This Tea Party bears watching, not merely ridicule

They aren’t the kinds of tea parties my friends hang out at, these gatherings of so-called patriots who stand against taxes and for a true (read white) America, stoke the flames of conspiracy theory, and scream socialism, or worse, about all things Obama.

But unlike my friends, I’m less inclined out-of-hand to dismiss the Tea Party crowd as a bunch of nuts the American public will ignore.

Oh, they’re pretty nuts, all right, these Rush-loving, venom-spewing,  right wingers. But this country’s well-educated moderates and liberals alike should think twice before they simply diregard them as a band of ill-informed True Believers without influence. The group’s origins were no accident, and its passionate members are taking on a grass roots’ fervor all their own as they work to roll back government to a time of buckskin and militias.

Yup, pretty nutty.

The trouble is as the Tea Partiers shriek from the sidelines, their  message is creating enough static in the minds of the half-tuned-in  political masses to keep some from focusing on facts.

Already, I believe,  the Tea Partiers have gained some traction when it comes to health care. Much of the public remains confused; I believe that is at least in part because of the barrage of “death panel” nonsense that went on endlessly throughout the summer. embraced by the same crowd.

And like it or not, the Tea Party folks are the most passionate populist movement in the country right now in a political and economic climate ripe for populism.  When Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota called on them to pull off an impromptu demonstration in Washington, D.C., days before the House vote on health care, they came by the thousands though the event had no discernible pre-planning.  Compare that to a call a few days ago by and labor unions for demonstrations across the county to celebrate the House health care vote. In Boston, maybe 100 people showed up, my students tell me.

I think a number of factors are coalescing to drive this Tea Party movement — fear (of change, of economic dislocation, of non-whites getting a foothold in the power structure of this country), a brutal unemployment rate that keeps climbing, a collection of wanna-be political and media demigods from Glenn Beck to Lou Dobbs,  and the niche-focused megaphone that the new media revolution lends to any group that wants nothing more than hear its own views reinforced in an echo chamber.

If you’re still skeptical, just flip through some of the amateur YouTube footage from the Nov. 5, 2009, demonstration against the House health care bill. Like it or not, these folks seem filled with energy. Many of them, in a perverse twist of the ’60s,  also seem to be having fun, waving their signs comparing the president to Hitler or screaming for whatever rubbish is coming from the speakers’ platform.

The world always has its share of fringe movements, and this country is no exception.  The vast majority sputter or stay on the sidelines.  Still, arrogance dismisses, wisdom watches.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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14 Responses to This Tea Party bears watching, not merely ridicule

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Jerry Lanson - News Prints – This Tea Party bears watching, not merely ridicule - True/Slant --

  2. rufusjunior says:

    This is a great editorial, especially the metaphor about “the niche-focused megaphone that the new media revolution lends to any group that wants nothing more than hear its own views reinforced in an echo chamber”.

    Reminds me of Allen Ginsberg.

    Honestly I miss the days before computers and the internet made the free market of ideas accessable to every non-Harvard serf who can buy himself a Wal-Mart computer.

    I know we need these Tea Party rednecks to fix our plumbing and repair our cars, but when the hell did they learn how to read?

    If I was a Harvard writing “coach” (did you win the big game?), and some Tea Partying Redneck ever had the cajones to air his inbred mutant politics in my class, I’d for sure reward him with a big juicey “F”.

    Plus I’d get all my sychophantic students to move all the Glenn Beck Best Seller List books behind “Great Expectations” and “Fear of Flying” at the Coop.

    What kind of nut can’t comprehend that the same people who gave us the US Postal Service (as in to “go postal”), couldn’t deliver cheaper and better healthcare.

    From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs, but don’t touch my book profits or house on the cape.

  3. Jerry Lanson says:

    Thanks for stopping by.
    Hate to ruin your image, but I don’t teach at Harvard. I teach at Emerson. A lot of my students work two jobs on top of their classes. A fair number of them come from working class backgrounds, as did my grandparents. I don’t keep track of what they read outside of class, but I surely hope they’re not wasting too much time with Glenn Beck’s “bestsellers.” I think you do touch on an interesting part of what I’m guessing is your movement. It’s drawing a lot of angry folks who feel like they are left out and losing ground. They’re right about that part. But the root causes are not what you believe. Unfortunately the people feeding you your “facts” are manipulating you like mad because it has been the Republican Party for decades that has cut taxes so sharply for the really rich that it got all of us up to our eyeballs in debt and helped wreck the economy. Look up how much more money a CEO today makes than a factory worker in his company. It’s about 400 times as much. And that’s obscene.

    • rufusjunior says:

      I’d like every American to have at least a middle class standard of living — decent home, transportation, medical care, food, safe neighborhood.

      I don’t think Obama/Reid/Pelosi and associates have the core competency to improve the standard of living for impoverished or working poor Americans.

      I can see you disagree, but calling people “nuts” and grousing about Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck doesn’t advance your arguments.

      At one point in my life I memorized Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

      The funny thing about that speech is that I can quote three or four sentences from different parts of the speech and most liberals don’t recognize the source, which indicates to me they are not very familiar with what he had to say.

      In any case, the centerpiece of that speech, in my opinion, was this:

      “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

      Nothing about food stamps, government health care, no economic entitlement talk. Nope, all he wanted was a level playing field.

      Anyway, I guess if you feel that a bunch of people you never met are racists, there’s really not much I can do to change your mind; but it really just sounds to me like what you want to do is stigmatize people socially for their wealth, so you’ll have an excuse to exploit them economically by means of government coercion. That does seem to be the age old liberal excuse for creating new taxes, something along the lines of “we don’t approve of you, your character, and/or your habits, therefore we’ll take your money, but don’t change because, being liberals, we love other people’s money.”


  4. Jerry Lanson says:

    Hi Rufus,
    You clearly are an intelligent guy and it’s a pleasure to engage you. You’re right. It was wrong on my part to tar your entire movement with the same brush. Here’s what I think is nuts. People who wave signs comparing the president of the United States to Hitler and Dachau. That’s nuts. People who believe that we can live in a civilized country with next to no government and no taxes. That’s nuts. Mostly though, I believe that people in the Tea Party movement are dupes. They are duped by those who propagate what they are mad about. They are turned out by those who horde wealth and twist reality to attack all who would like to bring just a bit of social justice to a system — and here I agree with you — that’s been skewed by big money in both parties. You can leave laughing. I take you guys seriously, my very point. Oh yeah, as for the race part, a couple of things. When is the last time an utterly unwarranted “birther” movement has sprung up around an American president? What do you think accounts for the anti-immigration anger that’s part of your movement? And next time you check the videos at your marches, take a crack at finding non-white faces. Again, I shouldn’t have made a blanket statement. But give some thought to my point.

    • rufusjunior says:

      I think people who wave signs comparing the president of the United States to Hitler are nuts too.

      Unfortunately, despite a lot of media speculation to the contrary, we really are a grass roots movement, and a small number of people show up with signs that attack people instead of policy. Remember the impeach Nixon signs? Same deal. Many compared him to Hitler too.

      But let me ask you this. Ira Einhorn was an Earth Day founder. He killed his girlfriend and put her in a steamer trunk. Want me to characterize the entire environmental movement with that?

      Every large movement that starts to get some traction draws nut cases.

      Personally, I really liked what Ross Perot said in 1992 when someone asked him if he was a racist.

      He said, “If you hate people, don’t vote for me. I do not want your vote.”

      But on size-of-government issues and tax issues, I just disagree with you economically.

      I recognize you may disagree, but in my opinion, healthcare should be like food. Most people buy their own food. The government gives a small number of people money to buy food.

      In my opinion (and again I recognize you may disagree), grow the economy and more people can get health care through their employer, and there will be more wealth to pay for the small number of people who need government funded health care.

      Even the Republicans are providing poor leadership in this area. In fact, I am more disappointed in the Republicans than the Democrats, because the Democrats are being true to their ideology (socialist!!!). I expect the Republicans to facilitate real free market solutions, and they are showing poor leadership in that area.

      The race issue . . . well . . . I frankly hope invoking the race card backfires on liberals, from a public relations standpoint, because there’s no racism in my heart.

      • Jerry Lanson says:

        Out of town and I’ve been offline all day. I seriously have enjoyed the give and take. Shoot me an email at and I’ll check in with you before I write about Tea Party again. you’re right. I am going to respectfully disagree about health care. Your solution — grow the economy and people can get it through work — has two problems. (1) When people lose work, they immediately lose health care (2) When people are out of work or work for a small employer or are self-employed they don’t have health care We have 45 million people in the country who don’t have health care. Those of us who do pay a lot in part because they get the most expensive care when they desperately need it. They go to an emergency room. And we also lag behind a good number of developed countries in longevity and mortality rates, I suspect because so many people don’t have health care. This I’ll promise you. I won’t take such broad brushstrokes in the future. On the rest, let’s agree to disagree for now and keep talking.

  5. dtafs says:

    I’m going to take a stab at a couple things you posted, Rufusjunior, without the intent of starting a fire.

    It’s debatable at best if in fact the tea-bagger movement is “grassroots.” I say this only because I read an article last week the showed the timeline of the tea-baggers in conjunction with the reports from Fox (i think it was on mediamatters, or something along those lines). It clearly showed when this movement started and how Fox news had a giant hand in it, every step of the way. Now, the report could be wrong, and you could have had this movement started from the grassroots 18-24 months ago, but I haven’t seen anyone stand up and say that.

    The thing I am most amazed about with regards to the health care debate on costs is this: in the past 20 years (since Reagan), household income has leveled off, but premiums have gone up. So in essence, we the consumer are in fact paying for our health care costs via no noticeable increase to household income. It’s a giant sized myth that business has created over the years. Cost of living indexes, “total compensation” packages, etc. have all been, large in part, a farce. We’ve been strapped with the costs of increasing premiums, and most don’t understand that, or choose to ignore it.

    The question people should be asking is if business is quick to let workers go, as they have, or contract off-shore, as they have, in search of more profit on the books, why would anyone in their right mind believe that they arbitrarily pay for our health care?

    Finally, the problem with a generic solution such as “grow the economy” is that our economy isn’t that simple. In fact, most economists would agree that our economy is perhaps the most complex in the world. Since the Reagan years we have changed our economic focus from manufacturing to consumption, which isn’t a sustainable model to work from(IE we are seeing the end results).

    I’m a capitalist. I work in the financial world. I don’t want my taxes raised anymore than anyone else in this country. However, I understand the need for it, if it comes to that. And further, I understand (or, at least I believe I do) the need for viable social programs which help to create a healthier and more vibrant workforce.

  6. dtafs says:

    “I recognize you may disagree, but in my opinion, healthcare should be like food. Most people buy their own food. The government gives a small number of people money to buy food.”

    I just noticed that you said this, which begs the question.

    If you think health care should be like food stamps, then do you not oppose an affordable public option that would be put together to service the needs of the 40+ mil Americans who go without?

    I’m genuinely curious.

    To me, your statement would intone that you do. However, being part of the tea-party movement would basically force you to diametrically oppose the idea, due to associated costs.

  7. rufusjunior says:

    dtafs, if our economy becomes weak enough, the government won’t be able to provide health care to anyone.

    If our economy becomes strong enough, most people won’t need government health care.

    I disagree with you on the issue of “complexity”. When our economy runs out of money our government will shortly run out of money, and when that happens nobody will get any public health care.

    Here is a nice article about a doctor in Russia whom the government tried to pay with manure.

    You think that guy has a lot of incentive to provide good care?

    I think America has cultural problems related to health care that won’t be fixed by legislation.

    To put this in perspective, let me ask you a question. Do you consider Public Housing to be a Poverty Rehabilitation program? If so, can you impose similar restrictions on people as are imposed in drug rehab programs?

    I have other issues as well that I am in the process of writing up in an article, to be published in about a week. I’ll put a reference here when I do.

  8. stokeybob says:

    I feel the reason behind most of our troubles and the need for TEA Parties is the government’s ability to print up whatever money it wants to manipulate us.

    Maybe this will help make the danger of fiat money clear.

    Imagine you and me are setting across from each other. We create enough money to represent all of the world’s wealth. Each one of us has one SUPER Dollar in front of him.

    You own half of everything and so do I.

    I’m the government though. I get bribed into creating a Central Bank.

    You’re not doing what I want you to be doing so I print up myself eight more SUPER Dollars to manipulate you with.

    All of a sudden your SUPER Dollar only represents one tenth of the wealth of the world!

    That isn’t the only thing though. You need to get busy and get to work because YOU’VE BEEN STIFFED with the bill for the money I PRINTED UP to get YOU TO DO what I WANTED.

    That to me represents what has been happening to the economy, and us, and why so many of our occupations just can’t keep up with the fake money presses.

    They have been beating us with our own stick!!!!1

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      Sorry, but I have to get back in this. Your argument negates the need for (a) homeowner mortgages, business loans and perhaps banks at all. All build assets on the basis of borrowed or loaned money. It is the very basis of capitalism. We could all stuff money in our mattresses but I don’t think we’d compete terribly well with the rest of the world.

      My last volley on health care: I agree heartily with the poster who made the point that the employee cost of health care has risen MUCH faster than wages. Each year at my college we get a cost of living raise. And each year nearly all of that cost of living raise gets eaten up by the increase in the cost of our health care premiums. I doubt we are alone. Furthermore, the increasingly higher premiums buy less coverage. The emergency room co-pay doubled two years ago from $50 to $100. Generic meds? The copay has gone from $5 to $20 in less than a decade. Doctor co-pays? Up as well. So who is it that’s benefiting from your “free market” health care system? The insurance companies and the drug companies. Forty-five million plus Americans have no coverage. Everyone else has increasingly expensive and declining coverage. That is why an imperfect fix is better than none.

      • rufusjunior says:

        Jerry, I you are interested, I will tell you the #1 clue that this plan will fail. It’s a biggy . . . an enormous omission . . . and I am amazed nobody in the Obama admin or Pelosi’s staff caught it.

        There is something missing, and it completely dooms this plan to failure. I will tell you if you want to know, but don’t you think it would be fun to try to figure it out for yourself?

        If you are interested, talk to some people in big service and manufaturing industies where they have to produce products that consistently conform to consumer expectations — iPods for instance.

        I know I am being a little Socratic about this, but I just want everyone to think about it.

  9. rufusjunior says:

    You are correct stokeybob, but a lot of people will never understand that.

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