The Tea Party seems to have disappeared these past few months. Initially reviled for what some would call dangerous right-wing lunacy, yet also extolled by disillusioned Americans as their beacon of hope for a better future, the Tea Party was the buzz word. Inescapable, its name was pored over in newspapers and publications, with everyone from businessmen and laborers having a considered opinion. Even the Twitterverse saw the Tea Party trending daily through the summer right until last November’s mid-term elections. Yet despite this, this vibrant force seems to have ground to a halt: offering us just a hazy memory at the pre-frontal cortex of our brain.
The international community and its media have subscribed to the general view that the Tea Party is the embodiment of sensationalist, knee-jerk conservatism. “Right wing hyenas; those bigoted, stupid, and confused”, are all put-downs engineered by a sensationalist Left. The more sinister posters of the Tea Party were seized on by the Liberal media, and even the BBC, as a way of smearing its respectability and legitimacy. In Le Monde, El País, the Guardian and the Observer, the more malicious and sinister posters – “Hitler Gave Great Speeches Too”, “By Ballot or Bullet Restoration is Coming”, “Obama = Mosque” – were naturally perfect for their papers’ own left-of-centre agenda. However, this representation of the Party’s support was deceptive in that they failed to report the more moderately contested views of Tea Partiers. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as well as comparing Obama to Hitler, there were messages also expressing betrayal and plain despair at America’s state. Criticizing the President specifically was apparent, and this has often been misconstrued as being race-driven. The Tea Party undoubtedly did have racist supporters, yet there was also support from African-Americans. Marcus Lloyd, in the Guardian, wrote a blog piece titled “Why I am a black Tea Party patriot opposed to Barack Obama”, in which he reels-off free-market, anti-statist prose as his justification. Such an organization as the Tea Party is easy to distort, and instead of it being viewed as some sort of dialogue between White and Black, it should be understood as facilitating a battle of ideals: between Left and Right.
The Tea Party’s intended image was to act as the vehicle for restoring America’s traditional, classical-liberal values; returning a country engulfed by darkness to an age of enlightenment. Nostalgia and romanticism have always proved an effective card to play in politics, calling for a return to the heady days of yesteryear. However the Tea Party would have us believe that it is Decision time, make-or-break in an epoch of crumbling American superiority. It claims to have the capacity to reverse such a tragedy, and this is reminiscent of the shift from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1981. The 1970s were dubbed by Carter as a time of “moral and spiritual crises”. Now also, America is embroiled in a long war, and navigating choppy economic waters. Reagan’s sunny optimism and combative view of America’s inadequacy under the Carter administration was shown by his questioning “are you better off than you were four years ago?” and his affirmation later that it was “morning in America once again”. Central to this shift was the respective Presidents’ belief in American exceptionalism, and here in 2011, Obama has been criticized for being apologetic about his country. He bowed to the Emperor of Japan much to the anger of USA press. The Tea Party’s name even indicates a return to a greatness it considers to be in jeopardy; echoing the Boston Tea Party 1773 – one of the founding events of America. Unless Obama becomes Conqueror instead of the conquered, a similar sea-change would seem to be probable.
The Tea Party does deserve criticism for its overly aggressive and vociferous campaigning for a cause that is universally desired anyway. Headed by the motley crew of Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, and Christine O’Donnell, the Party called for “Liberty, Freedom, and Low Taxes”. A phraseology failing to capture the original, it was hardly demanding “Peace, Bread, and Land”. Every single American would see the Tea Party’s ideal as desirable, yet whether there are concerns about them actually existing is dubious. Questions should certainly be raised about its actual raison d’être. George Monbiot believes that the Tea Party was not even a grass-roots support base, but instead an “Astroturf campaign”. Monbiot’s claim that the Tea Party was insincere in its boasting of representing the people would certainly explain its deliberately vague and populist slogans, as well as its clear hunger for power without offering any real solution.
Believing initiative deserves reward, rugged individualism and self-reliance are certainly praiseworthy. However, the Tea Party hierarchy allowed this to manifest itself into dogma; and this was particularly frustrating. One of the mistakes made by Herbert Hoover during the 1930s was that he failed to adapt his political and economic creed to an adverse situation. Laissez-faire cannot work in times of Depression. Forward seventy to eighty years, President Obama is wrestling with a beastly fiscal and structural deficit and an economy imbalanced by the Great Recession. With economies still volatile and vulnerable, now is not the time for the Tea Party to rock the boat for its own political ends. Clamoring for America’s “Sputnik moment”, Obama laid out with bravura America’s plan for winning the future. The Tea Party however chose to hark back to the past; but a past they had shamelessly manipulated. Through the autumn, this political bonfire was undoubtedly stoked by Fox News Channel’s vitriol. Hoping to cajole people into backing its cause through deceit, Glenn Beck of Fox simply dismissed Woodrow Wilson as “a big racist”, Jimmy Carter as “stupid and embarrassing”, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was unashamedly erased from Beck’s particular timeline of American Presidents altogether.
Although The Tea Party and Obama’s political philosophy differ, their ends are identical. Both believing that America can – and must – “win” the future, beating the Chinese ascendancy, returning to prosperity, and maintaining its self-declared purpose in upholding international security, it is only possible for one side to win. People have begun to re-evaluate Obama now, hailing his fiscal stimuli as a moderate success, but he now has to respect his opponents’ message. Initially making the big decisions in the Oval Office with his “liberal elite”, the President must now actively comply with the opposition. Obama knows their slogan’s demands, and, the truth is, he wants those very things too. It’s just lower taxes are not tenable with America’s current deficit. Obama will now have to make gestures to the Tea Party’s cause, as his rivals have left such an impression on the Senate and the House of Representatives. An over-arching awareness of the possibility of change now loams. A hazy memory, maybe; but Sarah Palin’s chants should still be ringing in the incumbent’s ears. The juxtaposition of nostalgia and rhetoric proved a recipe for success in the mid-term elections, showing the ease at which the electorate was able to dispatch of the Democrats. “Those nutters”, you think? Easy to caricature, yes; but their argument may yet leave an unwelcome, acerbic taste on Obama’s lips come November.