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Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Politics ...

Looks like the Tea Party has notched a major victory in its quest to change the course of American history. Yes, I certainly am referring to the debt limit extension and deficit reduction plan approved by the House and Senate and about to be signed into law by President Obama.

I just read an article on the Daily Beast site that is right on point. The “Beast” (a spin-off of Newsweek Magazine) and its writers are very much on the liberal side, and thus have a lot of admiration for the Saul Alinsky dream of grass roots organizing, of ordinary people rising up to take power from the elites who control our government. One reason why “Beast people” (and “HuffPo” people and “DailyKos” people and NPR people, etc.) love Barack Obama so much is that he was once a community organizer himself, who cut his teeth going door to door and attending countless evening meetings in church basements, right on Alinsky’s home turf (i.e., Chicago).

OK, so Beast writer Peter Beinart points out that the Tea Party is one of the most incredible, stupendous examples of the Alinksy dream realized. It just rose up from the grass roots and organized itself, crossing town lines, county lines and state lines assisted by modern techno-communications (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, messaging, etc.). Kind of like the “Arab Spring”.

The reason that Alinsky is now rolling over in his grave is because the roots have gone reactionary. The people are grabbing power, but they are not using it in an edifying way. It’s getting ugly. Beinart points out that the Tea Party won because there just isn’t an equivalent nationwide grass roots movement on the liberal, pro-welfare state. By comparison, in the 1930s, the grass roots were on the side of socialist and communist agitators, and FDR had to appease them with as much social legislation (Social Security, jobs programs, the pro-union Wagner Act, etc.) as he could.

Obviously, things have changed from the 1930s. Even though we are presently in economic straits that seem just about as dire, there are a lot more middle class families out there today. And they feel very threatened, as they should. These families know that a lot of families like them have fallen back into the ranks of the ‘working poor’ (or not-working poor) over the past two or three years.

Actually, that trend may go back even further; I took a look at some stats regarding the number of “working poor” families in the USA, defined by the US Census as family units where at least one member works regularly, and where the total family income is less than 200% of the poverty income level. Between 2002 and 2008 (just before the big financial crisis hit), the number of such families went up by a total of 7.2%, whereas the total number of family units in the USA only increased by 4.3%. So, it looks as though the ranks of the ‘working poor’ were expanding faster than the population as a whole, even before the big economic crisis started. I’m hoping to see updated numbers for 2009 and 2010 before long; obviously the working poor rapidly expanded in those years, as more people lost their regular jobs and had to take part-time work or get a job at a much lower pay scale.

The American middle class knows all of this, and wants to react. They don’t want to storm the palaces of the rich, as in Bolshevik Russia back in the early 20th Century. They know that the rich will protect themselves very well. They know that the rich control the industries that they hope to keep working for, so they need to look for some other group to beat up on. The obvious candidates are the growing ranks of the poor, unemployed, and working poor. These are the people whom the federal welfare state mostly protect. And that protection costs a lot of money, money that requires taxes.

The Tea Party gives the panicky middle class household some feeling of control, by promising that the government mechanisms that would otherwise need more and more tax revenue to help the growing ranks of the needy, will NOT demand more and more of their weekly paychecks. In fact, the Tea Party will rend the welfare state, and thus CUT the tax burden on the middle class. Ah, what a relief!!

This is when I wonder if government by the intelligent elite, insulated from the cries of the mobs, has it’s place (so who is surprised that NY Times commentator Tom Friedman so admires China, complete with its elitist, non-democratic rulers). Of course, what the Tea Party is doing is going to make things worse in the long run (and not really that long, actually). Any number of economists have pointed out that a fiscal cut-back in the midst of a long recession triggered by a financial market collapse will serve to exacerbate and lengthen that recession. Yes, the 1937 argument, when FDR decided to go fiscally conservative and GDP growth tanked while unemployment skyrocketed again. Only when the stimulus package of federal borrowing and spending in preparation for WW2 got the factories humming again did the Great Depression come to an end.

The old fashioned idea of using government to invest in growth infrastructure, e.g. education, research, better transportation, new high-tech industries, financial stabilization measures, etc., never had a chance in a reactionary economic panic. It’s just too “long term”; Obama still makes the argument, but the middle class is no longer listening.

I can’t help but savor the irony of it all. The middle-class Tea Party supporter is very often a member of my own Baby Boom generation. Yes, the generation of “peace, pot and microdot”. The generation that spoke of love and community and sharing. Yes, the people who demonstrated against the Vietnam War on the campuses now probably drive Prius’ and support Obama; but the ‘silent majority’ of Boomers out in the heartland, who once grew their hair long too and nodded in agreement with the “Woodstock Nation” sentiment of the 60’s and early 70’s, have turned.

The Prius-driving Obama supporters who once made their stand at the dean’s office love the idea of organizing. But instead of actually organizing, they were content to settle down and ‘teach their children well’, and take care of their own wounded souls. And now they’ve been out-organized by ‘those other Baby Boomers’, the ones who have to deal with rust-belt towns and military veterans and uncertain prospects in the heartlands. Even worse, lots of the “Doonesbury Boomer’s” own kids have joined in with the Tea Party crowd; they too know that the future is VERY uncertain for them, as they now try to buy houses and start families.

I wish I could end this post on an optimistic note. But for now, well . . . I’m starting to imagine a tragically failed Obama Presidency, followed by years (perhaps decades) of continued American decline and turmoil . . . for all but the rich. The ‘true Boomers’ will lament all their navel-gazing while the nation changed around them, while the Tea Party Boomers may well live to regret their reactionary ‘last stand’.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am      

  1. Jim, I am not quite sure I totally agree with you here. Yes, the Tea Party is a grass roots movement, but there is one big difference between the “then” of Alinsky’s time, the time of the unions like the CIO and, even that of a few years ago when Obama was elected. That difference I think is that of leadership.

    To my way of thinking, it seems that the Tea Party and the GOP in general lack strong leadership. There is a grass roots movement but a vacuum of leadership. The same problem exists in the “Arab Spring”, as I see it. Just this week I have read more than one article about Syria and Egypt and the problems in both places with disputes regarding who shall lead the country; no strong leader stands out among either/any of the parties involved. Sure, there has been a grass roots movement; but now that it comes down to exactly what kind of government the Egyptians and the Syrians will have (each in their respective countries), there are strong disputes, leading to crack downs on the people of the country and various other serious problems. And I find myself wondering if these 2 countries won’t go the way of China back in the Tianamen (sp?) Square days. Again, I see this as a vacuum of power among the grass roots.

    In the U.S., I would certainly hope that we would not come to such a situation as they did in China a while back and currently are experiencing in the Middle East. However, I do not see anybody in the GOP who is a strong leader. There’s a grass roots movement, sure, but really very little strong leadership.

    This in contrast to the 1940s (which I remember): FDR was a very strong leader—so strong that he could get a 4th presidential term for himself. I vividly remember listening to the radio when that Democratic convention was held and in which he won the candidacy for what proved to be his fourth term; I still remember his voice as he gave his talk; it was filled with FDR’s strong leadership of that convention.

    Another big difference in what is going on today and what went on in the 1940s is that the bill Congress has just passed is for a very limited time (or so they say); or certain portions of it are stated to be for a very limited time—until just past the next election. So, it seems to me that what is really going on here (and to further prove the lack of leadership) is that this bill recently passed is short term, just so those already in office can stay in office.

    Such strong leadership, as existed in the 1940s among the unions and the government, is sadly missing in the today’s Tea Party and even in the GOP in general now. Even more sadly, it seems to me that Obama has had to give in (to my great disappointment) because he’s in the “gimme” position now. Tonight he’s in Chicago holding a fund raiser, which puts him in a very awkward position: He promised the rich would pay more taxes. Yet, he can hardly deliver on that promise and hold a fund raiser, asking those same rich people to fork over their money for his next election process. So even his leadership has suffered a blow.

    For me, I think I will wait a while before I agree that the Tea Party has taken over Washington. If they can produce a strong leader around whom the party can gather, I say they might be in real contention for taking over power. Then again, the whole thing may fade just as the baby boomer “peace and love” movement faded when the realities of life kicked in for those who swore not to trust anybody over 30.

    At this point, can anybody name even one of the Tea Party-ers who looks like a truly strong leader? I cannot think of even one. And as to the Dems, with any luck, Obama will get passed his “gimme” stage and not need the money of the billionaires and millionaires any more if he manages to be elected to a second term. Then he may be able to actually stand for, work toward, and accomplish what he promised in his first term. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 2, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

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