Oh those “tea parties.” They just go to show you how much publicity you can get for a cause that troubles not very many people when you’ve got a powerful Privatized Ministry of Propaganda behind you. And boy, was the Fox “News” Channel there for several weeks running up to the event. They ran both paid and unpaid ads for it incessantly. The main line? The Republican mantra that has been tried-and-true since the time it first worked in the battle over “Prop. 13” in California in 1977. That was the one that slashed funding for education in California under the guise of “cutting your taxes.”
No one mentioned what the reductions in state and local revenue would do to education in the state nor the fact that the bulk of the cuts would go to businesses, not individuals. But it did solve the problem that the so-called “small government” Republicans (that is small government for anything smacking of national domestic spending, not small government for matters ranging from freedom of religious belief as to when life begins to supporting a mountainous military-industrial complex) had. Goldwater had found that he couldn’t run against specific programs. But when his successors discovered running “against taxes,” away they went.
They have riding that train ever since, principally because the Democrats could never figure how to counter them. It’s pretty simple really to focus the public’s attention on programs and what they get for taxes paid, as President Obama is starting to show and will, in my view, show more as his gets deeper into his term. But the pre-DLCers (Carter, et al) and the DLCers (Clinton et al) never got the hang of it. Most likely because they didn’t really want to. After all, it was President Clinton who, in his first State of the Union message to Congress announced that the “era of big government was over” (a subject I considered two weeks ago). Nevertheless, “cutting taxes” has worked so well for the Republicans, since the time of Reagan. So why not stick with it?
Never mind that the result of the Bush tax cuts, as every reader of BuzzFlash knows, was to vastly increase the Federal deficit, cripple major sectors of the Federal government’s operating departments, and vastly increase both the income and the wealth gaps between the very rich and the rest of us. They’ve got nothing else to offer politically. The Frums, Brookses, Buchanans, and Scarboroughs call upon the Republicans to “come up with new programs” to “re-invent themselves” to “offer serious alternatives to what Obama is doing.” But the only serious alternatives to the President’s economic, health, environmental, and education policies are being offered by the Left, not the Right. Nothing there for Republicans. And so, they are left with (sorry Tommy Heinrich) old reliable: “cut taxes.”
There are several observations one can make. The first is how stale the mantra has become. There is the constant drum-beating by Fox. There is the money provided by a variety of right-wing cover groups with names such as “Americans for Prosperity” (why who wouldn’t want that, not that this rerun of Bush policies that produced just the opposite would produce it, but what the hey) and Gingrich’s “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (as if the Administration is offering un-American solutions for the same). The second is what did they get? Well, Frank Luntz, Republican propagandist extraordinaire, estimated the total turnout, nationally, at 250,000 (FoxandFriends [yes, I do watch it from time-to-time], April 16, 2009, at about 7:30 a.m.). 250,000? Nationwide? Why we used to get that many in Washington, DC alone for a major anti-Vietnam War rally. Dear old Sean Hannity himself estimated that his crowd in Atlanta was 20,000. Even though other estimates made it at 10,000 or so, even 20,000 for a super-publicized rally ain’t much.
Third, one could laugh. But one shouldn’t. What happened has an underlying scariness. Signs proclaimed “give me liberty or give me death.” Translated that means “if we don’t like the result of a democratic election, we are going to use force to overturn its result.” Signs said “what we need is a revolution.” Translated that means “if we don’t like the result of a democratic election, we are going to use force to overturn its result.” Gov. Perry of Texas, apparently not kidding, talked vaguely about secession. Translated that means “if we don’t like the result of a democratic election, we are going to use force to overturn its result.” This all was combined with what the Center for American Progress’ Progress Report for April 15 characterized as: “The Unifying Message — Oppose Obama.” You can figure out what that means.
This, combined further with the pro-gun offensive that the NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation, and assorted allies, aided and abetted by the widely disseminated total falsification of the Department of Homeland Security report on violent right-wing extremist groups tells you in which direction the leadership of this movement may well want to take it. It is small now, but with money behind it, it can grow very rapidly. What became the German Nazi Party had about 15 members when one Adolf Hitler dropped by a meeting one night. He was drafted as their leader because of his eloquence. They relied on violence, an “anti-government” message (meaning anti- any government they did not control), and racism. Oh yes, did I mention the unifying anti-Obama theme of the effort?
But it couldn’t happen here, could it? There are a number of fascinating connections between then in Germany and now here. One is that very early on, attracted to Hitler and his message was an American named George Herbert Walker. He was the great-grandfather of our most recent past President among whose long series of accomplishments was the grinding of major parts of our Constitution into dust. The German people had an excuse for the advent of Nazi fascism. The world had never seen its like before. The American people would not have the same excuse.
Major sources for this Commentary are three issues of The Progress Report from the Center for American Progress: “Tea Baggers Against Obama,” April 15, 2009, “Getting What We Pay For,” April 16, 2009, and “Right-Wing Extremists Threaten the Nation,” April 20, 2009.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. He has also published numerous articles and reviews in both the academic and the lay literature on health policy, health and wellness, and athletics. On politics Dr. Jonas is a www.TPJmagazine.us Contributing Author; a regular Columnist for the webmagazine Buzz Flash; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC; a regular contributor to Thomas Paine’s Corner; and a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad.