What do you buy someone who has already given you so much?
Five years ago this past Thursday, a “grassroots” movement was born in fierce opposition to the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as the automotive bailout. We say “grassroots” because the movement was actually financed by billionaires and big tobacco, but that’s neither here nor there. This movement was centered around the idea that Americans were being taxed too heavily and that government spending was simply out of control. This movement just so happened to emerge a month after Barack Obama took the oath of office to become our nation’s 44th president. Rallies were held, poorly spelled signs were made, and America was given mainstream access to what had been a fringe element of conservatism in he 21st century.
Unfortunately, members of this movement were not always the most well-informed electorate. In fact, hardly any of them knew that taxes under Barack Obama were lowered for 95% of working families. In addition, despite their vocal opposition to the stimulus brought forth by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, practically none of them were able to foresee that this act would end up preventing a second Great Depression. And even with their opposition to the auto bailout, they had no idea that it would end up saving 2.6 million jobs and saving an industry on the brink of collapse.
You’d think that with their Miss Cleo-like powers of prediction they’d just pack it up and head home. And yet, here we are five years later and the Tea Party is as astute as ever. For Democrats, the Tea Party has truly been the gift that keeps on giving.
During the 2010 midterm elections, a wave of Tea Party candidates was elected to Congress, shifting the balance of power in that chamber over to John Boehner and his Republican colleagues. As devastating as that event was for Democrats, it created a huge dilemma for Republicans in the lower chamber. They now had a majority, but that majority was attached to a group of individuals who ran for government despite hating government. This was a group of politicians bought and paid for by the likes of the Koch brothers and who were sent to Congress for one reason and one reason only: To stall any progress that Barack Obama might make for the American people.
Slowly but surely, people began to catch on to the ulterior motives of these Tea Party “patriots.” The first glimpse America saw was the 2011 credit downgrading by S&P, which was caused by Tea Party intransigence for refusing to raise the debt ceiling in August of that year. The American public began to wonder why a certain group of politicians did not want to pay our obligations that we had already incurred. Why did a certain group of politicians not want to do something that had been done seven times under George W. Bush? There had to be some other malevolent reason.
As more and more people began to learn about the Tea Party, the movement finally made its way into mainstream pop culture. It wasn’t until a September 2012 episode of HBO’s The Newsroom that America finally saw the Tea Party for what it was. Here is the quote from the episode by fictional anchorman Will McAvoy that sent shockwaves throughout the Tea Party nation:
Compromise as weakness.
A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism.
Unmoved by facts.
Undeterred by new information.
A hostile fear of progress.
A demonization of education.
A need to control women’s bodies.
Intolerance of dissent.
A pathological hatred of the US government.
They can call themselves the Tea Party. They can call themselves Conservatives. And they can even call themselves Republicans. Though Republicans certainly shouldn’t. But we should call them what they are: The American Taliban.
Truer words had never been spoken.
In the year and a half since the episode premiered, Will McAvoy’s words have certainly come to fruition. As Tea Party favorites Mike Lee, Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul continue to acknowledge and praise the movement, America has seen how out of touch the Tea Party is with today’s America. Ted Cruz was willing to shut down the government in order to ensure that millions of Americans didn’t have an opportunity to access affordable health care. And he is the leader of the movement. Besides Cruz, Tea Party officials throughout the country have done a number on women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigration issues, and the minimum wage just to name a few. There’s a reason that the current approval rating of the Tea Party hit record lows at the end of 2013.
And yet, today’s Republican Party seems perfectly content to keep the Tea Party in its circus under the big tent despite the fact that the Tea Party is moving the Republican Party further and further to the right. Thursday’s shameful vote on the veterans benefits bill has shown how extreme today’s Republican Party has become. In the year 2014, we now have our pro-war, pro-soldier Republican Party officially voting on record not to give benefits to the brave men and women who have gone to war defending our freedom. When your movement has convinced the Republican Party to become that extreme, then your movement has officially jumped the shark.
For today’s progressives, they can only hope the Tea Party sticks around for another five years to put the final nails in the coffin of the Republican Party.