14 September 2010

'A vote for a Republican is a vote for the Tea Party'

The latest begging letter to reach me from the Democratic party expresses quite nicely the majority's confusion over the nature of the threat it faces this fall. Today is the last big primary day of the season, with the news media looking for decisive showdowns between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party movement. As far as Democrats are concerned, the two are one and the same, though you would think that they'd want to tell people that "A vote for the Tea Party is a vote for Republicans." Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee director Jon Vogel, who sent me the begging letter, would really rather re-fight the 2008 election, and do so whenever they warn that a Republican Congress in 2011 would revive the policies of George W. Bush. Nevertheless, they emphasize the threat of the Tea Party as if it were more menacing than a Bushite revival. At the same time, they stress the extent to which the TPs are stealth Bushites with a selective focus on one particular "front group," American Crossroads, in which Karl Rove is involved. Why, then, don't Pelosi and Vogel say "A vote for a Republican [or a vote for the Tea Party] is a vote for Karl Rove?" When Vogel writes "a vote for a Republican is a vote for the Tea Party," he presupposes that the Democrats who form the letter's target audience are more alarmed by the TPs than by the GOP to whom the TPs have sold out -- that the TPs represent something more threatening than Dubya Redux. But when Vogel describes the presumed TP agenda, it looks like the same stuff Democrats have accused Republicans of advocating for generations.

Republicans want more unpaid tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that add billions to the deficit, taxpayer-funded subsidies for Big Oil and companies that ship American jobs overseas, and to remove the new controls on Wall Street, privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare. These radical positions are the direct result of the Tea Party driving the Republican agenda. (emphasis in original)

In her letter, Pelosi writes about "the real Tea Party/GOP extremist agenda," which is presumably what Vogel details but also something different from what TPs advocate publicly. To me, no lover of the Tea Parties, it seems that the Democrats want to label them as the same old party of Big Business, no matter how much the TPs (who see themselves as the virtuous yeomen of our time -- small business entrepreneurs) decry the Bailout culture of collusion between Big Business and Big Government at the little guy's expense. Democrats want to portray Tea Partiers as unconditional, uncritical corporate bootlickers, when in reality they're often fueled by populist resentment or simple envy of big-time corporate privilege. That's why Pelosi portrays American Crossroads as a shadowy outfit funded by "four billionaires whose identities are kept a secret" and presents the group as if it controls the Tea Party movement. American Crossroads is also an object of concern because it's expected to spend up to $50,000,000 on "unrelenting attack ads," which is why Democrats need to send Vogel as much money as they can.

It's as if Pelosi and Vogel would rather not bring up the other familiar charges against the Tea Parties. Neither letter has anything to say about the bigotry commonly attributed to TPs; the Speaker's concerns are exclusively economic as a matter of policy and begging. If anything, however, that presumed bigotry has to be the implicit something extra that makes a vote for a Republican a vote for the Tea Party and not the other way around in the Democratic imagination.

These begging letters annoy me, regardless of the source, because they expand upon the pernicious principle that equates spending money with free political discourse. For the beggars, donating money to political campaigns isn't just an exercise of freedom of speech; it's an imperative civic duty upon which the fate of the nation depends. It makes me wonder how many people, Republicans and Democrats alike, rush to fill these envelopes with money and then complain about taxes. People who donate to political campaigns are taxing themselves.

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