The Tea Party movement that emerged last year presents itself as the heart of America, and a true political alternative, but is in fact an atavistic force embedded within the American psyche.
The year 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, can be seen as the year where everything changed. It was the year where the United States had the first black president, and the ending of the eight years where the nation stood closest to the precipice of an actual dictatorship in many a generation. But it was also the formation of a movement that came from a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and that in turn reverted to a blind allegiance to the status quo. The Tea Party movement that assembled from various supporters of the Ron Paul presidential campaign quickly transformed into a political entity that labeled the new president a “socialist fascist” without an understanding of either term or any evidence to support this label. Their first target was the August town halls where any reasonable discussion of healthcare was disrupted by screeching propaganda supplied by conservative ideologues within the Republican Party and the health insurance industry. Then there was a rally during the anniversary of September 11th that sought to return the country to the day after the attacks and that was organized by Glenn Beck. This call to return to the day after the attacks implied a return to the fear and willingness to give up real political power and freedom that could have happened at that time. In other words, immediately after the attacks, George W. Bush could have declared martial law and suspended all elections, and the majority of the American people would have accepted it out of fear for their physical safety. The Tea Party and followers of Glenn Beck refused to acknowledge this fact in their rallies, all the while stating that they were “losing the country” while Obama was president. This complaint reveals much about how these individuals view themselves as the rightful owners of this nation, at the explicit expense of others who are marginalized both politically and economically.
Despite the proposed goals of the anniversary rally by Glenn Beck and others, about some ephemeral idea of national unity, the real goal of fearmongering and deflection of authentic political organizing was very clear from the outset. The bone of contention of the Tea Party movement is not even really Obama, since their entire critique of him as a tyrant is based on lies that obscure the reality that he is in fact a typical politician set on maintaining the status quo. The best way to describe him is as a Keynesian. Therefore, it is vital to understand the hidden truth of this movement and how it seeks to subvert any real sense of democracy in a country that needs to do things differently from the old power structures in the political, the cultural, and the economic. The various protests and rallies of the Tea Party reveal a severe misunderstanding and miscomprehension of the nature of freedom, which is their supposed hallmark issue. To them, freedom as it exists is under threat by a president that received a strong majority and widespread popular support in the election of 2008. Healthcare reform, any type of environmental policy, or even attempts to prevent the severity of the economic crisis are all a secret plot to deny their conception of freedom. This almost conspiratorial view on the current administration and majority in Congress is in direct contradiction to the reality of the situation. An actual socialist president would never have bailed out the large banks, but would instead have repealed the Patriot Act, repealed corporate personhood, brought the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and supported universal single-payer healthcare. Obama has done none of these things, and has proven through his policy that he was a left of center candidate and is now a right of center president.
The conflict between Tea Party perception and reality is shaped by preexisting ideology. This ideology is a conservative ideology, regardless of how universal the Tea Party would like to portray itself as a people’s movement. In fact, their inherent suspicion of the people and their empowerment can be seen in their limited definition of freedom and its subsequent relationship with equality. It can be easily stated that one of the main differences between the left and the right is the shifting border between democratic collective action and the monolithic state. The right, and the Tea Party movement, view all collective self-determination as a form of statism. They tend to use the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers as a type of fetish in order to dismiss any constructive democratic collective action, relying on the republic as a limit on direct democracy and viewing it as perfectly natural or correct. On the other hand, this democratic collective action is seen by the left as a valid avenue for solving public problems while insuring that there is a balance between individual freedom and collective equality. The democratic process is key as the best method to insure that there is an equal distribution of power when public policy is formulated. For the left, a pure republic can easily lead to hierarchy and a surplus of power held by an elite few. Freedom is clearly seen as having different qualities and quantities on either the left or the right. The left starts from a belief in an abundance of freedom, but the right starts from a belief in a scarcity of freedom. This abundance or scarcity of freedom affects how power is organized. The right will always have the fear that an expansion of empowerment among the people will take away their own freedom, so any progressive change is viewed with suspicion as a grab for power by an imaginary elite rather than popular empowerment. However, the left will work with the understanding that freedom can grow and expand, especially through participation in power. This participation, such as through a direct decentralized democracy, is a prevention of marginalization and the objective status in which marginalized people can be contained. In other words, in a way that is beyond the comprehension of the Tea Party,
participation is the equality of ownership of the public realm.
This inability to understand equal ownership of the public realm through democratic participation as a social mechanism can be seen when the healthcare debate is compared to transportation issues. If universal single-payer healthcare, or even the public option, is compared to public transportation, then it can be illustrated how the left and the right disagree on the public realm. The right defines public transportation as a lack of freedom within predetermined stops and destinations. On the other hand, the left defines public transportation as the freedom of mobility for the poor. The idea that freedom is scarce can be used to prevent democratic collective action that would allow more people to be active participants in the public realm to solve problems for their own benefit, equal in power and equal in freedom. In this case, private ownership implies an inequality of ownership while public ownership at least allows an equality of ownership. A democratic process can structurally insure that this ownership is equal. The appearance of private ownership and isolated individual use obscures cases of political and economic alienation that already exists in the society. The contrast between private ownership and public ownership is also the inherent contradiction between negative freedom and positive freedom. Negative freedom is a ubiquitous identity of the self and an apparent identity of the other. The identity of those in the status quo is assumed to be natural, while the identity of those who are marginalized are seen as artificial. This negative freedom, as a freedom from actions, relies on the scarcity of power and political competition. Positive freedom is an apparent identity of the self and a ubiquitous identity of the other. As part of the process of empowerment, people become self-aware of their political and economic context, while the other is embedded in structures that are transparent to them and unable to be analyzed. This positive freedom, as the freedom to do actions, relies on the abundance of power and political cooperation. The conflict over the definition of freedom also affects the definition of ownership in the political sphere.
Political ownership is quite different from what is now considered economic ownership. Ownership in the political sense precedes any designation of property in economic ownership. Political ownership expresses itself through democracy, and property in the economic sense can only be expressed through the limited market. Economic property is based on scarcity, but political ownership is based on abundance. This correlates with the two opposing views on freedom as either scarce or abundant. It can be concluded that the left will therefore put forth an idea of political ownership that is much more expansive than economic ownership, where freedom can be equally shared among a wide group of participants. Through this participation, people can engage in democratic collective actions to solve public problems that do not need to degenerate into a centralized state. It becomes possible to work together collectively through a democratic process in order to do more than isolated individuals without losing individual freedom. Freedom and equality are not in conflict with each other in democracy, but are in a synergetic relationship. An equality of freedom is a distribution of power in the political sphere. An equality of needs can be a distribution of material objects and immaterial ideas. In most cases, the equality of needs are regulated in the economic sphere only but an equality of human freedom is also an equality of human needs. The distribution of power through political ownership can lead to a just distribution of the material and immaterial through economic ownership.
The Tea Party is the exact opposite of what can be called community organizing, especially if community organizing is used to bring marginalized people into a direct participation of power as equal citizens. Those who viewed themselves as patriots in 2009 fear this empowerment because they fear anything that might be considered collective. This fear, that is latent in the Tea Party movement, fails to realize that breaking up society and its political structures into pure individuals excludes people from the commons. Collective action outside of the centralized state can include people into the commons. Without this commons, that is most active in expanded political ownership and the abundance of freedom, the state can be perpetuated and the status quo can be maintained. The Tea Party’s suspicion of democracy that defines it as solely “big government” will limit any effective change in this matter. In contrast, the Green Party’s values of decentralization, grassroots democracy, and community economics offer an authentic alternative for real change. A movement that wants to go backwards, and give those who are ultimately the establishment more power, will fail to harness the need to look toward the future. And after last year, it is absolutely clear that the future is where all of the nation is heading.