The Tea Party is not a new phenomenon. In Australia, we had Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, and it was pretty much the same thing. A general angst was verbalised in populist right wing terms, and swept up a lot of people who didn’t really agree with the sort of extremism that goes with this sort of viewpoint – and a good number who thought if you prefaced a racist view point with “I’m not a racist but” it was somehow OK.
This sort of rabid populism is usually founded on well-placed fears and concerns, but turns on soft targets: the most disadvantaged sectors of society who can’t fight back. In Australia, it’s asylum seekers. In Europe, it’s immigrants. In the US, it’s loopy theories about who Barack Obama really is.
None of this of course targets the real cause of whatever crisis justifies the underlying fears. In Australia, asylum seekers are a tiny fraction of migrants, and real illegal immigrants like backpackers working without permission are a much bigger factor in “stealing” jobs from low-paid workers. Globalisation, and Australia’s insistence on lifting trade barriers no other developed country lifts, is an even bigger factor. Australia for example has the least protected agriculture outside a country managed by the IMF. In the US, much of the current economic crisis was caused by aggressive deregulation of banking under previous popular presidents, including Regan and Clinton (the latter more a creature of the right than his backers admit).
This kind of emotional populist politics is very easy of course. You find your victims, you point them at someone powerless and let rip with sound bites. It’s tough stuff to combat. When I saw Obama trying to explain that “Yes we can” means “Yes we can but not instantly” it was painful to watch – yet he was right. The damage of decades of economically loopy policies cannot be undone overnight.
Worse still, now the Republicans have a hold on Congress and are running scared of their own extremist right – those that aren’t in that category themselves – they will have the momentum to stop other critical reforms, like cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Visit this site every now and then and check the trend of the oil price in the sidebar if you want comfort in delusion. I just wonder when the right wing think tanks like the Heartland Institute and miscellaneous fossil fuel interests that fund them and some of the uglier right wing politics are going to find that running off a cliff isn’t the best choice, even if it’s your cliff.
But meanwhile politics of the populist right protects the real villains from exposure – and makes innocent victims suffer.