Is the Media’s Tea Party Delusion Coming to an End?


With the primary season coming to an end, finally we can say our long national nightmare of delusion has also come to an end.  No, not delusions about the President not being a U.S. citizen or about how Medicare doesn’t count as government-run health care—right-wing propaganda doesn’t stop chugging for anyone.  No, the delusion that’s coming to an end is the fervent mainstream media belief that the Tea Party represents a new kind of conservative movement, one less interested in promoting the patriarchy and more interested in some ideal of libertarianism that is rarely practiced in the real world.  Now that we have a full eyeball of the kind of candidates nominated when the Tea Party throws out Republican party favorites and brings in their own, we can safely say that the only thing really new about this conservative movement is the early republic-era costumes.

One glance through the newly minted Tea Party leadership, and it’s clear that putting a nose in every panty drawer still tops the list of conservative priorities.  And contrary to the earlier mainstream media claims that this year’s conservative movement is downplaying the talk about women’s rights, these leaders seem even more extreme than their predecessors.  Take, for instance, Christine O’Donnell, the surprise victor over moderate Mike Castle for the Republican nomination for Delaware Senator. Not only does O’Donnell take an extreme position on abortion, wanting a ban on the procedure with no exceptions for rape or incest, but she also made her name as an anti-contraception crusader.  In fact, her objections to non-procreative sex are so strong that she has even gone on the record opposing masturbation, causing an avalanche of jokes that indicates that the country’s opinions on this subject may have matured since the days Jocelyn Elders was drummed out of office for suggesting that masturbating is a topic worth being covered in sex ed.

O’Donnell may be the extreme example, but this season’s crop of candidates dubbed “Tea Party” candidates demonstrates a tendency to take traditional conservative opposition to abortion rights and to shoot it up with steroids.  As Rachel Maddow reported in August, Tea Party favorites Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Ken Buck beat their more mainstream Republican opponents in primaries with platforms that indicate they favor extreme abortion bans that would have no exceptions for rape or incest, or to save the health of the mother.  Since Maddow did that report, three more prominent Tea Party candidates beat the Republican favorite in Republican primaries: Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller (who beat Lisa Murkowski for the Republican nomination for Alaska Senator), and Carl Paladino (who beat Rick Lazio for Republican nomination for New York governor.  All three of these upsets went to candidates who share this desire for an extreme abortion ban that would leave us in a situation where even rape victims, children impregnated through incest, and women who face massive disabilities if they give birth would be denied an abortion.

If it only happened once or twice that the Tea Party coalition threw out a favored Republican to put in their own candidate with extreme anti-choice views, one could chalk it up to coincidence.  Perhaps, you could argue, they voted for the Tea Party candidate over the mainstream Republican because they liked his/her views on economics and didn’t look twice at the abortion thing.  But now that this has happened over and over again, and the candidates seem to be embracing even more aggressive anti-choice language, the possibility has to be considered that the Tea Partiers are voting for these candidates because they like their extremist anti-choice views.

More than any issue, the abortion factor has caused the mainstream media to drop the early narrative about the Tea Partiers being a libertarian uprising.  Now the narrative is more that the Tea Party is undertaking a purge of the Republican party, where anyone with moderate tendencies has a target on his back.  In the race to appear more hard-core-right-wing-than-thou, taking an absolutist stance on abortion can be a quick way for a candidate to establish bona fides.  And unlike with other stances where taking a hard line right wing stance can backfire by implicating the well-being of the actual voters, such as stances in favor of abolishing Social Security or deregulating the banks entirely.  Women of reproductive age are relatively rare amongst Tea Party supporters.  The ones that are there are often subject to the all-too-common belief that the need to abort a pregnancy is something that happens to other women, because of anti-choice stereotypes that paint women who have abortions as stupid or slutty.  Abortion banning becomes the go-to topic for proving your right-wing mettle, because it’s the perfect example of a policy choice that supporters can always believe only affect other people.

What does this mean for the future?  Possibly nothing, in terms of long term trends.  The current trending hard to the right for the conservative movement appears mostly to be a reaction to the election of Barack Obama and the changing demographics of a nation that made his election possible.  Those demographic changes show no sign of slowing down, which will eventually put a hard limit on right-wing power.  Even now, the mainstream Republican party is scrambling to stem the right-wing tide, out of a legitimate fear that candidates perceived as extremist can’t win elections, particularly in swing states like Nevada or Delaware, where Tea Party favorites have edged out Republican favorites for Republican Senate nominations.

But despite the demographic deadline facing the conservative movement, they can still massive damage on their way out the door. As the Center for Reproductive Rights documented, 2010 was a particularly bad year for reproductive rights, as many state legislatures passed increasingly strict regulations on abortion.  And even as the country as a whole moves more to the left, we’re also seeing increasing geographic polarization, making some areas of the country ever more right wing by the day.  For these areas, the crackdown on women’s rights may have just begun.   

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  • starchild

    I suppose it’s predictable that people on the political left would want to write the Tea Party movement off as typical conservatives — indeed, the dominant media message in reporting on the recent victories of a number of candidates associated with the Tea Party movement seemed to be that these candidates are *more* conservative than the GOP establishment.

     

    However this characterization of Tea Partiers is inaccurate.

     

    The Tea Party movement has had a strong libertarian component from the beginning. Indeed, grassroots supporters of the Ron Paul for president campaign organized the first major Tea Party protests, long before the Chicago radio host made his now-famous call for such a movement.

     

    Back on December 12, 2007, myself and other Ron Paul supporters held simultaneous protests in a number of cities around the country for Bill of Rights Day. I have a number of photos from that day of dozens of activists tossing boxes symbolically labeled with the names of various failed government policies into San Francisco Bay. (Out of concern for the environment, we didn’t actually throw the boxes into the bay, but only off a dock onto a dry area where the tide was out)

     

    Ron Paul of course was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988, and libertarians have formed the core of his support. Yet Dr. Paul remains among the politicians most cited as leaders of the Tea Party movement, and most admired by self-described members of that movement. By contrast with Ron Paul’s supporters, I would argue that support for Sarah Palin is a mile wide and an inch deep.

     

    The “TEA” in “Tea Party”, by the way, stands for “Taxed Enough Already”. And despite efforts to smear Tea Partiers with whatever will stick (bogus charges of racism, etc.), opposition to taxes, debt, and out-of-control government spending remain the major themes of the movement.

     

    If some on the left weren’t so eager to demonize a vibrant new movement that’s attracted a lot of support from conservatives, they might stop and consider the fact that this movement has the potential to draw conservatives and Republicans away from the social authoritarians who really *are* the enemies of reproductive health freedom.

     

    Instead of attacking the Tea Party, you might recognize it as an opportunity to drive a deeper wedge between people whose conservatism is rooted in bigotry and narrow-minded, anti-sexuality attitudes, and those whose conservatism stems from a libertarian appreciation of free markets and individual liberty.

  • prochoiceferret

    Instead of attacking the Tea Party, you might recognize it as an opportunity to drive a deeper wedge between people whose conservatism is rooted in bigotry and narrow-minded, anti-sexuality attitudes, and those whose conservatism stems from a libertarian appreciation of free markets and individual liberty.

     

    Given that Tea Party candidates include people who strongly favor narrow-minded, anti-sexuality attitudes (Christine O’Donnell), and extreme government regulation of abortion providers and prohibition of abortion, I think the libertarian appreciators of free markets and individual liberty are on the other side of that wedge.

  • squirrely-girl

    I believe there is a huge difference between the (current) Tea Party and the Libertarian movement. The seemingly biggest difference I notice is that the Tea Party seems to make absolutely no mention of the libertarian principle of social justice. It’s as though people like Palin and Beck heard a few good sound bites from people like Ron Paul and ran with it… but totally forgot/refused to read the whole platform… or ANY of the historical supporting documents upon which this ideology is based. People who refuse to “do their homework” will NEVER speak for me. 

     

    I generally consider myself to be libertarian in political orientation but I refuse to associate myself with the individuals who’ve taken up the banner of the Tea Party. For all of the shouting about taxes and individual liberty, the Tea Party seemingly has no problem with funding never ending wars and ungodly defense budgets or even regulating the liberty of those individuals with whom they disagree. When people like Palin, Angle, Rand Paul, and McConnell STFU about using the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO LIMIT reproductive rights then maybe… just maybe I could stand to listen to what else they’re blathering on about. But until then, they’re just the same old authoritarian regime with a shiny new surface… and they are not libertarian in any sense of the word. 

     

    Libertarians would do themselves a great service to completely separate themselves from the Tea Party movement. 

  • starchild

    Given that Tea Party candidates include people who strongly favor narrow-minded, anti-sexuality attitudes (Christine O’Donnell), and extreme government regulation of abortion providers and prohibition of abortion, I think the libertarian appreciators of free markets and individual liberty are on the other side of that wedge.

    Well, obviously those candidates who favor lots of government intervention in policies relating to sexuality are not libertarian on those particular issues. But how many of the Tea Party candidates are less libertarian overall than their GOP establishment rivals?

     

    Grassroots Tea Party activists did not choose Christine O’Donnell; she chose to run, and because she has an anti-statist, pro-freedom take on a lot of issues, she’s been getting Tea Party support. If Democrats or the left would put forward someone who was equally good on economic issues without O’Donnell’s kooky takes on masturbation, creationism, etc., I would certainly prefer such a candidate, and I’m sure plenty of other Tea Partiers would too.

     

    The question for people on the left is, are you at least as pro-freedom overall as people on the right? In other words, considering the whole picture of civil liberties, taxes, war, regulation, military spending, welfare, etc., do you favor more Big Brother government intrusions into peoples’ lives than the Republicans, or less? If you can honestly answer yes, then it’s in your own interest to make allies of libertarians rather than treating them as the enemy.

     

    The Democrats need their own version of the Tea Party to shake up the Democratic establishment the way the Tea Party is doing to the GOP. Grassroots Democrats and leftists I talk with are not exactly happy that Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership has continued Bush’s wars, Bush’s policies on torture, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detentions, the War on Drugs, second-class citizen status for GLBTQ Americans, etc., etc. But if grassroots leftists don’t hold their feet to the fire and start kicking them out of office (e.g. replacing Nancy Pelosi with Cindy Sheehan), they’ll just continue selling out your issues.

  • starchild

     

    “Libertarians would do themselves a great service to completely separate themselves from the Tea Party movement.”

     

    A huge number of people in this country identify with the Tea Party movement right now, including many who are strongly libertarian. Part of it of course is the frustration of the two-party system completely dominating U.S. politics and alternative parties facing such a daunting uphill struggle.

     

    Although I personally disagree and will continue to vote Libertarian, many pro-freedom voters see no practical alternative to joining with the dissident faction of the Republicans.

     

    As I noted in the last message, the grassroots left has so far failed to provide an equivalent dissident faction to clean house on the Democrats’ side of the aisle, so where else are they going to go?

     

    If you’d think about it for a minute, I think you’d see it’s in your interest as leftists to *encourage* the libertarian tendencies within the Tea Party movement so that there is more of a split within the Republican coalition. Sure you disagree with people like Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell on abortion, but is the GOP establishment any better? No. So why not focus more of your vitriol on that establishment, rather than alienating potential libertarian allies — or if you can’t see them as allies, at least thorns in the side of your enemies?

  • starchild

    They may want to be the undisputed leaders of this movement, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily get to! However to the extent others portray them as the leaders, that helps them become so in actuality!

  • prochoiceferret

    Well, obviously those candidates who favor lots of government intervention in policies relating to sexuality are not libertarian on those particular issues. But how many of the Tea Party candidates are less libertarian overall than their GOP establishment rivals?

     

    Many, it seems, since Tea Party candidates tend to be more hardcore big-goverment-will-not-let-you-have-an-abortion than the moderate Republicans they beat out in the primaries.

     

    And think about it… if they feel that it is the government’s place to reach into your vagina and stop you from having an abortion… then why would they stop at other forms of big-government intrusion? If they won’t respect a decision made between a woman, her doctor, and (sometimes) God, why would they respect anything else?

     

    Grassroots Tea Party activists did not choose Christine O’Donnell; she chose to run, and because she has an anti-statist, pro-freedom take on a lot of issues, she’s been getting Tea Party support. If Democrats or the left would put forward someone who was equally good on economic issues without O’Donnell’s kooky takes on masturbation, creationism, etc., I would certainly prefer such a candidate, and I’m sure plenty of other Tea Partiers would too.

     

    Well, no other candidates ran, and so the Tea Party decided that they would be anti-libertarian, Big-Governmentarians on matters of sexuality and reproductive health so that they could be pro-corporatocracy, Big-Businessessarian Republican wannabes on things like environmental regulation and the estate tax.

     

    But if grassroots leftists don’t hold their feet to the fire and start kicking them out of office (e.g. replacing Nancy Pelosi with Cindy Sheehan), they’ll just continue selling out your issues.

     

    We would like to see them replaced by better people, but not nearly as much as you.

  • squirrely-girl

    Then maybe that movement should take away their microphones and stop paying them big bucks to speak for them. It’s not my responsibility as a non-member to police the activities of an organization. If the TP movement can’t be bothered to clean up it’s own mess than why should I?

     

    Just a thought. 

  • squirrely-girl

    Sure you disagree with people like Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell on abortion, but is the GOP establishment any better? No. So why not focus more of your vitriol on that establishment, rather than alienating potential libertarian allies — or if you can’t see them as allies, at least thorns in the side of your enemies?

     

    Which is why I’m more than happy to sit back and watch them destroy themselves with the infighting. Ultimately this Tea Party movement is destroying the Republican party in the primaries not the Democratic party. We’ll have to wait and see how viable those TP candidates actually are come November. 

     

    I refuse to support 99% of the TP candidates because of their extremist views and regardless of whether I fully support the Democratic candidates I won’t be voting for fundies come November.

     

    Edited to add – I can certainly appreciate the frustration from true libertarians regarding the current state of government affairs… but siding with the TP is NOT the way to accomplish real political change. Every TP candidate that has won a primary has, by default, been embraced (to a degree) by the Republican establishment. Pardon me if I don’t think that’s a true route to change. 

  • prochoiceferret

    They [Palin and Beck] may want to be the undisputed leaders of this movement, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily get to! However to the extent others portray them as the leaders, that helps them become so in actuality!

     

    Yes, maybe if the Tea Party leadership and rank-and-file decided to repudiate them and boycott their rallies, we might be convinced that they don’t speak for you folks.

     

    Come on. You did it once with Mark Williams—you can surely do it again!

  • squirrely-girl

    Well, obviously those candidates who favor lots of government intervention in policies relating to sexuality are not libertarian on those particular issues. But how many of the Tea Party candidates are less libertarian overall than their GOP establishment rivals?

     

    This just simply isn’t “good enough” for me. The, “well, they aren’t REALLY libertarian but if we just ignore all of the blatant anti-libertarian attitudes they espouse, they’ll do” perspective.

     

    Good for those people who can look past the blatant anti-choice rhetoric and see the silver lining in the economic issues, but I can’t. I firmly believe that a person’s stance on the most individual and personal of all liberties is a damn good indication as to where they really stand on matters of liberty in general. 

  • prochoiceferret

    If you’d think about it for a minute, I think you’d see it’s in your interest as leftists to *encourage* the libertarian tendencies within the Tea Party movement so that there is more of a split within the Republican coalition. Sure you disagree with people like Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell on abortion, but is the GOP establishment any better? No. So why not focus more of your vitriol on that establishment, rather than alienating potential libertarian allies — or if you can’t see them as allies, at least thorns in the side of your enemies?

     

    Oh, don’t get us wrong. We’re happy that crazy kooks are on Republican tickets. That makes the job of winning elections that much easier for their Democratic opponents. They can claim the mantle of being the party of non-crazy kooks.

     

    It’s like if Sarah Palin were chosen to go up against Obama in 2012. It’ll never happen, of course (because Republicans aren’t that dumb), but it’s a nice scenario to think about.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Proves my point. For all that he claims to be a “libertarian”, he wishes to ban abortion. As does his “libertarian” son. It’s not a highly principled political stand. It’s conservatism in fancier clothes.

  • ruth-m

    I recently found this bit of writing from “The Secret Teachings of Plants” about how naming things incorrectly can have an big impact.

     

    Semen is Latin

    for a dormant, fertilized

    plant ovum –

    a seed.

    Men’s ejaculate

    is chemically more akin

    to plant pollen.

    See,

    it is really

    more accurate

    to call it

    mammal pollen.

     

    To call it

    semen

    is to thrust

    an insanity

    deep inside our culture:

    that men plow women

    and plant their seed

    when, in fact,

    what they are doing

    is pollinating

    flowers.

     

    Now.

    Doesn’t that change everything between us?

     

    Stephen Harrod Buhner

     

  • prochoiceferret

    Doesn’t that change everything between us?

     

    I dunno. Men would probably just say that women are pretty flowers to be looked at, while they do the real work of “pollenating” and collecting honey. They might even try to excuse cheating by noting that bees can’t do their jobs by going to only one flower, and perhaps extend the analogy further so that their mistress(es) are their “queen bee.”

     

    Even as a proverbial insect, I can still make your lives hell!

     

    My suspicion is that the evil Dr. Misogyny is too wily to be foiled by more equitable terminology alone.

  • goatini

    Paul The Elder’s alleged position is that the right of female citizens to access reproductive health care treatment options should be determined by the individual state, as a “States’ Rights” issue.  

     

    Which perfectly explains why Paul The Younger just isn’t down with that “Civil Rights Act” thing.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

     

    As for Paul the Younger’s position on the right of female citizens to access reproductive health care treatment options, he’s disposed completely of the “States’ Rights” BS line.  He prefers that all women between menarche and menopause be considered as potential criminal suspects if not currently pregnant, and that all pregnant women be considered as potential murder suspects should any issues arise in the pregnancy.  

     

    In my personal history, I have not found libertarians to be any kind of supporters of women’s rights, especially to the unfettered access of reproductive health care treatment options.   I also note, not without a great deal of irony, that so-called “men’s rights activists” tend to skew libertarian, for the most part.  In fact, I have found that the libertarians I have encountered in my life journey are quite invested in promoting the patriarchy.  

  • goatini

    (1) The “Tea Party” is NOT a “grassroots” movement.  The “Tea Party” is an Astroturf movement, funded by monies poured into conservative think tanks.  

     

    (2) Owners of the “Tea Party” are the Koch family and the Scaife family.  Follow the money:

    * Koch Industries – > “Citizens For A Sound Economy” -> “FreedomWorks”

    * Scaife family -> “Sarah Scaife Foundation” – > “FreedomWorks”.

    * Koch family -> “Claude R Lambe Foundation” -> “Americans For Prosperity”

     

    (3) The Kochs and the Scaifes are perfectly happy to let any Lonesome Rhodes rabble-rouser idiot play at being “leader”, just so long as everyone plays by their rules.  

     

    I have found your contributions to this thread to be most disingenuous.  

    • starchild

      I find your contention that the Tea Party movement is not a grassroots movement to be disingenuous too. Either that or you simply are not paying attention.

      Hate the Tea Party movement if you want to, but to pretend it’s just the creation of wealthy funders of conservative think tanks is to engage in a willful denial of reality. I think most leftists are honest and perceptive enough to acknowledge that the Tea Party movement is a grassroots phenomenon, even if they disagree with much of what it stands for.

  • goatini

    ROTFLMFAO

     

    Let me share a conversation with a true-blue libertarian about prospecting for supporters.

     

    Me:  Why do you target ONLY Republican events and ONLY Republican supporters for your information and membership efforts?  

    Him:  Because you got to fish where the fish are.

     

    In sum:  Dems and progressives don’t HAVE “potential libertarian allies”.  It’s been almost 30 years since the libertarians and the Dems have had any potential common causes.  The “new” libertarians are exclusively Republican in their affiliations.  Witness the state “Liberty Caucuses”, affiliated with Republicans, that were organized beginning in the late 80s.  

  • colleen

    Well said, goatini. The tea party and the religious right are interchangable. It’s a faux movement intended to energise and funnel the votes of the right wing theocrats..

  • colleen

    Thanks for that poem, Ruth. I’ve always had a weakness for poets and would have fallen for Stephen Harrod Buhner instantly.

  • bluearkie

    This a classic case of a distinction without a difference.

    What’s the difference between tearing down a building with a wrecking ball or a case of dynamite? Neither is very selective and both produce a pile of rubble that someone else must clean up.

     

  • lightning

    Instead of attacking the Tea Party, you might recognize it as an opportunity to drive a deeper wedge between people whose conservatism is rooted in bigotry and narrow-minded, anti-sexuality attitudes, and those whose conservatism stems from a libertarian appreciation of free markets and individual liberty.

    We opine at a particular moment in time, one in which the candidates are already settling into their final runs. What we now see in the assortment, is the whole universe of our choice in the matter. It does little good to tell us that things YOU want to see changed will be aided by taking our focus off of those we must beat, if we don’t want to see an authoritarian government turn.

     

    You say Libertarian, I say Authoritarian. I think Christine O’Donnell shows us best, how she would run things if she had a choice, and that choice is simply unacceptable, for any free-thinking American. We would have elected officials who reliably go to God for their opinions — and we know too well, what they THINK God says about abortion.

     

    Go ahead and elect them, Starchild, and see what that choice brings.

     

  • jan

    They think they will be easier to beat in the general elections.  I have been hearing that many Democrats are voting for the Tea partiers in the primaries, and voting Democrat in the general elections.  I don’t know how many are doing this but I suspect that if everyone who says they will vote in the mid term elelctions does, the Tea Party Repuiblicans will be in for a rude awakening and a big surprise.  One can only hope.  Make sure that you VOTE everyone!

  • jan

    Wonderfully said.  Our Vice President said it all when he called them the Republican Tea Party.  The Republican Party can’t get enough votes without trying to fool some people ( Starchild, is that YOU?) so they put up what they call other choices, CORPORATE choices disguised as freethinkers ( who only care about their OWN freedom, and the rights of Corporations to screw us all further) after trying to get everyone else outraged by the established Dem and Repub choices.  I have learned that some of the college students have nationally been voting Tea Party in the primaries and are going to vote Democrat in the general election, in hopes that it will dilute the Republican candidates chances.  Thats right, the kids are smarter today.  try to fool them, and they will find a way around it.  I am hoping that this kills the chance that Republicans take back the house.  Time will only tell.  Get out and VOTE Democrat, people!

  • julie-watkins

    There was a primary where I didn’t have any problem with any of the front-running Democrats, but one of the Republicans was an extreme no-exceptions anti-abortion & anti-gay & anti-welfare Republican. So I voted for the more reasonable Republican. I was guilty doing it, was guilty ever since, and won’t do it again, even if it was “legal”. Ick.

  • starchild

    Amanda writes, <i>Proves my point. For all that he claims to be a “libertarian”, he wishes to ban abortion.</i>

    Libertarianism is about having the freedom to make your own decisions in life so long as you are not initiating force or fraud against others.

    So on the question of abortion, it comes down to when life begins, which is a scientific or perhaps even a philosophical/metaphysical question. If a fetus is a human life, it deserves protection against abortion as an initiation of force. But if it is not a human being, then banning abortion is an initiation of force against women who do not wish to carry their fetuses to term. People with libertarian beliefs can hold good faith views on both sides of the issue.

    In short, the fact that Rand Paul is against abortion doesn’t prove anything as far as whether he is generally libertarian or not.

  • arekushieru

    …If a fetus is human life, it deserves more protection than anyone born and it must be assured of that through government interference, but that still makes you Libertarian?  Abortion is not the initiation of force, unless, of course, you (erroneously) believe that a fetus doesn’t actively implant into a woman’s uterus, that it doesn’t ACTively draw sustenance from the woman, that it doesn’t ACTively suppress a woman’s immune system, etc….  But, how can it NOT be active when EVERY pregnancy significantly impacts a woman’s life and health.