15 April 2009

TEA Parties: Selective Outrage or Misrepresented?

Here's a sentence from an MSNBC web site account of today's TEA ("Taxed Enough Already") Parties commemorating the tax filing deadline.

Organizers say they’re steamed at government spending since President Barack Obama’s administration took over.

There are two ways of looking at this sentence. The knee-jerk reaction might be to accuse the "organizers" of selective outrage, since government spending (not to mention deficit spending) had gone through the roof under a Republican president before Obama took over. But suppress the impulse long enough to note that no "organizer" is actually quoted as saying this. It is MSNBC's characterization of the organizers' attitude. As I've noted elsewhere, there is a media tendency to label the TEA Parties as partisan events, on the logic that to oppose taxes is to oppose Obama and support the Republican party. There are participants, at least, who challenge this interpretation: libertarians and other independents who indict the Bipolarchy as a whole for excessive spending and taxation. But before I go too far in exculpating the "organizers," I should note that there was every reason to hold a "tea party" at this time last year, or any year since 2001, but I know of none taking place. The timing seems to be telling. "Organizers" might argue that some things have changed dramatically since last April 15, or that they were galvanized by the Bailout controversies of last year into protesting now. But if they want to declare themselves genuinely non-partisan, they have to do more to ensure that the Republican party doesn't benefit from these demonstrations.

The most important thing is to remember recent history. Too often Americans express their displeasure at one party by choosing the other, forgetting that they had only recently thrown that party out. There is too much inclination to trust individuals to behave differently from the parties they serve, as if you couldn't predict just about every time how a Republican or a Democrat would behave. If Republicans descend upon the TEA Parties asking that everyone forget Reaganite and Bushite deficit spending and other outrages -- don't.

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