April 19, 2009

The Tea Party Debacle

[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.)

[Click image for larger view]

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.
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.
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.

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.


lokywoky said...

To me, all the (non)issues you mentioned are a cover for something else - an unbridled hatred for the man now occupying the White House. These Tea Parties were a cover for gatherings of racist, white power idiots who wouldn't understand the truth if it bit them in the butt.

I saw a clip of film where a lefty blogger actually got the microphone at one of these events, and basically led the gullible crowd along as he explained that all the problems they (think they) have are attributable to George W Bush. He managed to get them confused and muttering, and at the end - the crowd wound up booing and hissing as he said that they all were going to get a tax CUT from Obama.


Stupid is as stupid does.

Brain bleach pleas.

PBI said...

Hi LW,

I don't disagree - I think there is a very real layer of personal animosity in this. Most of the people involved in the Tea Parties really appear to be the dullest of the dull - the foot soldiers for Bush movement conservatism who will swallow whatever is dished up to them. What's interesting to me, however, is how the GOP and its surrogates at FOX have latched onto this stuff as some sort of lifeline for the party. And it's anything BUT a lifeline - the other end seems to me to be attached to an anchor rather than a ship.


PBI said...

Oh - and I'd LOVE to see the clip you describe!

lokywoky said...



Here it is.


PBI said...

That clip is full of WIN. : )

Anonymous said...

why do you have to always resort to name calling and insults? do you really think all of these individuals who have a difference in opinion with the ideas of our president are "racist, white power idiots"? and how would you describe the registered democrats who attended some of these events around the country. My parents participated in one in ny and grandparents in fl. they are all lifelong demcrats and they would all be very bothered to know they are deemed racist or even white power idiots.

i fail to see how this helps bridge the differences in opinion and win over support from those with whom you currently disagree.

i'm not sure what the acronym "WIN" stands for. can you explain that?

i hope civility and mutual respect can reenter the political scene. then, i believe, we could see some tremendous progress as a country.

PBI said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure that there is any evidence whatsoever that I "always resort to name calling and insults." I rely on thoroughly cited and sourced posts to "win over" people who disagree with me. I'm sorry if the personal opinion that is informed by those posts is not to your liking, but the idea that I have made an argument or stated a position that is based on invective is unsupportable.

My opinion that "most" - I certainly never said "all" - of the people involved in the Tea Parties are either mindless followers, ignorant of facts and history, or have personal animosity toward President Obama, is amply substantiated by things like the marginal tax rate graph included above, the fact that this issue of government spending and deficits was never an issue as long as George W. Bush was in office, the fact that Teabaggers refuse to acknowledge that the vast majority of people in this country are getting a tax cut under the president's plan, and the cries of inconsistent and wild-eyed sloganeering that was the hallmark of the Tea Parties themselves.

While I'm sure there were sincere people at these events, it doesn't change the fact that none of them - as Matt Taibbi points out in the linked article - made a peep while the GOP was running two wars off-budget and literally misplacing billions of dollars of shrink-wrapped cash in Iraq, awarding huge no-bid contracts, cutting taxes while ballooning the government, etc., etc., etc... If this was truly a cause that most Tea Partiers felt strongly about, they never would have voted for Bush in 2004, and I guarantee you that the vast majority of them did.

Further, I have seen probably 50 interviews with people from these events, and they were filled with people talking about socialism, fascism, and – repeatedly - the idea that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. Maybe not where your parents and grandparents were, but definitely in a lot of other places.

On top of that, this was in no way a grass roots movement. Fox News was far and away the biggest promoter of the Tea Parties, and this has been months in the planning by some of the leading lights of the Bush conservative movement. The chicagoteaparty.com domain name, for instance, was registered by a right wing think tank weeks before Rick Santelli's now-famous rant, and Fox "reporters" were on-air urging people to "wake up and ... smell the fascism."

This is pretty plainly an astroturf operation, which I suppose is fine if that's your cup of tea, but it's also pretty plainly founded on a layer of hypocrisy that is pretty hard to stomach.

To be clear, I'm concerned about the deficit and inflation. Unfortunately, the downturn of the economy after 8 years of Bush isn't going to be cured by a tax cut, as amply demonstrated by history. Government spending and fiscal policy are the only levers left to solve severe recession when banks aren't lending, and fiscal policy is dead in the water with institutional rates close to zero.

For my money, these gatherings were almost entirely about being anti-Obama - whether because of ideology, racism or ignorance, it doesn't really matter - and about failing to come to grips with the collapse of movement conservatism. My tolerance for ignornace and fear mongering has plummeted precipitously in recent years because ignorance and fear mongering are what got George W. Bush into office and kept him there long enough to tear this country down.

I would be all for "civility and respect" in political dicsourse, but after 25 years of some of the most uncivil, demoagogic, ignorant, arrogant and bullying rhetoric from the GOP and its supporters - which has only gotten worse since 2000 - in the words of the Dixie Chicks, "I'm not ready to make nice." When conservatives stop acting as they have, I'll more than happily meet them halfway - in fact, I try to meet them halfway all the time - but too often that courtesy is mistaken for weakness, and I'm no doormat.


The "WIN" in "Full of WIN" isn't an acronym, it's the word "win" capitalized for emphasis. A definition of the phrase can be found here.

Anonymous said...

I apologize PBI. I was referring to LOKYWOKY's first comment. Reviewing some of his previous comments shows a real disdain for "the other side". In my opinion, challenging the ideas is patriotic, however reverting to mean and spiteful name-calling is a real turn-off.

I believe you have misunderstood the main points of the "tea-baggers". Many, including myself, were very upset with the excessive spending under Bush. This created a void for some of us to seek ANY change. GOP failed to uphold their core values during Bush. They needed to be purged. At the same time, I do not believe the middle believed the President's spending would go so much higher... $787B stimulus that is NOT creating enough jobs, $410B left-over budget (including an 8% increase with billions of earmarks our President opposed during the campaign), $3.6 TRILLION in new budget (THIS, I believe, is the thrust of the Tea Party complaints - I doubt ANY average taxpayer would have expected this level of spending - particularly during a recession). Additionally, there is inherit unfairness to provide tax money to pay for mortgage relief for those in trouble to make payments when 90+ % sacrifice and honor the terms of the mortgages they acquired.

You are absolutely correct that many received paycheck tax cuts. But this is miniscule compared to the future increased taxes awaiting us. Again, what I saw as the main thrust of the "AstroTurf" movement. You have focused on the here & now to discredit those of us who FINALLY decided to get involved. You have ignored that FUTURE taxes were booed. It will be very difficult to explain how taxes WON'T go up with all of the stated initiatives. And please understand my position. I want a clean, safe environment, but selling 'carbon credits' is a tax on oil, natural gas & coal when wind & solar cannot produce enough to meet the needs of the country. This 'tax' will flow through to consumers. Though the Gov't can provide rebates on individual home usage (assumingly paid for from tevenue from carbon credits), they cannot eliminate the increased prices on every other product produced, transported and sold in the market place. Think food prices due to ethanol subsidies. I love the idea of Healthcare for everyone, but how are the bills paid. But where do you find the doctors and do they have to join the union. And how do you reward companies and their venture capitalists to pursue expensive R&D. Who creates enough wealth in order to tax and pay for all of this?

We have lost perspective on what $1TRILLION dollars is. I correlate this to my younger days when I made my first trip to Vegas. The first night I was sweating bullets on whether to raise my bet from the $3 minimum to $5. By the end of the weekend, I was placing $100 bets at the BlackJack table. Heck, they were only chips, right? It all hit me when I got on the plane home. In the end, we have to pay for this somehow.

This is just my opinion. I assume I will now be thoroughly attacked for my pea-brained opinions, lack of intellectual curiosity and racist mentality because I am questioning the POLICIES of a black president.

Anonymous said...

BTW - after re-reading this commentary and noticing the use of the phrase "black president", I realized I will be sufficiently criticised and attacked for being a racist, per political correctness police requirements. In reality, the issue is the POLICIES of our President, who just happens to be black. Nothing in my prior commentary had anything to do with being a racist. Or at least that is how I see it. (We will see if you can stay away from the political correctness responnse and just address policy comments.)

PBI said...


You certainly won’t be attacked by me for expressing your opinion! I have already conceded that I’m sure there are people within the Tea Party movement who have genuine concerns, but I think it’s important that some other things are acknowledged as well.

First, Bush’s wild spending was going on for virtually his entire presidency. The timing of the Tea Party movement is pretty damn suspicious given that it had EIGHT YEARS to stand up and make itself heard. This silence – and the idea that there was no outlet for dissent – is awfully hard to defend, and I don’t remember a single squawk when Cheney famously said, for instance, “Deficits don’t matter."

I’m not focused on the here and now at the expense of the future in order to discredit anyone. While I suppose that there is a certain amount of “better late than never," the Tea Party movement didn’t lend itself much credibility by sitting idly by and cheerleading the Bush Administration for two whole presidential terms. I have in no way ignored that all of this spending has to be paid back, just as I wasn’t ignoring it while Bush was running up his deficit, and worse, HIDING it by keeping the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars off the books. Why weren’t people on the Republican side protesting that when it occurred? He did it for EVERY SINGLE war appropriation of his presidency. (Here’s a quick view of some Bush budget tricks.)

What I’m not ignoring is the fact that, with interests rates already close to zero, banks still refusing to lend, and citizens conserving their cash, the only player big enough to kick start the economy is the government. Now, that’s not to say I’m happy about keeping bad banks in business – I’m not and they should go through FDIC receivership – but again, government stimulus in economic conditions like this is macroeconomics 101, and it’s got a track record of success. If the government isn’t going to step in, I’m at a loss for who does.

And if you’re thinking of talking about tax cuts, I’d like to point out that marginal tax rates are at just about their lowest point in modern American history, as even Bush Administration water-carrier Congressman Patrick McHenry admitted recently. Given the mess that was left behind, it’s not going to kill us or the economy to pitch in for the good of the nation down the road if it means we can get ourselves back on our feet in the here and now.

I think you raise a valid concern about cap and trade, but what is your alternative? From what I can see, in one way or another, it is time to pay the piper, and the fact of the matter is that the piper’s bill went up with – again – eight years of Bush malfeasance on climate change and energy independence. Why weren’t the Tea Partiers pushing for change when it would have been cheaper to do so?

As for health care, who pays for health care now? Everyone gets some kind of health care, whether through a personal physician or through emergency room treatment, and it all goes into the societal pot for expenditures. Universal health care done right will be cheaper overall; right now the U.S. spends more of its GDP on health care than any other developed nation but it is ranked only 39th – just ahead of Slovenia and behind Costa Rica – in the World Health Organization ratings of health care systems. It is pretty much inarguable that there are better ways to do things.

Finally, I think you should look at the history of tax rates, economic growth and innovation in the United States. The marginal tax rate graph in this post (above) is a great place to start. Somehow all of the innovation and entrepreneurship that fueled the postwar boom took place in an era when the top brackets were taxed at 91%. I think we’re a long way from being at a 91% top bracket, and the idea that people will stop working or innovating because their taxes go up a bit simply isn’t born out by history. In fact, if it’s for the right reasons, most people are more than willing to chip in – I know I am – and the calamitous mess left by George W. Bush seems like something we all need to be addressing.

I think you are right that no one really has a handle on what a trillion dollars is. Of course that has been the case for some time, and I would have a lot more sympathy for the Tea Partiers if they had been half as willing to protest deficit spending for wars as they are to protest deficit spending to keep Americans in their homes, provide health care, and repair the damage wrought by greed enabled through deregulation.

Somebody has to clean this mess up, and the worst part is that Democrats have had to sweep up after Republicans repeatedly. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has devastated the Treasury, leaving in its wake enormous deficits, piles of debt and worsening social ills. (See here.)The idea that there has been any kind of GOP fiscal responsibility in the last 30 years is an utter myth, but now, suddenly, things have gone too far for the Tea Partiers?

Finally, I think your closing lines are revealing; you disagree with the policies of President Obama. That’s certainly your right and one I respect, but it kind cuts to the chase of what I was saying in earlier comments. The Tea Parties are hypocritical and disjointed because, in fact, they are not about people fundamentally committed to low taxes and fiscal responsibility. They are instead a loose agglomeration of individuals with a wide range of policy differences in opposition to the current administration who simply don’t like WHAT he’s using public money for. If it were President Bush or John McCain still spending like a drunken sailor - as amply demonstrated by actual events and documented past inaction - you would have a very hard time convincing me that any of the Tea Partiers would have left their couches because, in fact, they didn't.

My original assessment that the Tea Parties are both largely hypocritical and astroturf organizations (e.g.as evidenced by things like the advance purchase of chicagoteaparty.com domain name) remains one with which I am entirely comfortable. My apologies to the sincere exception, but that's what the truly sincere are, in my opinion: the exception.


Your rush to play the victim of political correctness detracts mightily from your comments. I have more than enough facts and knowledge – they’re what I use in forming my opinions and stating them in posts – within reach to address your points. If you can find an example of my using doctrine unsupported by fact in anything I have ever written either on Sensen No Sen or elsewhere, I’d love to see it. To quote the Bard, “Methinks thou dost protest too much."

PBI said...

ADDENDUM: The rank of 39th I referenced above is in error. The U.S. is actually ranked 37th, albeit still sandwiched between Costa Rica and Slovenia. WHO link is here.

Anonymous said...

PBI - you keep reverting to the "Bush created all the problems and created these huge deficits" as your rationale to support our President's spending. It's like telling me I can't complain about all of the arsons that are taking place because I didn't complain when Bush played with matches. You completely ignore that I stated, as many others have as well, Bush spent WAY TOO MUCH. To this point, this created enough discourse that millions voted for President Obama with a desire to change things. Knowing what we know now, I am not sure we would have voted for him if we truly understood the massive amounts of spending that has occurred since he took office. To suggest that we are hypocrites because we didn't get up and complain as loudly as we are now,is disingenuous. The faultiness in this argument is that I and others DID complain. And when our concerns weren't addressed, we bought into the "hope" of the campaign promises of No Earmarks, Transparency, Eliminating Waste, etc... Since these things are not only NOT happening, but in fact EXPANDING beyond comprehension, many of us are becoming active. And I am call a racist, a mindless ideologue, a hypocrite, etc... all because I am finally compelled to speak up.

President Obama keeps lamenting about how he was left with a horrible budget problem. Yet, he voted for the $700B bail-out of which he did not have to spend the remaining $350B when he took office. He proposed the $787B Stimulus Package, by saying I need $250B (ish) and then let the Dem Leadership add in the rest - for their pet projects. And yes, Repubs DID offer an alternative that created jobs faster and for half the cost. In fact, it was consistent with Larry Summers suggestion that they be targeted, temporary and timely - of which the stimulus package is NONE of these. Obama presented the $410B remaining 2009 Budget filled with Earmarks, which he campaigned he would eliminate. And finally the one that got me going, the $3.6T budget proposal that adds billions upon billions of new entitlements that will be difficult to undo after they fail to remain affordable.

My suggestion for cap & trade... It will take decades to build the infrastructure for wind and solar. (Oh and under Bush, the amount of alternate energy used doubled while in office.) If you truly want energy independence, then let us drill and mine our own resources versus buying from despots. This can be done quickly as an interim solution. The U.S. oversight of these facilities is FAR superior to oversight of Chinese, Mexican, Venezuelan, etc... facilities to better protect the environment. And the revenues generated could be reinvested into future infrastructure. Let us further develop nuclear power... something that does not produce carbon. (But Obama's plan eliminates funding to safely store nuclear byproduct.) And finally, get the lawyers and environmentalists out of the way. Blocking the installation of a Solar Farm in the Mojave Desert, like Sen Boxer is doing, sure seems assinine to me.

This is so long, I apologize.

My only comment on Health Care is fix Medicare and Medicaid and run it more cost-effectively and then I will buy your argument that Universal Health Care can be cheaper. BTW - this isn't accomplished by getting non-binding agreements to save $2T so we can spend the savings now. Real nice.

I'm tired and therefore will close this out. Keep slaying the dragons.

PBI said...


I emphatically do NOT keep reverting to the position that Bush created huge deficits. Please go back and re-read.

What I focused on is that the economy as a whole is a mess because of Bush’s policies, which were in evidence for his entire presidency. In our current circumstances, the only lever left to bring it back around is, in fact, deficit spending, which is what Obama is doing. Again, this is Econ 101.

My point about deficits under Bush is that Tea Partiers have been happily following fiscally irresponsible policies for decades, and have uttered nary a peep. The timing of this outpouring of anger is highly suspicious; maybe you all DID genuinely rediscover your love of fiscal responsibility – despite never having backed it up under Reagan, Bush 1 or Bush 2 – but it’s pretty hard to swallow looking in from the outside.

As for McCain being the answer to your hopes, I have to simply ask, “Seriously”? The guy who was going to balance the budget by eliminating earmarks? From an earlier post of mine on this topic:

Obama admits that his plan will not balance the budget initially. McCain, on the other hand, has said that he can balance the budget just by getting rid of earmarks, a claim which doesn't withstand even cursory examination. As a result, he is now talking about the elimination of discretionary spending. In neither case, however, do his numbers add up, and personally, I find the cavalier manner in which he has attempted to get the public to accept his bonafides as a budget hawk to be disturbing in its lack of seriousness and rigor; it's clearly not something to which he has paid much attention.You also seem to be implying that your only recourse was the election. Are you honestly contending that you had to wait until November 2008 to affect change? If nothing else, what about 2004? And the talking point that the 2009 budget is "full of earmarks" is just that; a talking point, and one about which Republican leadership has willfully lied. (There is no earmark maglev train from L.A. to Las Vegas, for instance, and Nancy Pelosi did not inject money to protect the salt marsh mouse. Please cite specifics if you believe these earmarks exist, and from a non-partisan source.)

Further, the idea that the Republican leadership put forth anything approaching a workable counter proposal to Obama's plans is wholly unsupportable. (See here.) It was more of the same: tax cuts and deregulation and nothing more than an intellectually bankrupt attempt at political gamesmanship.

Finally, the Bush Department of Energy itself stated that new domestic drilling would not bring oil to market for 10-12 years. Despite the continually - and ludicrously - shortened horizons claimed for bringing new American oil to market - which went from 12 years to 5 years to 2 years to 1 year to SIX MONTHS as election day 2008 neared - it simply isn't true. There is no short term fix involving domestic mining and drilling.

Personally, I'm fine with looking at nuclear power, but no one - and I mean no one - wants the waste.

Medicare already runs more efficiently than private health care. Where Medicare spends 3% on overhead, the private health insurance industry spends 15%-25%. (And agreed on the non-binding agreements to product $2 trillion in cost savings. It won't happen voluntarily.)

Finally, I have to say again that your claims of victimhood are pretty hard to swallow. Another commenter called the Tea Parties cover for racist behavior, and that means you're being called a racist for your views? Even if you accept that definition, which I don't, I absolutely haven't called you a racist or anything similar.

As I read your positions on these issues however, I think I am starting to understand why the topic of "political correctness" keeps coming up: the majority of your arguments - with a few exceptions, notable for the contrast they provide - very much appear to be ones that you have not developed yourself, but that you are parroting. They are filled with Fox News/GOP talking points and aren't backed up with fact, forcing you to throw them at me in the hope that something sticks and then duck behind claims of personal animosity in case nothing does.

Thanks again for visiting, and take care.