An Open Letter to the Tea Party: Part I
In the wake of the defeat of Eric Cantor, it seems like it is important for me to do something I’ve been putting off doing for some time, as each time I thought of doing it, I wondered, “Will these guys be around for much longer?”
Apparently they will. Apparently, unlike the Ninety-Nine Percent movement, the Tea Party has managed to retain national attention and keep institutions in place.
So, here it goes. An open letter from an anarchist to the Tea Party.
Dear Tea Party:
I get it.
I really do.
Our social institutions are very big and very scary. They seem increasingly non-responsive. In fact, given the political science literature on how little your opinions matter to government, I get why you’re so angry.
Noam Chomsky has called the United States a “failed state” because of its violence in the world and its lack of responsiveness to the population. It’s slightly hyperbolic, sure, but it’s absolutely fair. Our government fails for everyone but the absolute most wealthy and powerful.
But there’s a lot of problems with your worldview, not to mention your actions.
I’ve been an anarchist since 2000, when I was a freshman in high school. I was protesting against the Iraq War, against PATRIOT, against wiretapping.
I’m trying to be delicate here, but: Where were any of you?
I know there are some Tea Party activists who were honest libertarians before 2008. I get that.
But so many of you people said nothing about big government when Bush threatened the Constitution, undermined the Geneva Convention (which, like all the other treaties he and other US Presidents have broken, under the Constitution is amongst the highest law in the land), expanded the government’s capability to monitor us, used that capability to infiltrate peace groups, expanded the government’s capability to torture and detain prisoners, and declared two illegal and unjust wars. One of those unjust wars he even did under totally fraudulent pretenses.
And you were silent.
You even voted for him, and his party, in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008.
Then you kept voting for that party, the party that was largely responsible not just for all that (not that Democrats have their hands clean either) but also for the recession, over and over again.
Now can you see why so many people are terrified of you?
Most Americans, left and right, are willing to admit that big government is scary. They’re concerned about what we’ve allowed these centralized institutions to do.
But most other Americans are wondering, “Why the hell are you angry now?”
Is it because a black man is the one expanding the size of the government?
Oh, sure, you’ll say I’m playing the race card. But come on. Look honestly at some of your fellow activists, those who portray Obama as a witch doctor or use the N word.
I know most of you people are not hardcore racists. You’re my neighbors. Most of you are good, decent people. You’re scared and angry. Trust me, I was there for eight years. If I didn’t have absolute hope that there was a better way of living life, I’d have been very scared during Bush’s presidency that we might all die in nuclear hellfire.
But the timing is really suspicious. The fact that so many of you say things that are uncomfortably close to being racist if not actually extremely and offensively racist is suspicious. The personal hostility towards Obama and not towards many of your elected white Republican representatives who were also big government advocates is suspicious.
Hey, it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. Think about it. How many years ago was the civil rights movement?
The Civil Rights Act was enacted in July 2, 1964. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
So 1964… about 50 years ago.
Yeah, half a century, long time.
Except that that means that there are still many, many people alive who directly remember segregation and marching and bricks, and many people who were the children or grandchildren of those people.
Fred Hampton was murdered by the government on December 4, 1969.
Even into the 1970s, there was racial foment and conflict.
If many of you in your late thirties, forties, or fifties have biased ideas and concepts, who could possibly blame you? Research has found that most people, liberal or conservative, have racial preconceptions when it comes to all sorts of racial groups, not just African-Americans and others of African descent. Heck, research has even found that plenty of Hispanics and African-Americans have racial preconceptions for other brown and black individuals.
But when someone calls you out on this stuff, it does become your fault when you don’t care about it.
Okay, let’s move past that part.
The other part that’s super suspicious? And it ties into the above, trust me?
That the thing that made you pissed off was apparently health care.
Obamacare is flawed. The public option is flawed. The rollout was flawed. I’d have loved to see something more like most European states be implemented, but apparently America isn’t ready for that yet.
But the fact is, thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act, for the first time in my life I have coverage that I am paying for. And I make decent money, but since I’m a freelance writer, I never had employment coverage.
See, the reason why I get very suspicious when largely white activists (and I know there are non-white Tea Party activists; just bear with me here) complain about big government is this:
Concerns over big government and welfare are always racialized in America. Martin Gilens in Why Americans Hate Welfare compellingly points out that probably the biggest determinant of whether Americans will support a welfare program is whether or not they feel that the recipients will be presumably undeserving people of color. And in Special Providence, Walter Russell Mead has pointed out that the conservative Jacksonian tradition into which many Tea Party activists fit has always been about the preservation of a middle-class folk community rather than truly defending the poorest and neediest.
What else can people think, Tea Party activists, about your aggression and hostility? Many of you sat silent while government ballooned under Bush and his cronies, but the moment that government might grow in a way that might make some uninsured people of color and poor people, suddenly it’s unacceptable?
It comes up in your budgets too. Both mainstream Republicans and Tea Party Republicans seem to agree on one thing when it comes to talking about budgets: Entitlements need to go, but not tax breaks and subsidies for the rich and for corporations nor the military budget. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of your tax dollars is going to some defense-related expenditure, whether directly to the Department of Defense, to defense-related expenditures in other departments like NASA or the Department of Energy, or to paying off debt from previous military expenditures. Add in the mass of the government outside of the defense expenditures that are going straight to the wealthiest people, as Take the Rich Off Welfare has astutely argued, and suddenly that’s a huge chunk of the US government.
Maybe we need a world-conquering military. Defense analysts often don’t think so and peace activists certainly don’t think so. Chalmers Johnson, a guy who used to work as a consultant for the CIA, argued that we were bankrupting our society on insane military expenditures. He also said the following: “A nation can be one or the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but it can’t be both. If it sticks to imperialism, it will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much of our system was modeled, like the old Roman Republic, it will lose its democracy to a domestic dictatorship”. See, that scares me. That sounds like big government to me.
Next time we’ll talk about how you also don’t seem to be scared at all by unregulated authoritarian institutions running amok in our society (they’re called “corporations”), nor by inequality and social immobility. And in a third segment, I’ll talk about how we can propose and implement progressive to revolutionary change without making other people terrified of secession or civil war. However, for now, I just want you to know:
You’re not alone when it comes to the specter of big government.
The reason why I am suspicious and often hostile to you isn’t because I love a nanny state.
It’s because I have seen that rich and powerful people like to slash the parts of government that are inconvenient to them while they keep a world-destroying nuclear arsenal lying around, two and a half decades after the fall of the Soviets, paid for by your tax dollars.
It’s because I’ve seen that when you “starve the beast”, you don’t get rid of bombs or corn subsidies, you get rid of schools and roads and services for the poor.
And it’s because I have seen that, while government may often be a cage, it’s a cage (as Noam Chomsky has pointed out) that keeps us from being mauled by the tigers outside.
And those tigers aren’t al Qaeda or ISIS, as scary as those groups are. They’re not even North Korea.
They’re corporations owned by fellow Americans (as well as Europeans, Japanese and people from many other nations).
And it’s also because in a country as rich as this, no one should be starving or unable to get medical attention.
If you can propose to me and to plenty of your fellow Americans a way to provide those services that actually works without government getting involved, you will have our attention.
And if you propose to me and to plenty of your fellow Americans ways of increasing the transparency of government, moving services to state and local governments in a way that doesn’t lead to corporations running the show but instead increases direct community control, or otherwise making government more manageable, I’ll pay careful attention.
And frankly speaking, I’m pushing for slashing government far more than you, and I was doing it before many of you were.