Duping Tea Party ‘populists’

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please welcome Gabriel Arana, a new contributor to AMERICAblog and AMERICAblog Gay. Gabriel is a great writer, and we’re very excited to have him join us as a regular contributor.  He is the assistant Web editor at The American Prospect and writes about gay-rights issues, immigration, education, and media culture. His pieces have appeared in The NationSlate, The Advocate, the Daily Beast, and other publications. He is a graduate of Yale University and a native of Nogales, Arizona.

George Monbiot at The Guardian on the big money backstopping the Tea Party:

The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. These accomplishments are closely related. …

The Kochs have lavished money on more than 30 other advocacy groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. These bodies have been instrumental in turning politicians away from environmental laws, social spending, taxing the rich and distributing wealth. They have shaped the widespread demand for small government. The Kochs ensure that their money works for them. “If we’re going to give a lot of money,” David Koch explained to a libertarian journalist, “we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”

Most of these bodies call themselves “free-market thinktanks”, but their trick – as (Astro)Turf Wars points out – is to conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty. Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilise for freedom, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt. The thinktanks that the Kochs have funded devise the game and the rules by which it is played; Americans for Prosperity coaches and motivates the team.

To me, this has always been the central irony of the Tea Party movement: Its members rail against preferential treatment for bailed-out Wall Street firms, but largely support a Republican party that has made this sort of preferential treatment for capitalist cronies — the élites who profited even as they ran their institutions into the ground — a central component of its platform.

Under Republican tax and trade policies over the last 20 years, income inequality has soared and, in the transition to a service-based economy, the manufacturing jobs that once supported the middle class have been outsourced. These developments have benefitted highly skilled workers in industries like finance, but have made life tougher for most Americans; wages for Americans have stagnated since 2000 — for all except the very rich. Current frustration with the economy is understandable, but the Tea Party’s answer is for the government to keep its hands off the Wall Street firms that steered it to the brink of collapse and engineered the broad structural changes that have made it much tougher to find well-paying work as a high-school grad in the Rust Belt than it was in the 1970s.

It’s nothing if not incongruous to see middle-aged Tea Partiers rallying with Republicans against the bank bailouts and then hear that the bailed-out banks have sent the largest chunk of their political donations to Republicans.

Gabriel Arana is a senior editor at The American Prospect in Washington, D.C. His pieces have appeared in The Nation, Slate, The Advocate, the Daily Beast, and other publications. He is a graduate of Yale University and a native of Nogales, Arizona.

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