Trump as Tea Party Devil Spawn

teapartyRock Creek, Montana    One of the books I had thrown in my bag as I left for Montana was an updated, reissued volume published by Oxford Press and sent to me at Social Policy, called The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol, a well-known scholar of American voluntary organizations, and Vanessa Williamson, now at the Brookings Institute. The book is an extensive look at the Tea Party from its inception in 2009 to its usurpation in 2011. They’ve added an epilogue that looked at the rise of Trump before he won the Republican nomination and noted many of the same fires that stoked both these engines, but that was more like waving a red flag for all of us who may have missed the book earlier, even if we couldn’t avoid the point now.

There’s no way to think of Trump and the phenomena he represents without also seeing him as the direct descendant of the outbreak and then successful cooptation of the Tea Party, and the fact that his candidacy offered the now dispersed Tea Party base an opportunity to rise again, expand, and express their continued, unmet demand to “take back America.” Trump is the proudly embraced Tea Party’s devil spawn.

The authors point out that at its heyday, a mere seven years ago, polling put the Tea Party support at around 20% of the American electorate, which at 46 million people would be difficult to ignore. Trying to calculate its actual organizational strength they settled at something like 200,000 members, defined as activists, in about 800 chapters around the country with an average of about 200 members per group. Importantly, they do a good job at looking at the contradictory political positions of this largely older, white political movement. They raised a big tent so there were extremes of the right and racists aplenty, but they were most stone cold in their consensus against immigration. On race they were welcoming of their few black members, embraced black speakers, and most of their leadership, the authors found, tried to hew them closer to middle ground. Yes, much like Trump. They flirt with racism, but steadfastly deny it. About immigration they have no such qualms.

Similarly on social programs, they were anti-welfare, but also opposed to privatization of Social Security and very much in favor of Medicare and other benefits and even in favor of expansion, including to children, despite their heavy mouth breathing about Obamacare. They also weren’t from Kansas, and were in support of public education. The authors also did not find a tight alignment of Tea Party views with the religious right. These were often two ships meeting in the night over abortion and same-sex issues, but a long way from synonymous, which I would argue also helps explain Trump’s ability to walk a line between these forces successfully.

They don’t spend a lot of time on the theme of how successful billionaires, like the Kochs, and media manipulators, like Fox News, seized the Tea Party momentum, and politicians like the wave of candidates elected in 2010 waving their banners so to speak, like Rubio, Cruz and others, usurped their issues, co-opted their energy, and tried to graft them onto their own, often self-serving programs and causes. This is a story waiting to be told and at the heart of understanding both the Trump phenomena as a revival of the same Tea Party protests in general and the estrangement between the Trump, the base, and Republican Party elites whether Speaker Paul Ryan, the Kochs, or countless think tanks, who were willing to play with the Tea Party fire, but never really understood the heat.

Trump did, perhaps intuitively, and 2016 election is the Tea Party fire this time without the party. If we all survive, there’s a lot to learn from all of this.

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How is the Tea Party Able to Escape Taking the Blame for Trump?

image5507293xNew Orleans   It’s hard to avoid the guilty pleasure of reading the “woe-is-me, look what’s happening to the Republican Party” pieces being penned by conservative pundits and party leaders of the newly discredited party “elite.” The main theme has been, “damn, we missed the fact that the white working class was angry about lost jobs, lost income, free trade, immigration, and the featherbedding by the rich!” We still don’t hear enough in the way of mea culpa or “gee, I guess when you play with fire, sometimes you get burned.”

Racism and misogyny are not new problems, but part of the hardwired infrastructure of the Republican Party for more than 40 years. From their much vaunted “Southern strategy” to their embrace of religious pieties and attacks on women’s control of their bodies, these were not inadvertent strategic directions, but calculated paths forward for decades no matter how they are dressed up now.

None of this is current enough to describe the support of Trump by the base. The one thing that is though is the elite’s expedient embrace of the Tea Party movement and its issues within its base and the ham-handed way the party leadership exploited their anger while ignoring their interests. This is interesting to me, because the Tea Party is still not part of the blame-game conversation that is going on about the future of the Republican Party. I think the reason continues to be the Party’s unwillingness to discredit the Tea Party and its Trump-like realities and anger, because the Tea Party as an internal caucus in the Republican Party is still dominant enough to escape both condemnation and accountability.

Obviously it’s tricky for the Republican big whoops to admit to this since Senator Ted Cruz is still a possible option for them, and he’s wearing the Tea Party t-shirt all the way and Senator Marco Rubio, until recently rode the Tea Party to his Senate seat and got caught up in its sleeves when he flirted with a half-step immigration reform plan hoping to have the radicals and the elite backing his bid for the Presidency. But, how long can they get away with this silence? Trump and his phenomenal rise would not have been possible without the Tea Party activists paving the way. Furthermore the fact that too many Republican big whoops flirted with the Tea Party and pretended they were in love with their issues and base in order to get elected, and then left them hurt and crying in the aisle when they went their own way once elected, fuels a vote for Trump “telling it like it is” and kicking the butts of the big wigs.

The Tea Party oriented Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives is another good example of their car driving with the wheels off. Their ideological hero in the Senate is Ted Cruz and they are still out of control and playing with fire, but they are part of the fine line that Speaker Ryan is still walking with his tepid handling of Trump and his reduction to schoolmarm generalizations about manners and good behavior rather than common sense and accountability.

The Republicans have a problem. They can’t win without the radicals and playing with fire, and they don’t have the backbone to face them down and expel them from the party and try and go their own way. They either need to set the tea people free and let them be a separate party or give them the Republican Party and create a new one, because theirs is a house divided and for all of their hand wringing, they still are avoiding dealing with the hard questions and taking the right steps forward.

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Retiring One Halloween Election Boogie Man: ACORN!

cover-boogeymanNew Orleans   With the election here, the voter registration period is pretty much over in most states, except for those favored few who have same day registration, so it’s safe to finally talk about it a bit more and make some notes about some of the things that make 2014’s midterms different from elections over the last half-dozen years.

One difference that has been huge is that the Republican Party’s voter suppression effort has been so successful in some many states that even the fire breathers at Fox News and what’s left of the Tea People and other far right zealots seem to have finally slacked off on their efforts to make ACORN the boogieman for this election.  Google Alerts on ACORN have finally calmed down to a low murmur, rather than the high pitched roar of recent years. Of course James O’Keefe, the video-scammer is still trying to get a free lunch from ACORN and announced that he had set up an election PAC this season, but it was quickly buried in a universal yawn that escaped from the now perpetual sneer which now seems to be the universal response from the American public to his perpetual shenanigans.

This season the big ACORN news from the Google team was the splash made by Ottawa ACORN on their candidates’ forum!  By the way did any of you even realize the Toronto mayor’s election happened and the Ford family finally lost?

Of course it’s not completely over.  Some old reliable sources still take their best shot, but it is more often now on local races.  The New York Post wanted to make sure their readers knew that the “re-branded ACORN” New York Communities for Change was active in setting up a campaign committee in conjunction with New York State unions to impact the election of friendly legislators to implement their programs.  An ACORN-fixated blogger took a stab at trying to link another rebranded ACORN affiliate in Missouri to the Ferguson controversies, but never got traction there either.

Part of this trend is something less than good news.  The progressive forces are now seen more aggressively in local and state campaigns and less on the national arena perhaps where ACORN was a factor, particularly with its massive voter registration efforts. Races like the campaign in Richmond, California where city councils and mayors are trying to forge new public policies and take on corporations, like Chevron, are increasingly important.  Interviewing Tom Butt, a 19-year city councilman and now candidate for Mayor on Wade’s World  on KABF, recently, it was easy to feel the excitement.  Seeing the role of the Working Families Party aligning itself with Mayor de Blasio and a number of progressives and labor unions to remake the state legislature is vital and exciting.  There are a number of state minimum wage campaigns which could play important roles in turnout though no one seems to be watching this as closely as they might.

There’s still a huge gap with the absence of ACORN in the United States, but seeing the action on some of these political struggles and the inability of the right to continue to scare organizers and others by simply calling up the ACORN boogieman this Halloween, gives all of us more hope for the future

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Please enjoy the Song of the Month from Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay, Si Kahn’s Mount Polley

Si Kahn’s Mount Polley – On August 4, 2014, the containment dam at Mount Polley Mine, British Columbia breached sending 2.64 billion gallons of wastewater and 1.36 billion gallons of solid tailings with a smorgasbord of toxins into local waterways. The facility that failed was designed by the same firm that is working on Pebble’ Mine’s tailings dam. The Mount Polley environmental catastrophe serves as a direct warning to us.

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Tide Turning on Voter ID Suppression

voter_id_homepage-940x540

picture from http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/17/court-overturns-pennsylvania-voter-id-law/

New Orleans   As long as Republicans realize that their appeal is to a minority segment of the United States population, but fortunately for them, one that votes more steadfastly that Democrats, they will try to erect barriers in the road to voting since we do not have automatic suffrage.  You would think that would be matched with constant efforts by the Democrats to expand the electorate and lower barriers, but who knows if that’s true?  But no matter, as long as it all works this way, the push and pull to limit and expand voting access will be a constant in the political wars, democracy be damned.

The far right though seems to be having some particularly bad problems with voter identification.  Courts seem to be clearer and clearer that it’s just plain not legal.

Recently a Wisconsin federal judge ruled that voter IDs so clearly and overwhelmingly targeted minorities in that state that they ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act in addition to the 14th Amendment.

An Arkansas judge threw out voter IDs as well.

In Pennsylvania after several tries at mandating voter IDs, despite there never having been a single case of in-person voter fraud in the state, the Governor has now announced that he will not appeal his most recent loss in court at trying to establish voter IDs.

It’s hard not to conclude that at least the voter ID part of the voter suppression effort is increasingly a losing cause.

Now no less than Tea Party darling, libertarian Republican, and possible Presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, has cautioned his Republican buddies that it’s time to drop the voter ID obsession from their program.  He says it’s hurting the party.  He even stated in Memphis, where he continues to try to distance himself from earlier remarks he has made indicating tepid support, if not opposition, to previous civil rights legislation, that the voter ID campaign is alienating African-Americans.

Voter suppression is no doubt alive and well, but you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing, and with the momentum gaining in the courts and politicians now feeling the breeze, finally voter identifications, a well-recognized suppression-only effort often called a “solution looking for a problem,” may be fading from the conservative top ten.

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Subverting Competition in Healthcare May Force Price Controls

ruralhealthclinic-jeuaNew Orleans   There are obvious glitches in the Affordable Care Act that the politicians will handle.

One of them, as I’ve argued before, is going to be extending the deadline for enrollment to escape penalties past March 31, 2014, and that assumes that the government doesn’t waive the penalties entirely for the first year, which will more likely be the action taken if there continue to be huge systemic problems in enrollment.  The reasons are simple.   Politicians won’t take the heat from something that is obviously not fair to their citizens.   It is equally obvious as President Obama has argued that come hell or high water, they will fix the online process.   This is his legacy program and he does not want the enrollment problems to be in his official biography and eventual obituary.

Interestingly, there is another huge political problem looming in the Senate that perhaps was not as anticipated, but may have been the most effective obstacle created by the continued Republican rearguard actions, especially at the state level where half of the governors and their state legislatures have blocked Medicaid expansion and state managed marketplace exchanges. That problem, as a recent New York Times article indicated, lies in the widely disparate pricing for policies in rural areas, where healthcare is scarcer anyway.   No matter how urban the country is now, we have become no small number of Tea Party Congresspeople coming from areas where rural interests still dominate, and the weight of more rural states is still strong in the Senate where population is irrelevant to voting strength.

Talk about the irony of being hoisted by your own petard!  We have a private insurance company dominated healthcare model in the Affordable Care Act, because ideologically the notion of government managed and run healthcare like Britain or Canada was past the pale.  Our system would privilege private insurers and get the job done through the almighty power of free competition, by God!  Well, it turns out, not surprisingly, when politicians refuse to expand the insured base through Medicaid expansion and delay the marketplaces, then private insurers don’t want to come into those states, and these same market forces leave one or two companies in those situations with a virtual monopoly for providing the coverage, and prices do not go down, but in fact even in some situations increase.  So from place to place in rural areas, rates for the same coverage may be three and four times higher.   You can feel the political heat from here!

The solution would be that the government caps prices, but price controls might even be more inflammatory for the real conservatives than the problem they have now created, probably inadvertently given the low level of economic education even by supposed free market advocates.   As conservatives get over the fact that they can kill Obamacare and are forced to reckon with the ongoing reality of its impact in their districts, this will be a problem they will not be able to avoid.   It’s going to be interesting to hear the contorted arguments and watch the policy gyrations as they argue against price controls that would balance the cost for all Americans, and try to figure out a way to put the government’s finger, if not whole fist, on the scale to get some cost balance, since that’s only fair and their constituents are going to be calling for it, and loudly.

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Obama Right to Refuse to Negotiate with Himself

2obama1-popupNew Orleans   For five years whenever I’ve been asked for advice from various national campaigns whether immigration reform or healthcare or living wages or whatever, when it’s come to how to move President Obama, I’ve always argued, don’t lobby, don’t email, don’t tweet, point all the heat you can generate directly at him.  His record has always been that he will make some concessions.   None of my advice is meant to  be disrespectful nor to imply that pressure will guarantee the precise results sought, but nonetheless any analysis of his record of response and reaction to hard heat, is that he always gives up something, and often way more than he should have.   Unfortunately, watching the Tea Party, the shutdown mess, and the rearguard attack on the Affordable Care Act, no matter how quixotic and improbable, it’s fairly clear that the Republican Taliban also had about the same analysis and more will than progressives to make the fight.

            Now it’s with real pleasure that I can say that finally I’m wrong, and President Obama is holding the line by finally wisely reckoning that since he is unable to negotiate without giving concessions to opponents committed to bargaining in bad faith, the best strategy is to refuse to negotiate at all.   Yes, this is a dangerous strategy, but, damn, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks for his work in the trenches and not for his speech for the Nobel Prize.  

            It could blow up in Obama’s face, and there are still signs of sniveling everywhere for example in the reports of  little toehold compromise discussions on special interest pieces of the Affordable Care Act to curry favor from medical device manufacturers, fans of Cadillac policies including some unions, and various delays.   Hopefully Obama will hold the line there as well, since the real changes that are needed are on closing the big loopholes like the fact that rip-off, high deductible policies are being approved for big companies, and family members are being trapped outside of the exchanges by these same pretend-policies.

            This Administration has a couple of years left.  There’s no question we are in for a horror show for another year through the mid-term elections, but the only chance Obama has or any of us have who support progressive policies, is if the President holds the line for a change, and manages to rewrite the narrative so that what is won is finally done, and we can move forward, not keep failing to have a “meeting of the minds.”

 

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