One of the more intriguing "what-if"'s of American politics is to wonder what the Tea Party would have looked like if it hadn't been bought and paid for by Dick Armey and the Koch brothers. Whatever credibility the movement could have earned vanished when it took that money and became an arm of the Republican/corporate/austerity movement. At the beginning, there were elements of the Tea Party that viewed corporate dominance as a threat to liberty and democracy equal to the threat of big government. Tea Party populism could have been balanced and non-partisan. Imagine that.
Rumblings from that genuine populist element of the Tea Party just resurfaced in Atlanta. The local suburban Republicans came up with around $600 million in taxpayer money to move the Atlanta Braves from downtown to the suburbs. "Economic development" trumpet Cobb County Republicans.
"Nonsense," says Atlanta Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley.
"It's all 'appalling hypocrisy' and 'arrogance,' particularly from the four Republican commissioners who pitch their conservative credentials and champion the idea of a free market. Dooley and other tea partiers typically associate active, expensive government with Democrats, but it was the commission's lone Democrat who cast the only dissenting vote," according to an AP story.
Well, well. These kind of deals for wealthy sports team owners remain simply awful wastes of public money. The teams do not need the subsidies, there is almost no economic benefit to taxpayers, and the use of tax exempt bonds is probably illegal. The mother of all such boondoggles was New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's $3 billion giveaway to the New York Yankees, a deal which incentivized the demolition of the venerable old Yankee Stadium and built a marble and granite edifice enshrining waste and greed. And just when the economy bottomed out. So now the Yankees charge thousands of dollars for a seat for a single game, most middle-class New Yorkers can't afford to go to games, the value of the Yankee franchise has skyrocketed, and New York's City's schools, subways, parks and roads are all facing austerity cuts because we have no money. I'll leave the A-Rod and Cano contracts for some other time. If you want to read about that deal in detail, click here.
It's not just the waste that's appalling, it's the way in which the political establishments of cities all over America become the lackeys of sports magnates. Grown-ups turn into adolescents when professional sports comes a-calling "Many Cobb business leaders back the plan, and they were vocal at the series of hastily arranged town hall meetings ... Supporters wore T-shirts paid for by Cobb business owners. They read: 'Come to Cobb: Home of the Braves.'The spirited residents waved foam tomahawks..." Try those kind of tactics when you're lobbying for building new schools and see where it gets you.
The Tea Partyers aren't backing down. "They're exploring a range of legal options, from lawsuits to petitions to oust the commission. Whether it's Republicans, Democrats, whatever, what's going on here is that the chamber of commerce types run the county, and the politicians are doing their bidding."
It's worth pausing and imagining a national Tea Party movement that was as tough on banks, and corporate excess as it is on food stamps. Our liberty and prosperity are as much affected by the power of large corporations as they are by large governments. Coalitions are built on that kind of thinking.
It's also worth asking the budget conferees trying to jumpstart a budget deal in Washington to end federal interest subsidies for these kind of deals. There is absolutely no national economic interest in subsidizing the move of the Atlanta Braves from downtown to Cobb County, and we could save hundreds of billions in wasteful tax expenditures if we stopped these kind of deals.
Two interesting and important "what-ifs." Let's see what comes of it.