Tea and Parties Don’t Always Mix
Protests Have Populist Roots
BY JUSTIN CASE
Those following current events will recall that subsequent to the arrival of the financial crisis last fall, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Bush administration’s Henry Paulson hastily crafted a plan that later became the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a staggering $700 billion package design-ed to rescue failing financial insti-tutions. That $700 billion price tag was so large it was equated, justifiably, with the entire budgets for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since they began in 2003, an enormous sum for the nation to be forking over to bankers and financiers. We were told, though, that it was for our own good.
The TARP, it was said, had to be passed immediately and with no debate due to the national emergency, and so understandably voices rose in opposition at that time—non-par-tisan voices, Congressional Republicans defying their president and populists nationwide disgusted with having to reward banks for failure, to the tune of $700 billion and in a matter of days. Indignation contin-ued as part of the national debate, tempered by a fear that failing to intervene could make matters worse. Cable commentators remarked in those months that Paulson’s actions signaled a decided tilt toward socialism, while rewarding the failure and greed of those at fault.
Bear in mind, this was the Bush administration, but the new admin-istration under Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner soon followed suit, taking intervention into the economy into hyper drive, first with a controversial stimulus bill totaling $787 billion, the entirety of which Obama handed over to a poli-tically motivated Congress, the result being that the so-called stimulus became a long range spending bill, rather than an emergency stimulus (which neither Obama nor anybody else read before signing). A $400 billion omnibus spending bill followed, along with open-ended commitments to banks, a $634 billion healthcare plan, and a $3.6 trillion annual budget that would run up the national debt to the extent that the trillions owed, as a percentage of GDP, surpass the nation’s ability to pay back the debt according to reasonable scenarios. Annual deficits of over $1 trillion will now be commonplace, and the interest alone on the debt after ten years will total a trillion dollars—the amount of the entire national debt in the mid 1980s.
We hear the world sustainable a lot lately. These are unsustainable obligations, a fact recognized by 1): German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who warned that President Obama was repeating the problem that caused the global economic meltdown in the first place), 2): fiscal conservatives and millions of people in the U.S., and 3): the communist government of China (the largest purchaser of U.S. debt), which officially cautioned the U.S. about going so deeply into the global economic hole, recommended a new interna-tional currency due to the implications, and which has been purchas-ing large quantities of gold to hedge against its soon-to-be inflated dollar denominated holdings.
Forget about the Chinese for a moment though and consider you and me, the American taxpayer, the guarantor of the debt who is on the hook for more money than can be paid backed in generations. To even begin paying back these sums, taxes will have to be raised on all Americans, not just those making over $250,000 a year (the Obama plan), because those making over $250,000 already pay the lion’s share of the taxes. But there’s more.
Quietly, the Federal Reserve has been creating trillions of dollars under its special powers to save banks and “stimulate” the economy. With each flood of dollars into the mix, the dollars you bust your hump to acquire every week are worth less and less, degrading your financial health and future. This is what we might call the Argentinian solution to the U.S. economic crisis, one that took that South American nation, and others, from prosperity to hyper inflation, high taxes, and debt default.
Our government then is essen-tially stealing the value of your labor and that of your children and redistributing it to banks and Europ-ean institutions to cover insurance policies sold by scammers like AIG. Long story short, how could any reasonable person expect that there would not be protests against such government actions, when it is the protesters, and the majority of taxpaying Americans, who are respson-sible for paying the debt? If that doesn’t resonate, imagine your reaction if someone borrowed your credit card, racked up more than your net worth in charges, then left you holding the bill. Do you think, just maybe, you would have something to say about that? If the answer is no, you’re disqualified from the discussion due to brain damage (but you might consider running for Congress).
And so we ask those who consider themselves intellectually honest if protest on the streets of Liv-ingston, Bozeman, and across the country against such a staggering financial commitment is not only reasonable but necessary to acquaint our political leadership with some semblance of fiscal sanity?
This is the non-partisan reality that gave birth to the Tea Parties that took place across the country on April 15, a populist response to impending fiscal oblivion first insti-gated by Rick Santelli on CNBC TV, not the Republican party. Those who relegate such protests to parti-san politics and talk radio are simply wrong. Yes, loud mouths like Limbaugh and Hannity jumped on the bandwagon, as did Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, and the discontent often focuses on Obama. But guess what?—he’s president now, and the GOP leadership scrambled trying to insinuate itself into the protest. Keep in mind that Steele was rejected by prominent Tea Party activists. The initial outrage with the bailouts began, what’s more, during the Bush administration. It simmered through our leaderless transition into the Obama administration, then reached the boil-ing point when Obama sanctioned taxpayer paid multi-million dollar bonuses for AIG executives with the help of Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd—the Obama and Dodd campaigns having been top recipi-ents of AIG cash. That’s the timeline, the logic stream, and the rub.
It’s also easy to discern a defeated and leaderless GOP looking for a popular issue on which to hang its hat, even though Republicans ran up debt as aggressively as any Dem-ocrat in history (until now) over the last 8 years. How is it, though, that so many are taken in by political posturing and party polemics while ignoring hard facts? It seems, often, that those protesting the protests do so simply because they don’t like certain voices who joined the chorus, even when that chorus could as well be joined by voices like Jerry Brown and Ralph Nader. An analogy would be opposing Obama because someone like Louis Farrakhan supports him—that Farrakhan does would simply not be relevant to the merits of Obama’s presidency.
According to a CBS-New York Times survey released in mid April, 58 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the Obama admini-stration’s plans to provide financial aid to the banks. Among indepen-dent voters 68 percent disapproved, clearly non-partisan numbers, and one can be certain that similar percentages would have emerged (certainly after AIG bonuses) had a Republican administration acted simi-larly. Yet both Republican and Dem-ocratic activists have tried to take this populist grievance and turn it into an Us versus Them issue. And if that’s what you’ve succumbed to, annoyance that certain people protest and wave signs (and will continue to) whose political bedfellows you can’t stomach, think about Argen-tina, or any other country that has failed economically due to massive debt, inflation, and self-serving politicians. Those who do might just set aside their bourbon, beer, or kool aid and take up another quintessen-tially American beverage, one that dates to our founding—tea.