Angry at the Wrong People
A year ago, a new political movement appeared. Begun as local protests over taxes and federal government spending, the self-styled Tea Party movement was aggressively promoted by Fox News.
Although its members present themselves as an independent movement, the signs and buttons they displayed at the recent Code Red march in Washington were paid for by the Republican National Committee. Democrats see the tea bag -people as at once hilarious and frightening.
Their message is confused, to say the least. Calling themselves taxed enough already, they ignore the largest middle-class tax cut in history passed without a single Republican vote several weeks before their April 15 anti-tax march on Washington. They call our president a socialist, a Nazi, a communist, a dictator - not realizing that some of those terms are mutually exclusive.
The local Tea Partiers spend most of their energy fighting a health-care reform bill that contains 147 Republican amendments and most of what Bob Dole proposed as an alternative to the Clinton plan in 1993. From town hall meeting disruptions to death panels to accusing the president of being a Muslim from Kenya, the Tea Party is an easy target for derision. But beyond the nuttiness lies a more serious issue.
Americans have good reason to be uneasy and fearful. The Tea Partiers just chose the wrong target.
Between 1980 and the present, working Americans have watched their incomes stagnate (as adjusted for inflation). Assured by financial experts that we should regard our homes as an ever-growing source of wealth, we borrowed against those houses. And when the bubble burst, we found ourselves with houses worth less than the mortgages on them and equity lines and credit cards maxed out. It took us a while to realize that our standard of living was declining for the first time in generations.
While our wages made little headway despite rising productivity, those at the top saw their wealth quadruple over the same period. Thanks to Mr. Bush's tax giveaway to the rich, their tax rate is about half of ours. During the Bush administration, the number of Americans with jobs actually declined while the population increased by more than 20 million. By contrast, the Clinton administration saw 23 million new jobs created, a benefit of the Democrats' emphasis on job creation.
The Tea Partiers tout fiscal conservatism. One might wonder if they realize that Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and George W. Bush doubled it. Nice trick, that - since he inherited a budget surplus projected to be $5.6 trillion and managed to turn it into a $3 trillion deficit in just eight years. The only president to generate a surplus since the Great Depression was Bill Clinton. I haven't seen any Tea Party signs celebrating that.
In late 2008, the financial house of cards built on the misguided Bush tax cuts collapsed, threatening to take the world's economy with it. Our own Sen. Richard Burr assured the public that there was no reason to panic, then phoned his wife and told her to go to the local ATM and pull out all the cash she could.
The federal government threw money by the hundreds of billions at banks to relieve the liquidity crisis and enable them to resume making the loans that are the lifeblood of our business and mortgage communities. The banks mostly squirreled the money away while the bankers have been giving each other multimillion-dollar bonuses for being so good at their jobs.
Some of them are still giving "retention" bonuses to employees who have long left their companies. When you read in the paper that last year's Wall Street bonuses were up 17 percent to more than $20 billion, remember that every one of those dollars came from your taxes. You have every right to resent that.
Many Americans find themselves frustrated and angry at a government that has failed to protect them from financial shenanigans, encouraged companies to send jobs overseas and threatens to slash Social Security and Medicare while failing to provide the kind of health-care system that citizens of most other countries take for granted. All the while, misguided tax policies are helping transfer wealth from the middle class to the rich, resulting in the greatest wealth disparity since the 1920s.
Out of anger against such injustices comes the Tea Party, cleverly misdirecting that rage for its own purposes. Following two electoral setbacks for Republicans, they would have us believe that the problem isn't that Republicans are too radical for the mainstream, but that they need to move even further right.
Democrats would rather see a Republican Party that reflects the views of the majority of fiscally conservative social moderates. Working together we can hammer out compromises that would put this country back on a road to sustainable growth.
The Tea Party will ultimately fail because of its lack of inclusion. It is made up almost exclusively of older, wealthier, white people. Even in Moore County their numbers are quite small (less than 1 percent of registered Republicans). A successful political movement needs a broader base - and a firmer grip on reality.
Jim Heim is chairman of the Moore County Democratic Party. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story