Friday 25 October 2013

"Will You Take Revolution With Your Tea?"

Grass Roots Fervour: The American political class is only now becoming aware of how dangerous the monster created by billionaire far-right activists like the Koch brothers truly is. The recent stand-off between the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party and the Obama Administration - far from being interpreted as a defeat by the radical right - has only made it hungrier for more and larger confrontations with "Big Government". The New Zealand left could learn some valuable lessons from the American right's revolutionary intransigence.
SO, YOU THINK the Tea Party has just taken a “shellacking” from President Obama? Well, think again. Forget about the sneers and jeers of those inside the Washington Beltway: the people Tea Partiers dismiss contemptuously as “the political class”; because out there in “Redland” (the Republican heartland) the true believers are celebrating.
As they see it, victory was very nearly theirs. For 16 days, the whole, corrupt edifice of “big government” (as they would characterise the monuments, museums and national parks their representatives shut down) had ceased to function. Even more thrilling, from their perspective, was how very close they came to causing the United States to default on its debts.
And they’re right. The Tea Party came within an inch of plunging the whole world into a new financial crisis. Are they ashamed of themselves? Hell no! Are they downhearted? No way! Indeed, they can hardly wait until January and February 2014 when their “suicide bombers” in the House of Representatives will do it all again. Because next time – or the time after that – they absolutely will succeed.
Like the Bostonians who tipped chestfuls of British tea into Boston Harbour in 1773, the eponymous Tea Partiers of 2013 are looking to bring down an entire politico-economic system. In the twenty-first century, the Tea Party (and grass-roots citizens’ movements like it) is what revolution looks like.
Not like the Occupy Movement? Surely the youngsters who attacked Wall Street’s “one percenters” are more deserving of the title “revolutionaries” than these middle-aged (and older) mid-westerners who cannot distinguish President Obama’s minimal, privately-led and Republican Party-inspired health insurance scheme from fully-fledged “socialism”?
No, not the Occupy Movement. Because the Occupy Movement failed to do what every good revolutionary must learn to do: speak to people in language they can understand.
In 1917,when Lenin alighted at the Finland Station in Petrograd and was promptly hoisted onto an armoured car to address the workers and peasant soldiers who had come to greet him, he didn’t launch into a complicated explanation of the various hand-signals to be employed in reaching a consensus on what the soviets (workers’ councils) should do next. He shouted: “Peace! Bread! Land!” The three things his audience most wanted to hear. Adding for good measure the truly revolutionary slogan: “All power to the soviets!”
The Tea Partiers are only right-wing because they haven’t yet had an opportunity to realise how mistaken they have been in their choice of targets. The moment their social security payments are disrupted, or a Wall Street collapse wipes out their pension fund, their na├»ve prairie anger will very swiftly identify new, more traditional, scapegoats.
In the meantime, the left-wing of the New Zealand Labour Party could learn a thing or two from the Republican Right about how to keep their elected representatives under control.
The threat the Tea Party deploys with such astonishing effect against those who refuse to toe its political line is the threat of being “primaried”. In New Zealand terms: having someone run against you for your party’s endorsement. Nothing curbs a politician’s independent streak faster than a credible threat of de-selection.
Naturally, creating a credible threat first requires professional rabble-rousers to whip-up a firestorm of ideological fervour among the party faithful. The incumbents are then presented with a list of radical demands which they either adopt as their own, or find themselves replaced by somebody whose ideological purity is beyond question.
Thanks to Labour’s right-wing MPs’ all-too-evident disdain for their party’s left-wing policy preferences, conditions akin to those which allowed the Republican Party’s conservative base to be mobilised against Washington’s RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) are now fast maturing in both the Labour Party and the trade unions.
The political class should be very, very afraid. Because the rise of both the Tea Party in the USA and the Labour Left in New Zealand are but harbingers of the radical and unstoppable populist revolt that will soon bring financial capitalism to its knees.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 October 2013.


Rogue Trooper said...

Morning tea-time Mr Shifter

Payulus said...

Can it be confirmed that a number of major health insurance companies have sent wholesale cancellation of many hundreds of thousands of policies, suggesting that these policy holders sign up to ObamaCare instead.
Was such a eventuality costed ?
Obamacare does not appear to be costed at all apparently.
Perhaps like what became the sub prime mortgage situation.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Chris,

Yes, insisting that the US Government present a budget to congress, and then live within its constraints is a pretty radical right wing idea for sure.

Those damn tea party people, don't they know it's fiat money, and debt just doesn't matter any more?

Anonymous said...

I don't know about health insurance companies, but I do know that the wages paid, and lack of medical care that some very large companies in the U.S. are responsible for are so low that most of their employees need Medicaid. Which is a huge tax on the American people and a huge subsidy for big business.

peterpeasant said...

The surety and optimism in your final paragraph leaves me gasping.

There have been recent media releases touting the idea thast NZ is about to become an economic "Rock Star."

That also leaves me gasping.

Which inhaler should I use?

The left one or the right one?

Anonymous said...

Valid post which deserves to be explored more. I don't have that much knowledge of the of US politics but I do sense that the popularist grassroots republicans have escaped the leash of the corporate wing of the party.

Anonymous said...

I have spent some time on American websites looking at this. It isn't about debt, and is not about presenting a budget and sticking to it, because American politics doesn't quite work that way. What it really is about is 30 or so Tea Party legislators holding the country to ransom. There is easily a majority in a free vote that would have voted for ending the government shut down, but the Tea Party has just enough people to stop the Republicans actually agreeing to vote on this. Now in theory, they want less government in people's lives, but that's restricted to economic lives, because they are quite happy to have more government in people's social lives and sex lives. There are also concerned with the (non-existent) voter fraud in the U.S. – enough to try to stop minority people from voting by bringing in restrictions. The reason that they can do this is not because they fear being primaried, though they threaten others with this, as that they have gerrymandered their seats to the point where they do not have to fear being voted out.
It's also partly the fault of the system. If New Zealand government cannot get its budget through, then it pretty much has to go to the people and have a snap election. But in the States there is usually a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and negotiation. It doesn't usually involve blackmail on healthcare though I might add. But this is a weakness of a bicameral system with a strong president. Some academic who's just died has written that these systems generally collapse, using South American countries as an example. He was thinking that the United States was some sort of outlier. Maybe not :-).

David McQuillan said...

Thanks for this article Chris.

The very important detail missing from this article is that the Tea party phenomena has been funded & directed from behind the scenes by the Koch brothers & associated extreme right-wing figures since it's early days.

Occupy was a genuine grass-roots movement, which attempted to operate according to true consensus.

I think it's definitely true that failure to get a clear message going was one of the main reasons why Occupy, Dunedin (for example) wasn't more succesful. I saw so many people coming to the site & to the FB page asking for the reasons why it was happening & getting turned away without an answer. Each encounter was a failed opportunity to grow the movement.

On the other hand, the reason why it was difficult to get a consensus position was that everyone who was there had their own reasons for being there. It took time & energy to find the common ground.

The Tea party had a clear agenda which was set in place from it's inception. This has been promoted & reinforced continuously, so in some respects it's not surprising it was more successful.

It seems that it's easier to whip up a mob with a clear agenda than it is to create true democratic revolution.

Victor said...

I'm a bit dubious about the proposition that the plain folks out on the prairies will suddenly forsake the Tea Party for the further leftwards shores of American politics.

Yes, it has happened before. But not since the days of "Fighting Bob" La Follette. And that was many decades before even I was born.

Thus far, Obama's second term has been a bit of a fizzer and he's made a total fool of himself over foreign policy,which admittedly isn't his strongest suit.

But,just like Bill Clinton once did, he can hope to cash in electorally (in next year's mid-terms)from the perception that the Republican right has tried holding the nation to ransom and failed.

Is there a lesson here for New Zealand politics?

Yes, I think there is. Labour now has the difficult task of both staying true to its long and sadly neglected base AND appearing to be acting responsibly in the national interest.

I suspect that Cunliffe is more or less up to the required juggling act. But, if he puts a foot wrong, expect the post-Perestroika equivalent of dancing cossacks all over our TV screens this time next year.

Anonymous said...

With greatest respect, Chris, your article is a load of nonsense.

The Tea Party is irrational (there have been a few cases of Tea Partiers screaming "keep your Government hands off my Medicare" - Medicare being a Government program), and more than a bit racist. They literally consider Obama and the Democrats spawn of the devil, something that is only reinforced by right-wing talkback radio and Fox News: if their social security cheques stopped arriving, they would blame Obama, not magically switch over to the Left. Or to put it another way, your expectation that they will suddenly recognise the foolishness of supporting massive tax and spending cuts is utterly unrealistic. These people are kool aid drinkers on a terrifying scale.

The effect of this craziness is to hold the wider Republican Party hostage. Polling indicates that their shutdown shenanigans were deeply unpopular with the wider population, so all the Tea Party is doing is dragging the rest of the Right down with it. And they don't care, because they truly are that crazy.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Victor

Yes, the Republicans were stupid on many levels for their most recent intransigence.

It seems to me that the 'Plain folks on the prairies' have a lot more going for them than the Chicago politicians on the beltway. But who is going to represent them in Government? Not the Democrats, nor the RINO"s of the Republican party.

There is a lesson here for NZ. Our own 'Republican's' look more like Democrats than National of old. More like Labour lite I suspect. They are pragmatists of the first order, more influenced by focus groups than principal, but then this malaise impacts all parties, Labour and National alike, albeit Cunliffe's move to the left may appeal to stalwarts, but not to the electorate in general.

He is the best thing that has happened for National since Phil Goff. (actually I personally happen to like Phil Goff)

I probably would have refrained from voting at all this time round (the first time ever) but for Colin Craig and the Conservative party. He will have my vote, more out of desperation than conviction.

Who said I didn't believe in the democratic process?


Anonymous said...

And that is the rub.Can Labour keep it together and lift its numbers to avoid Winston, holding the trump card,as we know Winston,however his rhetoric is as changeable as a chameleon on a branch.

Davo Stevens said...

All I know about Obamacare is what I have heard and read in the media.

Something needed to be done about the crazy system they have there.

When I was working there back in the mid 80's, the company I worked for paid for my comprehensive healthcare. But many companies don't.

The 'Tea Party' are a bunch of absolute nutters, they have to be to have Sarah "I can see Russia from my Lounge" Palin as a member along with the Koch Bros. They are so out of touch with reality, they are on a different planet.

@PeterP; I have two inhalers here, one red and one blue -- you choose! ;))

Anonymous said...

As this guy says, the elites are still in charge, but they lack any credibility. Which is one of the reasons why the tea party is running rampant.

cheesefunnel said...


If Colin Craig is the answer, I'm not sure I want to know the question. Did you not hear the announcement of his new 'land-grab' policy? It sounds more like the type of thing Chris might be happy to endorse, ironically enough.