Sunday, August 29, 2010

Take Back Our Country From Whom, Exactly?

The Tea Party rallying cry is "Take Back Our Country!" But exactly who are they wanting to take it back from? The average tea partier would probably say, in their ignorance, "From the people trying to make America a socialist country." Many of course would privately think, "From all those minorities who are taking over our country--we want to make America a white country again."

The history of the United States is the story of the people of this country taking power away from the elite and spreading it more equitably.

One way power has been taken is political; through the widening of citizenship. When the Constitution was first implemented the only people who could vote were white male property owners. In other words, all political power was held by a minority--the white property-owning class. And "white" meant northern European: Asians and southern Europeans like Spaniards and Italians were all considered "non-white" by our Founding Fathers. The history of the United States is a story of ever greater inclusiveness. We the people have taken our country and made it ours in a very profound sense.

Another way power has been taken from the elite is economic. The irony is most of these tea partiers are beneficiaries of the "socialist" policies of the last 70 years. Social Security, the 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, workmen's compensation, and Medicare lifted countless millions out of poverty and created a large middle-class.

And the tea partiers are mostly ignorant of the way they are being manipulated by some very wealthy people. Jane Mayer, in the August 30 edition of the New Yorker ("Covert Operations"), has published a chilling expose of the Koch brothers, two billionaires who are major financiers of the tea party movement.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

The Kochs advocate the elimination of federal taxes and federal regulation. They hate Social Security, minimum-wage laws and most agencies of the federal government. You can imagine why a billionaire owner of a corporation would advocate eliminating federal taxes and regulation; they cut into his profits.

Harder to understand is why the average middle-class American is falling for this. The policies advocated by the Tea Party will hurt those of us who aren't billionaires.

I met an early tea partier in the summer of 2009; she was protesting alone at a Fourth of July picnic. Her main focus was on the federal deficit, she claimed we couldn't afford Obamacare and all the other Democratic policies. But when I asked her what she knew about the history of the federal debt her ignorance was profound. She knew nothing about the federal debt quadrupling during Reagan's tenure, or even how it doubled during George W. Bush's time. As far as she knew Obama and the Democrats had invented the deficit. Everything that came out of her mouth was straight from talk radio and FOX news. She really thought she was a patriot and that she was advocating freedom, not realizing she was a pawn of the elite who were using her to maintain their control over her life.

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