An article I wrote for Justice, the newspaper of Socialist Alternative, now enhanced with illustrations by John Tenniel.
The National Tea Party Convention, held on February 4-6 in Nashville, was billed as a grassroots gathering of conservative activists against the bank bailouts and Obama’s health care plan. The “grassroots” character of the event, however, was undermined by the $549 price of admission and the heavily publicized lobster banquet.
Key tea party groups, such as the American Liberty Alliance and the National Precinct Alliance, threatened to withdraw their support, arguing that the GOP leadership was trying to co-opt their movement, and that organizers were trying to profit off it.
All this reflects the deep rift between the angry populism of the grassroots tea party supporters and the big-business agenda of the Republican Party machine. Republican leaders are fine with rallies in favor of tax breaks for the rich, or when their own candidates ride the populist wave to electoral victories, like Scott Brown’s recent victory in the Massachusetts senatorial election.
But the traditional big business Republicans are extremely alarmed at the attempts by the far-right populists to seize control of the Party. They’re against the proposed “purity resolution,” which would bind all Republican candidates to adhere to a far-right platform.
Capitalist strategists fear that proposals like ex-Congressman Tom Tancredo’s call for reinstating “literacy tests” formerly used in the Jim Crow South will provoke social unrest. Such a platform would doom the Republican Party to electoral irrelevance in all but the most conservative areas of the country.
This would be disastrous for big business, destabilizing their entire two-party system. If the Republicans were marginalized, pressure on progressive workers to support the “lesser evil” Democrats would be removed, opening the space for new parties on the left to gain momentum.
Many working people are attracted to the tea parties as a result of understandable hatred of the bank bailouts carried out by Obama. Unfortunately, in the absence of a mass workers’ party, there is a political vacuum which right populism has been able to partially fill.