestors were faux patriots (sound familiar?) pissed off about the fact they couldn't reap the same profits from smuggling tea in from Holland.

To put it bluntly: These clowns are even more full of shit than they were.

deepomega (#1,720)

I'd rather we never use the word "racist" and "tea-bagger" in the same sentence. Instead, let's beat the shit out of them over there "I want smaller government, except where it directly affects the payouts to me, where I want the biggest fucking government possible."

QueenWasp (#926)

Or in short: "Boomers".

deepomega (#1,720)

Can't wait till they're all dead!

Mindpowered (#948)

Let's hasten the process.

QueenWasp (#926)

I always held that this "death panel" stuff was getting a bad rap.

cherrispryte (#444)

Okay kids, here's your way to make a difference: Sponsor me to yell at a Tea Partier! These assholes are on the Metro, wandering the streets of my city, and making me angry. With your financial support, I will bitch them out, give them wrong directions, and yell at them for using publically funded services (such as the Metro!) Make your donation today!

#56 (#56)

Kindly direct me to your PayPal account. I'd like to donate.

Mindpowered (#948)

I am in as well.

HiredGoons (#603)

As a well educated white person, I will gladly support this from behind the scenes.

@HiredGoons: Even if it doesn't get your name entirely off the list of "first up against the wall etc. etc.," I think it'll move you down a few notches. At least, that's always been my theory.

Matt (#26)

It takes all of my will to not throw elbows. All of it.

cherrispryte (#444)

@Matt: GIVE IN.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Apropos of nothing I just want to say the #WelcomeToNigeria hashtag is awesome.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Oh my. That certainly is a thing, isn't it?

KarenUhOh (#19)

Fuck 'em. They're old, they don't run very fast, and they'll have to stop every twenty minutes to use the bathroom.

So you're saying that they're the Least Dangerous Game?

Given that they're generally sedentary and fat, they probably have nice, well marbled flesh upon which to feast. Can you say tea-bagger carppacio? Yum.

deepomega (#1,720)

That would actually be gophers. But TBers are definitely the Moderately Safe Game.

conklin (#364)

Isn't it uncanny how socialism always starts with the money someone else is getting?

kneetoe (#1,881)

They are the same 18% who approved of the job Bush was doing by the end of his second term.

Yes, the rough number implied by the Theory of General Crazification.

City_Dater (#2,500)

So if our president would only pick a church and go to it, at least one retired white lunatic might shut the fuck up and go home with her (no doubt) misspelled signage?
Jesus, indeed.
*eye roll*

LondonLee (#922)

Then there's Exxon Mobil that made something like $13 billion in profit last year and didn't pay a penny in US taxes.

Scum (#1,847)

The story was that they didn't pay anything in income taxes, not that they didn't pay anything in taxes full stop.

Ben Garbe (#3,316)

Calling Obama a Muslim insults the truly crazy religion and religious personalities he does follow as well as the Muslim religion. He hasn't found a church because his religion is insane.

I frankly don't care what religion he is, but why do we keep electing President's with just crazy fucking religious backgrounds.

Also, there's a huge fucking difference between income taxes and payroll/social security taxes. People "feel" the income tax way more. The proof is in the whining many poor are doing over the health care penalty just passed. If those of lower income "feel" the loss of cash to taxes…they tend to be less likely to support big government. I think that's particularly telling.

I continue to find your website alternatively interesting and then as one sided and myopic (but more smug) as the tea party.

Moff (#28)

What is it particularly telling of?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Yes yes, let's base our tax policy on people's feelings.

Mindpowered (#948)

Someone needs to cut back on the venti vitrol.

Scum (#1,847)

Re: the crazy religion stuff. Your boy won people and no-one cares anymore. There is no reason to keep pretending that the trinity church is not batshit insane. It is fruitbatshit insane and you know it

Bittersweet (#765)


boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Media overexposure/malexposure (is that a word?) of this movement is fascinating to me. Like how the Boston Globe decided to bury the fact that the mother of 10 taking her kids on a tea party field trip in its lede is actually on Medicaid. I spent the whole article thinking she was credible!

Holy crap, this bit was astonishing (and, also, RIGHT AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE!) :

When asked why her family used state-subsidized health care when she criticized people who take handouts, Valerie Shirk said she did not want to stop having children, and that her husband's income was not enough to cover the family with private insurance.

Moff (#28)

In spite of how much I know I shouldn't be, I am mildly gobsmacked. But seriously, these people are by and large not about taking responsibility for themselves; they are selfish and entitled.

If I were smart, I'd join up as an agent provocateur and organize a campaign of Tea Partiers publicly burning their Medicaid / Medicare cards, a la draft-card burnings. I'd be all "what, you're not as committed to your cause as those dirty hippies were to theirs?"

Maybe if I tried hard enough, I could get 'em to burn their Social Security cards too.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Shouldn't they dump their Medicaid cards into the harbor? Authenticity, people!

Moff (#28)

The Tea Party as a phenomenon is not that surprising. I mean, at what point before now have so many people seen their culture change so completely? These old white folks started out with black-and-white television if they were lucky. A lot of them were in college before the Supreme Court made interracial marriage fully legal. Atheism was a weird, aberrant behavior for most of their lives, not something you argued about every day with people you'd never met.

And most of all, they just never had as much information about what was going on as they do now. Television reporting changed minds about Vietnam, so it doesn't seem that odd that now that these people are deluged with truths and half-truths and outright lies about their government — and now that it's possible for them to network together online, because they've finally figured out the Internet — they're going, "Holy shit! I cannot believe what is happening!" The Internet gives people greater power to express themselves; when people are given greater power to express themselves, the amount of expressing they have to do expands to fill the gap.

Couple that with the fact that it's exponentially easier to get outraged online over abstract ideas (Religion! Not perfect, but still killing a lot fewer people than car crashes or heart disease! Popular music! Actually kind of thriving, despite the Black Eyed Peas!), and the Tea Party makes perfect sense.* As a phenomenon. As a philosophy, these jackasses need to stop worrying so much about the federal government and start using all that time and energy to figure out what they want and what's feasible, and how they can use their local and state government and institutions to enact some change. Not that they are going to do that, because they are largely disorganized and stupid in the truest sense of the word and would rather shout than do any work. Like most of us, except with extra threats and bigotry.

*The whole "black president" thing is certainly a lot of extra fuel for the fire, but I think this woulda all happened eventually anyway.

Right on, Moff. This is exactly how to say it.

Bittersweet (#765)

Absolutely, Moff. A lot of people (including me) are wondering how the healthcare reform will work and worried about government spending and giant deficits (forget the Tea Party whine that their opinions aren't represented in DC, as Republicans fall over themselves to kiss Tea Party butt).

But add all the crazy racism and religion phobia, plus no real solutions for solving any of these big problems, and you have a bunch of shouting, laughable idiots.

HiredGoons (#603)

I just find it depressing that they think they're this big, grassroots, independent movement which is really being maneuvered and backed by the establishment they feign to oppose.

Sort of like MoveOn.

jack burton (#4,433)

I have heard this around a few places and it makes sense to me: These are the Boomer children of the hate the hippies, "DON'T YOU DARE LISTEN TO THAT JOHN LENNON IN THIS HOUSE!" type that really seem to dominate my small northeast Wisconsin town. Still angry that they weren't able to avail of the cool tree and free love seemingly all around them. Nothing new, nothing novel. Add the blackity, black black equation in and the perceived loss of privilege that is totally not happening (yet!) and you have the nexus of fun you see here.

Also +1 on the insane culture shock these poor folks must be experiencing. To paraphrase L. P. Hartley, the Olds are a foreign country.

On the other hand, it mostly just makes me feel kind of bad for 'em. Sympathy for the Teabaggers, that's me.

Ben Garbe (#3,316)

It's telling that when people "feel" the loss of income to the goverment…they're a whole lot more likely to demand accountability and a whole lot more worried about how that money is spent.

@mindpowered It's a surprise Palin made a lot of money? All these people are rolling it. Both sides of the aisle. What exactly is revealing about that?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Dear NYT writer Wendy Zernike (IF THAT'S YOUR REAL NAME!),

Stop legitimizing them by pretending that the answers that they give are actually true! YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Scum (#1,847)

This post is pretty hard to reconcile with the history of the tea parties.

The tea party phenomena was founded in opposition to the TARP. This alone seems to deal a hefty blow to your post. I cannot see why a group of people who were apathetic to the government's role in benefiting the wealthiest in society and driven by a horror of state help for the poor would even care about the TARP, let alone become a member of a movement formed in opposition to it.

As far as the race stuff goes i'll take a pass. It's an issue that has been talked about at serious length but at very little benefit. If people want to pretend that they know how big a part race plays in all this they are welcome to.

Moff (#28)

Uh, whatever the Tea Party may have originally been, here's a collection of things they're for now, in their own words, from yesterday! It's nice, though, that you give them the benefit of the doubt that they would make any kind of goddamn sense. They don't.

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