It’s Hard to talk when you’re Tea-bagging: a left-wing history of the tea party

Introduction: The following admittedly rather long piece is one I initially began working on back in early 2013. It was in fact only the 3rd piece I’d ever started writing for this web blog after Democracy or Hypocrisy and The King that was and the King that Wasn’t. Being as it was mostly written four complete years ago, a lot has certainly changed in my outlook since then. At times a more noticeable ideological bend towards the Democratic Party can be detected, as at the time I had just turned 24 and was still barely holding out hope for the Democrats as a party to do the right thing. Although clearly on the path to becoming the leftist that I consider myself today, I had not yet fully come to appreciate the fact that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are but two sides of the same Capitalist coin. One should keep in mind while reading this that it was written by an author who’d not yet fully discarded his belief in the supposed logic of lesser evil voting.


It’s been roughly three months since tax day 2017 ended, and nearly eight years since tax day 2009 when the nation was first introduced to what appeared at that time to be a small, loosely organized formation of groups known as the “Tea Party.” In the beginning, it was difficult for many to take seriously these suddenly-frustrated angry old white people yelling about “taking their country back” from the “socialist president from Kenya.” But within a year’s time the “Tea party”, or “teabaggers” as they were initially called, went from being viewed and marginalized as a pack of old bitter racists to being taken seriously as a frightening political force all in the blink of an eye. In the following 2-part series, the rise and fall of the right-wing tea party will be traced from its beginning in final days of the 2008 presidential election season to their days of influence as a congressional caucus in the Republican Party in 2011.

teabagger

Although they were soundly defeated in the 2012 elections, 2 years prior they had turned the nation’s political outlook on its head when they managed in the 2010 midterms to completely eradicate the gains Democrats had won in the House of Representatives in 2006 and 2008 combined. They became the singular driving force behind the Republican Party, which was already in the process of ridding itself of party moderates to begin with, and even managed to establish a “Tea party” congressional caucus led by notorious eyebrow-raiser, Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, who rose to national prominence in 2008 after she accused then Senator Barack Obama and other congressional Democrats of harboring “anti-American views.” The lead “Tea party” member in the Senate is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who famously declared his opposition to important aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a live interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. (**)

The major media sources almost unanimously trace the birth of this movement to February 19, 2009, when a TV personality named Rick Santelli launched into an on-air rant on CNBC, lashing out at homeowners whose houses were being foreclosed on. During the rant, he turned to his wealthy elite business partners, who he referred to as “the American people”, and asked, “How many of you want to pay for your [loser] neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?! Raise your hands,” to which they raised their hands in unison and shouted “No!” Santelli, turning back towards the camera cried, “President Obama are you listening?!” Only the inside-the-beltway media, in its tiny bubble, could honestly credit this cable-TV moment as the beginning of any “movement”. First of all, this faux sense of populist outrage at the newly-installed Obama Administration was aired on CNBC of all places, a network probably not watched by more than a few percent of the population. Most people, tea partiers included, probably have no idea who Rick Santelli is. Other observers date the birth of the movement all the way back to the 1950s, ‘60s or ‘80s, when such right-wing groups as the John Birch Society, the White Citizens’ Council, and the “Moral Majority” flourished. While there is certainly some justification for that, the purpose here is to observe the conservative movement in a more modern context. The official birth of the modern day “tea party” can be traced most accurately to the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign season, when a vocal yet disorganized chorus of white voices suddenly emerged and made themselves heard at McCain-Palin rallies all across the country. While nearly all supporters of John McCain and Sarah Palin disapproved of seeing Barack Obama elected President, a certain portion of them not heard on such a loud platform up to that point began appearing at campaign events calling Senator Obama a “socialist”, carrying signs comparing him to a monkey, and engaging in other sorts of thinly-veiled racist attacks. For them, nothing seemed to be off-limits. They questioned his place of birth, eligibility to be President, and his sincerity in the practice of his Christian faith, certainly something unprecedented in this country’s history of presidential campaigns.

tea party protest

The seeds of this reactionary movement were sown very early on in 2007, almost immediately after Obama announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. An issue of Insight Magazine ran a story which supposedly carried previously unknown details of Senator Barack Obama’s childhood growing up in Indonesia. One of the more dubious claims was that he had spent four years attending school at an Islamic “madrassa”, although they would not list a source for this claim. Despite having been thoroughly debunked on numerous occasions, that didn’t stop the often-spoofed morning “news” program, Fox and Friends, from running the story as a major headline, nor was the debunking able to put a dent in the steady flow of email chain letters being forwarded with references to “Obama’s secret Muslim past.” The report, while inaccurate, seemed to have an incredible appeal for an audience already seeking a reason to dismiss this striking young candidate, whom most had never heard of only weeks prior. It should go without saying that the candidate’s maintained insistence that he is a follower of Christianity who adheres to their same principles did little to squelch conservatives’ persistent feelings of distrust and suspicion towards him. (^) The fact that he is indeed a practicing Christian should really be beside the point. Even the United States’ Constitution recognizes the need for complete separation between the Church and State. A practicing Muslim is every bit as eligible for the office of U.S. president as a practicing Christian. (^^) But the “Obama-Muslim” myth was far from being the last of these bogus claims to be peddled around and forwarded in frantic email chain letters that same year. 2007 would also see the birth of equally absurd lies that were birthed by an irrational fear of this new candidate, such as the claim that he “refused to place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance”, accompanied by an image purporting to prove this claim. The image, it turned out, was taken while the National Anthem was being sung, something that is not traditionally met by a hand being placed over one’s heart. Another myth rapidly making its way to too many email boxes claimed that the Senator had been sworn into office on the Quran as opposed to the Christian Holy Bible, a claim which could have easily been disproved had any of them bothered to check the CSPAN archives, which demonstrate that he indeed was sworn in on the Christian Bible. (^*) What became increasingly apparent over time, however, was that most of the people peddling these stories had little interest in the truth. Of all the lies and insinuations that have been leveled at President Obama throughout the years, of which there are undoubtedly far too many to count, one in particular has refused to die or disappear no matter how many times it has been demonstrated to be completely implausible, and that’s the blind insistence that Barack Obama could not have been born in the United States of America, but instead in Africa.

The beginnings of what has been coined the ‘Birther’ Movement can be traced, yet again, to a round of email chain letters that were widely forwarded among conservatives in the spring of 2008. [1] The emails, clearly motivated by fear and resentment of those deemed as the “other” (i.e. nonwhite), were sent to evangelical Christians stateside as an “important message” from two missionaries who were then settling in Kenya to spread their “Christian philosophy” among native populations. The missionaries, Celeste and Loren Davis, not only repeated the unfounded accusations of candidate Obama being a secret Muslim, they claimed they had “uncovered” shocking evidence of Barack Obama’s coming “anti-white agenda”. According to the email, “He [Obama] is not an American as we know it. Please encourage your friends and associates not to be taken in by those who are promoting him. It is a world-wide jihad. All our friends in Europe are very disturbed by the Muslim infiltration into their countries. By the way, his true name is Barak Hussein Muhammad Obama. Won’t that sound sweet to our enemies as they swear him in on the Koran?!” (#) In response, the well-known and highly respected (if also overrated) website Politifact.com set out to either prove or debunk these wild accusations, but winded up providing an answer just ambiguous enough for conservatives to continue spreading the seeds of doubt. While PolitiFact.com accurately traced Senator Obama’s beginnings and reaffirmed his insistence in being a Christian, it also noted that it could not 100% confirm that his name was not in fact “Barak Hussein Muhammad Obama” because Hawaii’s official birth law barred outside inquirers from looking at state residents’ original birth certificate copies (although they were presented with a copy which correctly listed his name as “Barack Hussein Obama II”). Conservative stalwarts saw an opportunity and ran with it, at first calling for him to just “release a copy of his birth certificate.” Of course, he had already done that, but right-wingers weren’t satisfied with it, claiming the copy he’d presented was “a certificate of live birth” and not an actual “birth certificate” (talk about grasping at straws). This certificate was apparently enough for him as he climbed the political ladder of local, state and national politics in the state of Illinois, and only now that he’d announced his presidential candidacy was it even being made an issue. The real reason conservatives would not accept a Certificate of Live Birth as proof of citizenship was because, of course, it listed his birthplace as Honolulu, Hawaii instead of their desired location of Africa.

birthers

In the seemingly endless quest to “prove” Barack Obama’s “otherness” (re: “Africanism”), no one put in as much time and effort promoting these false claims (before Donald Trump jumped on the bandwagon in 2011) than self-proclaimed “dentist” and “lawyer” Orly Taitz. Taitz ironically was born in the Soviet Union. She made a career for herself in the U.S. filing endless motions in court to have the then sitting President declared an “illegal citizen” and thus illegitimate to hold the office. She has proven to be rather creative in her schemes, and one must almost acknowledge her tenacity, even if it isn’t to be respected. She even went so far as to produce a terribly forged “birth certificate” that she claimed was infant Barack Obama’s real birth certificate, listing his birthplace as Mombasa, Kenya. What the document’s forger was apparently unaware of however was that, during the 1961 date this fake document lists as Obama’s birthdate, Mombasa was not even located in the province of Kenya!

The ridiculousness of all these birther conspiracy theories was apparent long before Orly Taitz brought them to the forefront. In addition to the initial authentic copies of the certificate of live birth that were made public early on in the campaign, Hawaii’s Republican Governor attested to having viewed the original document listing the President’s birthplace as Honolulu on the date of August 4, 1961. But what finally puts the nail in the coffin of this entire conspiracy theory are two separately owned local Honolulu newspapers published back in 1961 announcing the birth of a young infant, Barack Hussein Obama II, “born at 7:24 P.M. on August 4, 1961, at Kapi’olani Medical Center, in Honolulu” to a “Caucasian” mother and an “African” father. [2] Author Will Bunch sums up perfectly how completely illogical the whole “foreign birth” conspiracy theory is when he writes in his book, The Backlash: Right-wing radicals, high-def hucksters, and paranoid politics in the age of Obama, “The idea of an elaborate ruse to cover up a birth that took place in Kenya or anywhere else – all in order to make a dark-skinned kid of an interracial marriage, born in humble circumstances in an era when segregation was still common, legally eligible to become the president of the United States decades later – is beyond ludicrous.

In light of all the aforementioned, it was only a matter of time before this rampant sense of paranoia, alienation, and distrust boiled to the surface. Much of the seemingly suppressed racial intolerance that characterizes this nation would remain suppressed no longer, as during the 2008 general election the Republican Party gave a metaphorical green light to their supporters to let out all their pent-up racist rage. These signals could be clearly detected in the vicious attacks that were leveled against Obama by the GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s unconventional choice for a vice-presidential running-mate, Sarah Palin. She held no punches, insinuating about Senator Obama’s supposed “otherness” and suggested that he might in fact hold “other allegiances.” All this she did with a wink and a smile and a “you betcha.” She hammered away at the Democratic candidate’s previous work as a “community organizer” in the “inner-city streets of Chicago”, said that “[he] doesn’t see America as you and I do”, and most insidiously of all accused him of “palling around with terrorists.” It wasn’t long before those who rallied towards her took her lead and felt more comfortable expressing their true opinions. The closer and closer the election approached, the odder the characters would be who showed up to attend McCain-Palin rallies. Many of these anti-Obama zealots were said to come from rural America and the suburbs, or the areas Palin called the “pro-American” parts of the country.

white supremacist who tried to assassinate president obama

Then there was the endless amount of racist emails and text messages negatively portraying future-President Obama and his family that flowed from one email box to the next, including those deriding him as a “food stamp president” or a “spook”. Another contained an image in which his face was superimposed on a chimpanzee’s body with a caption reading that “Obama was raised by apes.” Other emails included pictures of the White House with watermelons growing on the lawn and videos purporting to show “African tribal dances” with the caption “Obama and his family.” A number of text messages were sent out and forwarded mid-day Election Day which contained notices that “Obama is currently in the lead”, but not to worry because “McCain voters are getting off work soon.” The most serious threat against Barack Obama was allegedly foiled by the FBI, which claimed to have uncovered a plot hatched in the mid-west by two white supremacists. These two men planned to go on a massive rampage if Obama were elected president, first assassinating the newly-elected president and then going for as many Black people as possible.

The important aspect in all this is the way the voices of opposition and intolerance grew all the more loud as Election Day drew nearer, so loud in fact that the mainstream media could no longer ignore it the way they tended to do all during 2007 and early on in 2008. To millions of Americans accustomed to reaping the benefits of white privilege, they really didn’t believe Barack Obama could honestly win the presidency of “their” America until the end when it seemed almost inevitable. When he first announced he was mounting a campaign for the Democratic Nomination for President, Republicans and Democrats alike did not take him too seriously, brushing him off as someone unlikely to be able to beat the formidable Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and certainly never thought he could win in a general election. But now he and the country were here, just weeks away from that fateful Election Day with all signs pointing to an Obama victory. This sea of angry voices emerging from the wilderness were determined to prevent what they dreaded and resented the most, a person of African descent  ascending to the highest Office in the land. What was once thought impossible was now not only possible, but probable. In the final days and hours of the campaign these people wrapped themselves in the flag and mounted a last-ditch effort to preserve the America they “know and love”, an America in which those who were not white and male – while being able to achieve a certain amount of success – could never be the one in charge. They failed, and failed miserably. On the night of November 4, 2008 Senator Barack Obama of Illinois edged out Senator John McCain of Arizona by a popular vote percentage total of 53% to 46%, and an even more devastating electoral count of 365 to 173. Unlike elections of the past, however, there were very few expressions of good will shown towards the new president-elect by his political opponents (aside from the predictable congratulatory statement from Sen. McCain). On the very night that over half the nation, indeed much of the world, euphorically celebrated this historic milestone (with some naively calling this “America’s triumph over race”), another faction of the country was plotting a counteroffensive. They would be committed to thwarting any progressive steps being taken by the new administration while vowing to “take our country back” from this perceived “usurper” president and all ‘foreign’ others who made his election possible. On election night a group of white men drove around Staten Island and started attacking Black people at random, beating a 17-year old with a pipe and a police baton so badly that he was hospitalized. Another man they attacked was in a coma for 45 days. Meanwhile, nearly 164 miles away in Springfield, Massachusetts, three white men reacted to news of the election by setting fire to a predominantly Black Church.

For an all too brief moment on Inauguration Day January 20, 2009 it was as if all that could be left in the past in favor of the beautiful sight of Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and their two adorable children on the steps of the capital as the nation’s 44th (technically 43rd) President was sworn into Office – the very sight of which changed in the minds of many the bounds of what is and isn’t possible in the United States of America in the 21st century. Within just a matter of days, the new president would be confronted with an unprecedented amount of hostility towards him from Republican members of congress, who held discussions on how they could harm Obama’s presidency on the very night of his inauguration. The “Grand Old Party” settled on a strategy masterminded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that would require all Republicans to vote “No” in unison to each and every policy proposal suggested or supported by the President. Indeed, the coming years would see Republicans oppose even legislation favorable to their right-wing ideology if it meant opposing the President. While it is true that every President has at some point or another faced opposition from members of the opposing political party (and sometimes from within their own party), the intensity of this opposition was on a scale like none ever seen before. One of the first and most important pieces of legislation put forth in 2009 was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the economic stimulus package – a piece of legislation which passed the House of Representatives without garnering a single Republican vote. This was true in spite of the fact that the largest amount of money allocated in the $787 billion package was $288 billion in tax cuts. The tax cuts were largely included in the bill for the purpose of enticing Republicans to vote for it. Much to the chagrin of Democrats, there were other concessions made to try to convince Republicans to come on board, such as the inclusion of various earmarks for GOP members’ districts. In the end, however, none of them supported the bill. This should have served as an early warning for President Obama that his early campaign rhetoric of “bipartisanship” and “working across party lines” would have to be put on hold. Time and time again over the next two years he would offer the Republicans an olive branch only to have it slapped away each time.

Having said that, there was a certain amount of political aptitude shown on the part of Senator McConnell’s strategy of “just saying no” to everything the President proposed. If the GOP learned anything over the past 3-4 decades, it was that stirring up fear and resentment with voters was a sure-fire way to drive them to the polls for Republicans. It was back to square-one in GOP politics by harnessing the rage expressed at McCain-Palin rallies in ’08. For a time, this strategy once again played to their advantage.

Barely even three months into his presidency, Barack Obama was already facing right-wing opposition equal to if not exceeding that of his Democratic predecessors Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; this before any new policies had even gone into effect. In response to what were rather conservative, Republican-friendly proposals laid out as suggestions to help improve the nation’s broken health care system, South Carolina’s Republican Senator Jim DeMint declared, “If we can stop Obama on this, it will break him… It will be his waterloo.” The bigoted right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who at that time was very influential in conservative circles, stated his hopes for the Obama presidency before listeners four days before the new president took office: “I hope he fails!” Possibly the most unusual of the many absurd conservative reactions during the first year of the Obama presidency came in September, 2009 when parents threatened to keep their children home from school rather than allow them to attend the day President Obama was to deliver a “back-to-school” address to the nation’s kids. The themes of the speech were “study hard”, “get good grades”, and “stay in school.” One Colorado mother went so far as to say, “”Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me. I’m an American. They are Americans, and I don’t feel that’s OK.” But resentment over the sight of a Black President soon became a hallmark of the Obama presidency, with the “Fox News Channel” predictably picking up the mantle of post-Dixie era politics and running with it, providing a 24-hour cycle or “safe-haven” of sorts for those fearful of the president and minorities. Fox of course has always acted as the unofficial mouthpiece of the Republican Party since its inception. When nonprofit organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, founded by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, made known their objective to harness conservative outrage over “the country’s direction” into local and national “Tea Party” demonstrations all across the country, Fox News was the main vehicle through which the rallies were promoted.

The first show-of-force came April 15th, Tax Day 2009, when sparsely-populated events were held in regions all over the country and covered by Fox as if they were the next American Revolution. Attendees of the events, as evidenced from the earliest video footage, were generally old and conservative in their views, not to mention overwhelmingly white. While Fox had a field day, CNN only briefly covered one of these bizarre events that was taking place in Chicago, where an incredibly brave reporter named Susan Roesgen went on the ground into the middle of a hostile Tea Party event to hear what the attendees had to say. She was later accused of bias for pointing out some of the more offensive signs comparing Obama with Hitler, an act for which she was fired by CNN. These signs, however, were hardly an anomaly.

Dale Robertson
“Tea party patriot” Dale Robertson attends a tea party rally in Houston, TX in 2009.

The early consensus on the tea party was that these were mainly the leftover sour grapes from the 46% of John McCain and Sarah Palin voters of 2008. Democrats and liberals alike dismissed them as being “astroturf” (which in some cases they undoubtedly were). However, some observers felt there were significant causes for alarm in what they were seeing in these early protests, particularly in the racially-coded language used on many of the signs as well as the tea party’s overall lack of a coherent message. There was a definite propensity among the ‘teabaggers’ (the phrase coined for them by liberals referring to signs tea partiers held reading “teabag the liberal Dems before they teabag you”) to believe that Barack Obama was not a legitimate American citizen, that he was not “one of us” and “not a true Christian”, therefore undeserving of the presidency. (+) Critics wryly pointed to how these same protesters, claiming they were fed up with federal government overspending, were missing in action during the previous eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency despite his leaving Office with a projected budget deficit of $3 trillion and counting.

Once the President decided to fully commit himself to making health care reform a central piece of his first-term agenda, the tea party went from being a group of ideologically extreme conservatives at the margins of American politics to a movement which threatened to derail any new progressive policy measures that voters overwhelmingly supported when they went to the polls in 2008. And both houses of Congress, by missing the end-of-July deadline set by President Obama for submitting their respective versions of a health care bill, opened themselves up to the wrath of angry constituents during the long congressional recess which took place that August. At various town hall meetings around the country to discuss ways to reform the health care system, speakers and members of congress were routinely shouted down by agitators in the audience who refused to let them get a word in. Some of the anger was orchestrated, but much if not most of it was quite real.

  

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Joe “You Lie!” Wilson

The ugliness and vitriol occurring at so many of these health care town halls eventually made its way to the national arena in what would become one of the most memorable moments of the entire health care reform saga. When congress returned from the long, hot congressional recess, the President felt the ball was in his court and he needed to deliver a special address to the congress and the nation on the evening of September 9, 2009 – a moment many perceived as being his last chance to turn the momentum back in his favor. As far as the speech itself, it was one of his better moments. However, his words that night were largely overshadowed by the two words yelled at him from the House floor. Throughout the speech, many GOP congressmen were seen waving signs and jeering at the President in an apparent attempt to show solidarity with their tea party followers. President Obama at one point in his speech took a moment to specifically address some of the false stories being spread about the bill by Republicans, such as the lie that there would be “government death panels” set up to kill off senior citizens. Addressing one lie in particular, the President looked directly towards the GOP members telling them, “There are those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This too is false. The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Suddenly a muffled shout was heard appearing to call the President a liar. Then, another outburst, this one loud enough for the entire nation to hear: “You lie!” This congressman who apparently couldn’t contain his hatred for undocumented immigrants and the thought of having an African-American as Commander-in-Chief was quickly identified as Representative Joe Wilson of the state of South Carolina. This incident, quite frankly, was impossible to imagine ever happening to a white president while he was delivering an urgent message to Congress. In fact no such outburst had occurred in any similar setting since at least the time of the Civil War, when Southern states seceded from the Union. Most telling of all however was the fact that after his little outburst, conservatives throughout the country flooded Wilson’s campaign coffers with donations exceeding $3.4 million.

On September 12, 2009, the teabaggers were out in full force like never before, arriving this time in impressive numbers carrying even more vitriolic misspelled signs.

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tea party guy

These rallies, the largest of which took place in Washington D.C., were highly promoted by Fox’s vitriolic TV show host Glenn Beck. He touted the marches as a return to national solidarity and patriotism. “Remember how you felt that day after 9/11,” he implored (apparently not taking into consideration the Muslims, Sikhs and others that many Americans forced to live in a climate of fear due to the hyper nationalism).

racist teabagger

The single biggest organizer of these events was a group called Tea Party Express, at that time led by radio talk show host Mark Williams. Williams played a uniquely important role in organizing the Tea Party movement, a role that cannot be overstated or downplayed, despite later attempts to do just that. The fact that he was a white supremacist should have been painfully obvious from the very first moment he arrived on the national stage, as evidenced by the many sick and provocative statements he regularly made, such as the time he said that New Orleans residents victimized by Hurricane Katrina “didn’t have the necessary brains and common sense to get out of the way of a cat 5 hurricane and then when it hit them – stood on the side of the convention center expiring while reporters were coming and going.” He openly advocated “internment of Muslims” and called followers of Islam “animals of Allah” and worshipers of a “monkey god.” And of course he believed President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, describing the commander-in-chief as an “Indonesian Muslim-turned welfare thug turned anointed one” as well as a “21st century Nazi.” (He also suggested that putting a tax on tanning beds was a plot to exclusively tax white people.) Williams had an equally ugly name for former President Jimmy Carter, who he referred to as a “creepy little faggot.”

The intense amount of animosity running rampant across the nation during the month of September caused former President Carter to speak out in opposition to the double-standard he perceived in the way President Obama was judged. During an exclusive prime time interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, the 84 year-old Carter casually remarked, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he is a Black man, that he’s African American. I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans. That racism, in connection still exists, and I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”

President Carter’s comments set off a round of debate. It got many political pundits seriously asking, “Just how much of the tea party’s spontaneous expression of anger has to do with what they say is government overspending, budget deficits and high taxes, and how much of it is fueled by resentment over the browning of America?”

Clearly, there are a number of reasons to be angry and fearful of federal and state overreach. Among those are NSA mass-surveillance, large amounts of taxpayer money subsidizing giant oil and gas corporations, bailing out bankers and paying for their bonuses, funding costly wars overseas along with CIA covert operations that thwart nations’ rights to self-determination, and brutal and corrupt police forces in every state and county across the nation. The tea party had little if anything to say regarding these repressive policies. The only government policies the tea partiers railed against were programs designed to offer a bit of a lifeline to those who have the least among us. In the words of the tea party, immigrants are nothing but “freeloaders”, which is why 88% of them said they supported Arizona’s discriminatory immigration law known as SB170. They complained about having to pay what they referred to as “reparations”, an obvious reference to African Americans (who in reality never received even as much as a penny in compensation for hundreds of years of chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, housing and employment discrimination, and now mass incarceration.) Many of these conservative activists claimed they were engaging in political activism for the very first time in their lives, yet they simultaneously claimed to be the most patriotic Americans. And when it came to Barack Obama, tea partiers were unanimous in their belief that the President was in fact a “socialist”, an assertion that dumbfounded actual socialists of the world. After all, Wall Street hit record high after record high during the Obama administration, making him hands-down the worst “socialist” in all of history. It’s more than likely that most of the people pushing this claim didn’t actually know what the term “socialist” meant, as at different times they said that Obama was a “Nazi”, “communist”, “Marxist” or “fascist.” (Common sense says one cannot be both a Nazi and a communist, as the basis of Nazism is anti-Communism.) The contradictions didn’t end there. Probably the most incoherent of all the signs carried by tea party attendees was the one reading, “Get your government hands off my Medicare”, Medicare being a government-run program (the closest thing to socialized medicine this country has). Although they claimed in early 2009 to have been motivated by the nearly trillion dollar TARP bank bailouts, the tea party stood almost uniformly in opposition to penalizing or further regulating the same banks that robbed the taxpayers of their money, as this would be opposed to their professed “free market” ideology.

get your government hands off my medicare

tea party sign about Obamacare

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Stay classy, teabaggers – Offensive sign carried at tea party rally shows corpses at a Nazi-operated death camp in Germany.

  

tea party racists
To answer their question, yes. They very much do.

In spite of the many signs portraying President Obama as an African witch-doctor, a “socialist”, or a monkey that needed to “go back to Kenya”, tea partiers always insisted that nothing is more offensive to them than having their actions defined as racist. After all, they once held a “diversity rally” featuring honorary teabagger Lloyd Banks, a Black man who vigorously defends the tea party. At a rally held in Kansas City, teabaggers defiantly voiced their disapproval of socialism and angrily disavowed being “called racists.” In attendance was one man by the name of Ron Wight, who couldn’t for the life of him understand why anyone would question the motives of him or his fellow ideologues. “If I were a black man,” said Wight, “I’d get down on my knees and thank God for slavery. Otherwise, I’d be dying of AIDs in Africa… I wish slavery had never happened. But there are some black people alive today who have never suffered one day what the people who were black went through in the 40s, 50s and 60s…” [++] In fact, Wight insisted, white Americans have it much tougher now than anyone else. “With everything that has been done in this country legally and socially for the black man, it’s almost like they’ve been given a great leg up.” (No word as to what exactly has been done “legally” or “socially” to supposedly “give him a leg up.”)

a proud racist family

Gordon Baum of the Council for Conservative Citizens, previously called the White Citizens Council, left no illusions when explaining why he viewed the tea party as a positive development, encouraging the Council’s dwindling membership to attend tea party functions because they are “mainly a white thing”, though he concedes that “they do have black speakers, and sometimes when they can’t get one lined up, they just get some poor devil that’s on their side, black guy, in the audience and drag him up on stage.”

For all the Tea Party’s incessant noise and distraction, it appeared by 2009’s end all the more likely that they would not be successful in preventing the President and the Democrats from delivering some sort of health care reform (although it was so watered down that it really did very little to toughen up on the health care industry. In fact, it garnered a lot of criticism from the left for being little more than a corporate give-away that was far and away from having anything in it remotely resembling “socialized medicine”). The House of Representatives delivered a bill in November, and the Senate was astonishingly able to come up with the necessary 60 votes to avoid a filibuster and pass its own version of the bill right before Christmas Eve. Now all that was left was for the committees of both houses of congress to meet and come up with a final version of a bill that would be satisfactory to both committees. But then unexpectedly a fork was thrown in the road. I use the word “unexpectedly” lightly, as it was known for months that there would be a special election held on January 19, 2010 to elect a United States Senator in Massachusetts to fill the seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy, who passed away the previous August. Virtually no one doubted that race would result in the election of a Democrat. After all, Massachusetts is considered to be one of if not the most liberal state in the union. Besides, Senator Kennedy had held this seat for nearly five decades, and it had been decades since the state last voted Republican in a presidential race. But suddenly, at seemingly the last minute, the race got unexpectedly and uncomfortably tight for Democrats, as Republican Scott Brown came within striking distance of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in state polls. On election night, the tea party was credited with having delivered health care reform and President Obama’s agenda what they hoped would prove to be a death blow. Scott Brown was elected the Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Massachusetts in one of the most incredible upsets in recent memory, robbing Democrats of the 60 votes needed to overcome a unanimous GOP filibuster. The White House and congressional Democrats were sent into disarray, scrambling to come up with ways to resuscitate their dying dreams of reforming the nation’s health insurance.

2010 was looking to be a big year for the tea party and an increasingly difficult one for the Democrats, who must have all been thinking, “What a difference a year makes.” The only pathway for health insurance reform’s passage now seemed to rely on the House of Representatives passing the Senate’s version of the bill word-for-word, a nonstarter for the House Democratic caucus membership according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As members of congress explored their options, they were in a race against time and the growing influence and mobility of the tea party, now more determined than ever to put a halt to any major legislative victories coming out of President Obama’s term. At least this was the media’s preferred narrative anyway. The corporate media gave outsized importance to the national “Tea Party Convention” held at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee in February, 2010, where former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was chosen to deliver the keynote address. The event put the ugly nature of the right-wing movement on full display. In an introductory speech, a former congressman called for a return to “civic literacy tests” as a means of determining one’s eligibility to vote, hearkening back to the racist tactics used in the Jim Crow South to deny African Americans their right to vote.

   Obamacare anti protest

Once it became conventional wisdom among the Washington media establishment that health care reform was dead in the water, that it was a significant defeat and a bleak foretelling of the future of the Obama presidency, the POTUS knew it was time to go to the mat to rescue what was supposed to be the crown jewel of his presidency. The House of Representatives, at the President’s lobbying and urging, could possibly be persuaded to pass with just the right amount of votes the Senate’s version of the bill, under the condition that the Senate could provide assurances that afterward they would pass a second package of “fixes” to bring it more in line with the version the House passed in November. The rules allowed for the Senate to do this through a process known as “reconciliation”, requiring a simple majority of Senators (50+1) to ensure passage, thereby preventing the GOP from blocking the vote by use of endless filibusters. Upon learning of this, the teabaggers slowly descended on Washington the final week before the vote was to take place. As the vote drew nearer, they were able to turn out quite an impressive number of people, particularly the night before the vote.

nancypelosijohnlewishousevotes
Democratic members of congress, including Georgia Representative John Lewis and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the day of the House health insurance legislation vote.

In a scene virtually unheard of in modern political history, Republican members of the House of Representatives went outside to encourage protesters to ratchet up their attacks on Democratic congressional members right before the House was set to vote on a major piece of legislation. The scene of the angry white mob, willing and ready to taunt lawmakers by creating what must’ve felt like a rather threatening atmosphere for any lawmaker contemplating support for the bill, was anything but pretty. The first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, linked arms with Georgia Representative John Lewis – the same John Lewis who participated in the infamous ‘freedom rides’ of the early 1960s as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and had his head bashed in while participating in a march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 – and walked out to face the crowd of angry constituents. The crowds were sickened by what they viewed as a show of defiance in the face of what they believed was “the will of the American people.” As they shouted in unison, “kill the bill, kill the bill,” Lewis looked out at his detractors and said in response, “I’m for the bill. I support the bill.” He later recalled how “they were shouting, sort of harassing. But it’s okay. I’ve faced this before. It reminded me of the ‘60’s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and being downright mean.” The most hateful moments of all came from the crowd after Lewis joined with his colleagues of the Congressional Black Caucus, whom the tea party seemed to hold a particular amount of vitriol for.

From the Cameron building, Representative Andre Carson walked alongside Rep. Lewis and was taken aback when he heard someone in the crowd chant the word ‘n*****’ a total of 15 times. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who was himself spit on by a tea party protester as he entered the capital building, was just a few yards behind Lewis and Carson and also recalled hearing the derogatory word being shouted in what he described as “a chorus”, as did John Lewis spokesperson Brenda Jones. In a separate incident involving Representative Barney Frank, the openly gay lawmaker recalled that as he was walking from the Longworth office building to the Rayburn office building he was referred to as both a ‘faggot’ and a ‘homo.’ “People out here, on the whole, were really hateful,” said Frank. Congressional Black Caucus member and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn found in these loud voices confirmation that he was doing the right thing by voting for the bill. “I heard people saying things today I’ve not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus. This is incredible; shocking to me. A lot of us have said for a long time that none of this is about health care at all; it’s about extending a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.” The incoherent nonsense spouted by these protesters unfortunately didn’t end once members of congress went into the chamber to cast their votes. As conservative “Blue-Dog” Democrat Michigan Representative Bart Stupak announced his decision to vote in favor of the bill, Republican congressman from Texas Randy Neugebauer shouted out, calling Stupak a “baby-killer.” This was in spite of the fact that Stupak was one of the most anti-abortion members of congress.

In the end, all of the combined efforts of the Teabaggers couldn’t prevent the final passage of the President’s signature achievement, health insurance reform (though they did succeed in watering it down). Despite threats of a complete and total revolutionary right-wing overthrow of the federal government, they could not prevent Democrats from finally pulling together and delivering on a promise they’d made voters who gave them large congressional majorities in 2006 and again in 2008. However, anyone who thought the tea party would simply disband or fade away after suffering such a significant blow certainly underestimated the intensity of the tea party’s profound disapproval of Barack Obama as United States President. They were about to strike back in a big way. Or as Sarah Palin would say, they would not “retreat, but reload!” [continued in part 2]

 

Source Notes:

  1. The following account of the origins of “birtherism” is derived largely from the timeline as it is presented in the book, The Backlash: right wing radicals, high-def. hucksters, and paranoid politics in the age of Obama by Will Bunch; found on pages 15-17.
  2. Remnick, David. (2010). The Bridge: the life and rise of Barack Obama. Page 55.

Notes:

** The supposed reasoning behind his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of ’64 is strikingly similar to that of another conservative Senator from the state of Arizona who was a presidential candidate the same year the Act was passed. I speak of course of Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater’s nomination for President on the Republican ticket could be described as the official beginning of the dramatic shift rightward that would occur in the Republican Party over the next two decades.

^ In fact, during his childhood in Indonesia he attended a private Catholic school, and later on in the States he said he became a devoted Christian while he was in college. In Chicago he attended the United Church of Christ.

^^ As I have said quite often, if one wishes to place the blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the feet of all Islamists, then they must also place the blame for Southern lynching carried out by the KKK, the genocidal holocaust carried out by the Nazis, and the wholesale slaughter of indigenous Americans by European invaders right at the feet of Christianity.

^* This same email ends with a warning about a diabolical plot being schemed, in their imaginations of course, by America’s foreign enemies: “The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the U.S. from the inside out. What better way to start than at the highest level – through the POTUS…. One of their own!!!!” Of course, in reality “the Muslims” never said such a thing.

# How sickly ironic that these missionaries speak of “Muslim infiltration of Europe” while completely disregarding actual documented historical Christian and Muslim infiltration of the very continent from which they wrote this email, Africa.

*# Incidents such as this are by no means exclusive to Republican campaign rallies, as I would discover nine years ago attending a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Beaumont, Texas on March 3, 2008. I remember that while an elderly man with a cowboy hat was speaking on stage, warming up the crowd for the candidate’s arrival, a woman yelled very loudly so that everyone including the speaker on stage could hear her scream:
We don’t want another Hussein!” Ironically the man onstage speaking at the time of her outburst was addressing a need for “Democratic Party Unity.”

+ It was incredibly hypocritical of these Republicans to be decrying a president as “illegitimate” or “illegal” when, according to all veritable accounts, George Bush received less votes nationally in the 2000 presidential election than his Democratic opponent, and in the state of Florida he was awarded the electoral votes he needed only by a politically motivated ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that was unprecedented in the nation’s history.

++ Similar sentiments were shared by CPAC attendees in 2013. For example, one man stood up while an African American speaker was giving a lecture on slavery and outrageously asked, “Didn’t he [slave master] give you a place to sleep all these years?”

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2 thoughts

  1. Isn’t it interesting as to how many Americans will join a parade, if they only have a sign to carry. I truly believe that if any of those fools were asked even one question that’s related to a policy issue, less than ten percent could provide a coherent explanation. No slogans, false promises, or “gonna does” allowed!

    If any of them could read, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” would be advisable. That book describes why the average hard-working, non-wealthy Kansan consistently votes against themselves.

    In the case of Caleb’s Parade, those people remind me of the man who is hit over the head, or slapped up-side it, and saying: “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

    1. Lol. Good observation. Although please do not call it “Caleb’s parade” as I am most definitely not associated with this clown car. Did you watch any of the videos above where the participants are asked about political issues? It’s truly astounding.

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