If President Obama gets a new start on his presidency in 2010, then progressive, liberal Americans should also get a "do-over" on our activism in support of real change. We need a chance to throw our own Tea Party. I'm calling it Tea Party 2.0 and I have a Facebook page!
First of all, let's be honest. We were all so exhausted after eight years of Bush and so impressed with ourselves that we elected the first African-American president, that we decided it was okay to take a nice long break early last year. I don't know how else to explain the fact that MoveOn didn't start a real push for the Public Option until Sarah Palin's Tea Party screamers had done 'shock and awe' all over Democrats in the August town hall meetings and health care reform was left on life support in the ER.
With Glenn Beck claiming to channel Tom Paine and all the rest of the Conservative pantheon spouting non-stop content-free rage, the Tea Party movement successfully tapped into the righteous anger of a good chunk of middle class America.
Middle class America has a lot to be angry about. Unfortunately the Tea Party is turning that anger against the wrong targets. They have one very abstract and very meaningless target: "big government spending" and one very concrete but blameless target: immigrants.
The pantheon knows that the Tea Party lacks substance and threatens to go off the rails and do something crazy like fly a plane into an IRS office building. In his February 17 Talking Points Bill O'Reilly warned Tea Partier's about their nut job tendencies and reminded them to stay on message. He gave them their talking points one more time:
Look at it this way: There's no question America is heading towards bankruptcy. We owe $13 trillion. We can never pay that money back. Also, there's no question the federal government allowed millions of illegal immigrants to come to the USA. For decades, the feds didn't try to stop that. Also, the Obama administration wants to change the economy with strict federal regulations and guidelines. That's what health care is all about. That's what cap-and-trade is all about.
That's the entire Tea Party platform. As progressives, or liberals, we believe middle class Americans need to focus their anger not so much on government but on the people who pull the strings - the bankers and the giant corporations, especially oil, coal and weapons. Wall Street and Big Oil are the enemies of freedom, not liberals and Democrats.
By rights, we should be the ones using the Tea Party symbolism in our movement. That's why I am proposing Tea Party 2.0 -- No Representation Without Taxation. The Boston Tea Party was not about abolishing all government and all taxes, it was about the legitimacy of the taxes and the government. The colonies had no representation in the British Parliament, so why should they pay taxes? In America today we have the reverse problem. Those with the most representation - the corporations and the rich - have the lightest tax burden, compared to what they get for their money. Remember, what they get is the right to operate Wall Street like a casino, the right to ship our jobs overseas and the right to charge us two or three times what people in other countries pay for quality health care.
Tea Party 2.0 has three demands:
- Tax the Rich. Obscene profits and corporate bonuses have no place in a democracy.
- Abolish the US Senate. The Senate is undemocratic. Most senators represent corporations, not you and me.
- Medicare for all. We have a great need to cut through all the crap on health care and propose something that everyone can understand - Medicare for all.
Glenn Beck's Tea Party would call these demands Socialist or Communist. Glenn Beck would quote Thomas Paine: "That government is best which governs least." But you will never catch Glenn Beck saying a word about Thomas Paine's plan to tax wealthy landowners and redistribute the income to poor youth born without "landed property."
Thomas Paine would have supported Medicare for All. He would also have been in favor of abolishing the Senate. According to Howard Zinn (in The People's History of the United States), "Paine had denounced the so-called balanced government of Lords and Commons as a deception and called for single-chamber representative bodies where the people could be represented." John Adams felt otherwise and opposed the single-chamber body claiming "it must produce confusion and every evil work."
John Adams was wrong. Today it is the Senate and its unequal representation and its filibuster rule that is blocking the body politic like an intestinal infarction. In "What democracy? The case for abolishing the United States Senate" (Harpers, April 2004) Richard N. Rosenfeld wrote:
"Americans believe in the idea of democracy. We fight wars in its name and daily pledge allegiance to its principles. Curiously, the fervor with which we profess our faith in democracy is matched only by the contempt with which we regard our politics and politicians. How interesting that we should so dislike the process that we claim to revere. Perhaps, however, our unhappiness with politics points to something significant; perhaps Americans dislike the daily reality of their political system precisely because it falls short of being a proper democracy."
Without the Senate, we would already have health care reform with the Public Option - passed by the House in November. We would already have a cap and trade system to put us on the path to a low carbon, clean energy economy - passed by the House last July. It is the Senate that is responsible for much "confusion and evil work."
The American Revolution briefly united wealthy landowners and poor workers and farmers into a fighting force that drove the British from this land and created a new nation. The interests of both rich and poor have rarely been so aligned since then. The wealthy landowners moved quickly to temper the democratic demands of the masses, resulting in institutions like the Senate.
But a few of the founding fathers were able to articulate the vision of a truly just and democratic society. Those people and those words still inspire us today, so let's reclaim Thomas Paine from the Tea Party mugwumps and raise his words as the standard of Tea Party 2.0. This moral vision is perhaps the last thing we have that can unite us as a nation. It would be criminal to allow the Fox News pundits, servants of Big Oil and Wall Street, to pervert these last vestiges of our patriotic heritage.
As Tom Paine said, "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
This April 15th, let's issue a Tea Party call to Tax the Rich. I hear that the Tea Party movement is internally divided and confused. Let's stir it up even more. Wouldn't it be something to see the people, left and right, all together in the streets, crying for democracy? The Tea Party belongs to all of us. We have more in common than we think.
Maybe I'll see you at a Tea Party. Or maybe I'll just see you on my Facebook page: Tea Party 2.0.
Kelpie Wilson is the author of "Primal Tears," a novel. You can contact her through her web site at www.kelpiewilson.com.
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