Newt and Company Teabag New York City
By Anthony DiMieri
A few weeks ago I received word from my dad that he was to be attending a “Tea Party” against Barack Obama’s “out of control spending” that was “mortgaging [his] grandchildren’s future.” Fueled by AM radio outrage, he was going to take to the streets to tell Obama he was mad as hell and was not going to take it anymore. I decided to join him.
The April 15 New York City Tax Day teabagging ceremony, where 5,000 protesters turned out to protest the bailout, increased government spending, and Obama’s “Socialist agenda” was held a block down from City Hall. I showed up, camera in hand, and made my way through the overwhelmingly white and significantly male crowd interviewing those willing to speak about why they came out. Perhaps to remove the stigmas that such teabaggers were racist, the master of the ceremonies for the rally was a black man.
Right-wing speaker after right-wing speaker took the stage to proclaim “We believe in Capitalism,” lead chants of “USA!” and “We the people!” denounce the evils of liberalism, socialism, and “collectivism,” which in an Ayn Rand/Ron Paul sense, is considered “the enemy of Liberty.”
Though everyone seemed to enjoy a good teabagging, there were many schisms amongst the crowd. What has been underplayed by the right-wing Republican propaganda effort by FOX and the gasbags on the radio who point to the teabaggers as a genuine populist opposition to Obama is the fact that these “Tea Parties” began as largely a Libertarian effort and were rooted in an ideology which ran very much in opposition to the mainstream Republican Party.
Surveying the crowd April 15, it seemed there was a significant of protesters that were members of the anti-income tax, anti-Federal Reserve/Ron-Paul-is-the-man crowd, most of whom were as much opposed to the greater G.O.P. as they are to the Democrats. Some teabagged Obama, others hoped to teabag the bankers, or Congress. One might even argue that the libertarian vs. Neo-Con and/or Gingrich-Republicans opened the possibility for some to teabag of each other. A few special teabaggers wore latter 18th century garb.
The atmosphere was one of vague patriotism and often a sense paranoia over an executive branch conspiring to bring about socialism, Communism, fascism, or even more. I spoke to one middle-aged white man about why he was there. After making legitimate criticisms about Obama’s lack of transparency and spending told me he believed Obama’s plan was a “holistic socialist agenda” and then went off into the realm of right-wing/libertarian conspiracy theory about how Obama has already funneled as much as $12 trillion to “international bankers” and multinational corporations working to bring in a “World Government.”
When I asked him where socialism fit in with the plans of multinational corporations and bankers (something which seemed oxymoronic) he responded, “That’s a good question,” then paused, looking puzzled. “In my mind I can’t think of it right now…” he added. While I don’t believe all of these sentiments were anywhere near that of the majority, I doubt he was alone.
Another man explained to me “We’re four [percentage of jobs] points off from European-style socialism,” as if universal health care, public education, improved workers’ rights and working conditions, were things the American public should be terrified of.” An Asian man, one of the few people of color present, held a sign reading “If I wanted Communism, I would have stayed in China,” neglecting the fact that if he had stayed he would instead have authoritarian state capitalism. Another protester held a sign presumably directed to Obama that read “Hitler was a socialist too” (I’m guessing this person enjoyed the book Liberal Fascism).
Newt Gingrich, possibly the Republican’s last hope, topped off the evening. In what could likely be considered a move to posture for a potential 2012 run, Newt addressed the crowd live on the Sean Hannity show, taking the stage to mass applause (though the libertarians offered a fair number of “boos”). Newt, a recent convert to Catholicism warned those who share his fear of a “gay secular fascism” that “God has given each one of you sovereignty,” this being the roots of “liberty.” To no surprise, the Tea Party concluded with many chants of “USA! USA!”
To be honest, the protest was far from being completely filled with of teabagging nuts. Rather, it featured many genuinely concerned people who feared for the futures of their families and their country. What struck me is that although there were many upper-middle class and wealthier people who were clearly defending their own class interests against Obama’s tax increase on those making over $250,000, I found a large number of Tea Party-animals were not right-wing zealots or hardcore Libertarians but normal, regular, middle class and working people who, in an attempt to stand against Wall Street, the bankers, and the bailout, were getting wrapped up in this kind of reactionary populism.
The right-wing media machine has for decades now turned working people against their own interests, making them believe that the interests of both the super rich on Wall Street and “Joe Six-Pack” were one in the same, and that allowing a fraction of a percentage to control the lion’s share of the wealth in this country (and the world) with only a “trickle” to be spared for those at the bottom was the best way to organize society.
Millions of working people have been convinced that any alternative to the current economic system was “Socialism” and therefore evil (a belief that is thankfully eroding thanks to the economic crisis and young people’s lack of the rabid anti-communism, anti-socialism of past generations). The anti-Wall Street, anti-Banker sentiment felt by millions of Americans is being channeled by the Right in order to mobilize people against Obama’s slightly left-of-center policy changes.
Lacking a class analysis, these people are somehow being transformed, knowingly or not, into the vanguard of currently collapsing system capitalism. Unless there is a concerted effort of the progressive forces of this country to instead channel the anger to its rightful and systemic causes, the Right wing will do everything it can to throw them behind a reactionary like Gingrich, who, if elected will proceed to slash every public service and sector and continue the effort since 1980 to undo all of the progressive reforms of the New Deal era. At that point, we’ll all get teabagged.