[Video courtesy of Crooks and Liars]
Tax Day came and went on Wednesday, but in addition to the usual rush of last minute filings, there was a new phenomenon: the Tea Party. Ostensibly a spontaneous, grassroots movement that sprang up to protest President Obama's plans to let the Bush tax cuts expire and return the highest marginal rate to where it was during the Clinton Administration, there is ample evidence that it is, in fact, part of an astroturf initiative fomented by an increasingly desperate Republican Party.
Just how ridiculous is the Tea Party movement? Well, to begin with, they nicknamed their form of protest - sending tea bags to members of Congress and the White House - "teabagging," an unfortunate choice given that the same term is slang for a sex act. Further, Texas Governor Rick Perry - who is making a strong case that George W. Bush is not, in fact, the stupidest man in recent memory to serve as the Lone Star State's chief executive - dropped an offhand comment that Texas retains the right to secede from the United States over issues such as taxation.
Beyond this, however, is the fact that the people participating appear to be incredibly ignorant, misguided, occasionally delusional, or some combination of all three. As Matt Taibbi puts it in a recent - and excellent - post:
... It’s amazing, literally amazing to me, that it wasn’t until Obama pushed through a package containing a massive public works package and significant homeowner aid that conservatives took to the streets. In other words, it wasn’t until taxes turned into construction jobs and mortgage relief that working and middle-class Americans decided to protest. I didn’t see anyone on the street when we forked over billions of dollars to help JP Morgan Chase buy Bear Stearns. And I didn’t see anyone on the street when Hank Paulson forked over $45 more billion to help Bank of America buy Merrill Lynch, a company run at the time by one of the world’s biggest assholes, John Thain. Moreover I didn’t see any street protests when the government agreed to soak up hundreds of billions in “troubled assets” from Citigroup, a company that just months later would lend out a jet furnished with pillows upholstered with Hermès scarves to former chief Sandy Weill so that he could vacation in Mexico over Christmas.These are clearly people who not only know little of American history, but who can easily be talked into voting against their own interests. Further, their stated belief that President Obama is a socialist and/or a fascist with an unprecedented desire to tax that threatens capitalism, doesn't withstand even the briefest scrutiny, as the table below demonstrates. (Additional supporting data on top marginal tax rates can be found here.)
It doesn't stop there, though, as tax-related populist rabble-rousing is characterized by a set of talking points that seem to be repeated ad nauseum by the teabaggers, in one form or another:
1. President Obama will raise taxes on small businesses.John Perr breaks these statements down in detail over at PERRspectives, but suffice to say, each and every one of them is either an outright lie or a grotesque distortion.
2. The estate tax devastates small businesses and family farms.
3. 40% of Americans pay no taxes
4. Tax cuts always increase revenue.
5. The GOP is the party of fiscal discipline.
6. Ronald Reagan was the greatest tax cutter of all time.
7. FDR caused the Great Depression, or at least made it worse.
8. Obama's cap-and-trade plan will cost each American family $3,100 a year.
9. Obama's tax proposals will undermine charitable giving.
10. The rich pay too much in taxes already.
Perhaps even more comical than the ineptitude and dishonesty surrounding the Tea Party "movement", however, is the fact that it has taken the greatest degree of its meager hold in states that traditionally support the Republican Party, and which have an almost universally undeserved image of themselves as self-reliant. It is these GOP strongholds that are the true welfare queens, taking in far more in federal money than they contribute, and in effect, living off of the hard work of the "liberal elite" states on the coasts.
The gnashing of teeth continues among movement conservatives can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and their rhetoric is likely to increase in its stridency. The political right wing has - as Jon Stewart put it - confused tyranny with losing.
There is a measure of joy in seeing the public begin to understand that the people who only ceased backing George W. Bush when it became completely untenable have always been the worst of fringe ideologues, and there is a very real chance that the Republican Party is essentially committing suicide with this foolishness. It's certainly possible that the Tea Party movement might represent the cornerstone of a revitalized, modern GOP with national support, but to me, it is far more likely that it is merely another brick in the wall separating today's Republican leadership from the average American, and it might even be a weight that drags the party from the national stage into the political oblivion of regional power.