29 October 2013

More Tea readings

The government shutdown crisis has inspired a new round of rumination about the origins and essence of the Tea Party movement. Americans and outsiders alike may be tempted to see it as a peculiar national phenomenon, but the Nation columnist Gary Younge claims that the U.S. Tea Party has Europeans counterparts or "doppelgaengers." He sees the American phenomenon as part of a right-wing anti-globalization movement. Such movements "are generally pro-market populists who find their support primarily among lower-middle-class whites anxious about neoliberal globalization in all its forms and consequences -- outsourcing, immigration, war, terror -- and are retrenching into their nationalistic and racial laagers." The Tea Party's Euro (or Euroskeptic) counterparts differ from the American movement by sporting "a lot less guns and a little less God." Younge would rather we didn't set the Americans apart because of the gun issue, since he seems to reject an "exceptionalist" view of American reaction in favor of the global (or at least Euro) backlash he perceives. In each country the reaction takes a particular form, emphasizing particular threats, but Younge sees a common cultural anxiety at their heart.

In The New Republic, John B. Judis sees economics as more decisive than culture, identifying the Tea Party with a class of small business owners who see themselves "under siege by regulations or taxes or unions or cheap immigrant labor." Judis notes that the TPs have been able to punch above their weight because of the support of a small number of very wealthy backers, but emphasizes how those backers "come from privately-owned companies and investor groups and so are invulnerable to shareholder pressure, union retaliation or public opinion" and are "far more hard-line than the typical corporate executive." He also notes, however, that even the Koch brothers backed away from the TPs' shutdown strategy and their default dare. Judis speculates that the Tea Party as we know it could fade quickly after its perceived defeat in the recent crisis. But he warns that the U.S. could see more movements like the Tea Party so long as economic recovery remains slow and unequal. Judis is a Keynesian, convinced that only massive stimulus spending by the government can restore the economy. He worries that a tepid stimulus will look like not enough and too much simultaneously. That is, the government may fail to spend enough money to actually stimulate the economy, but will be accused of holding back recovery by having spent too much as long as many believe that any increase in government spending takes money away from the "productive" private sector. It's convenient reasoning for a liberal to argue that your spending didn't work because you didn't spend enough, but Judis presumably has economists to back him up. In any event, so long as Republicans in general inhibit government spending, they may perpetuate the conditions that (in Judis's view) generated the Tea Party. The GOP might expect to benefit, but could ultimately find themselves the target of revolt. The dangerous constant, as he sees it, is an enduring rejection of "the attempt ... to smooth the rough edges of a capitalism that, left to its own devices, leads to monopoly, inequality and poverty." Whether the same spirit of rejection prevails in those European movements Gary Younge sees as Tea Party doppelgaengers is unclear. I suspect not -- Younge might have observed that there's also a little less "free market" in those groups -- but that doesn't necessarily mean that Judis has a better grasp than Younge of the movement's essence. Americans may be impatient for instant explanations, but we probably need more distance from the TP phenomenon before we can say much more about them than that they want to see other people suffer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only commonalities I've noticed that runs through the entire teabagger population is hate. Hatred of "liberals"; of "gubbermint"; of Authority in general. Some are small business owners. Many are not. There are even union-hating teabaggers working for unions. It seems to me that the common thread that ties them together is simply hate. Hatred of everyone who does not share their very short-sighted, narrow world view.