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Tea Party Rage, Part Three: The Role of Democratic Party Enablers

10/22/2010 04:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Make no mistake; Democrats are not simply victims of the developments I've been describing in Parts One and Two of this series on the Tea Party movement. In fact, the Tea Party is as much the political consequence of the Obama administration as it is the result of oil billionaire backers like the Koch brothers. Not only have the Democrats, with few exceptions, through their various surrenders and half measures, openly abandoned the middle class in favor of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Oil, they have also failed to articulate (until recently) a compelling narrative about the role of government in public life. Instead, they have offered up mostly bloodless wonk-speak and excuses for their compromises. In the case of the few modest successes achieved by the current administration and its allies in Congress - health insurance reforms and the jobs created or saved by the stimulus package - many Democratic candidates want to deny paternity.

While embedded in his own wishful fantasy of bipartisan oneness, Obama and company, until their recent attempts to "buck up" their base, have fashioned no emotionally meaningful story about who, specifically, was and is responsible for our pain and suffering. We were not told that government, as an instrument of our collective power, would bring the perpetrators of this latest corporate crime wave to account and make life better for most of us. In the empty rhetorical space left by this sin of omission, right wing myth-makers remained free to circulate their own stories that, however falsely, helped people make sense of their circumstances. The right-wing fantasy of returning to the glorious fictional past of our white, Christian, government-hating founding fathers was waiting in the wings and has now taken the stage courtesy of the Tea Party Players and their corporate sponsors.

Administration critics on the Democratic left are often portrayed as organizing a circular firing squad. What has been overlooked is that, since Obama's election, Democrats in power have been quite busy shooting themselves in the foot, and using Republican ammunition to do it -- bullets that took the form of discredited conservative ideas. For example: Republicans chanted, "Drill, Baby, Drill." Then Obama accommodated by opening up off shore oil drilling. This was then followed by the explosion of BP's Gulf oil well. Not surprisingly, the media and Republicans framed the disaster as "Obama's Katrina," while the administration implemented a criminally tardy moratorium on further drilling. Ultimately, however, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on October 12th bowed to oil industry pressure, and ended the moratorium. Expressing the Obama administration's determination to learn nothing from its mistakes, and to heed Republican advice, this decision was the coup de grace to whatever remained of the White House's credibility on the environment -- its belated solar-panel adornments to the contrary. Needless to say, Progressive Democrats did not pull those triggers.

After a year and a half of anguished timidity on the part of many Democratic politicians, some began, without a hint of irony -- but with ham-handed condescension -- to badger the Democratic base to "quit whining" (Biden) and to fight back instead of "griping and groaning" (Obama). They have since walked back this idiotic effort to mobilize the base with reprimands, what was called the "punch the hippies" strategy, and have even forced themselves to say nice things about their progressive critics on MSNBC.

To a great extent, the merger of public authority with private wealth and privilege -- the defining feature of fascist governance -- is quickly coming to pass. John Le Carré, in an October 11 interview with Amy Goodman, referred to Mussolini's definition of fascism: "the moment when you couldn't put a cigarette paper between political and corporate power." Arguably, the Supreme Court has done its part in ushering in that moment with its "Citizens United" decision, in which the majority conferred upon corporate cash the status of protected political speech. It could be said that the Justices in that decision merely formalized what had been long operational, the reality part of realpolitik. In other words, elections to an increasing degree have become the means of placing corporate representatives at the helm of state power.

To belabor the obvious, it is nearly always the case that the candidate who spends the most is the one who wins. And, beginning with the Reagan era, government regulators often have been nothing more than corporate foxes guarding the public interest hen houses. Following the Justice's Frankensteinian makeover of corporate personhood, Thom Hartmann usefully suggested that legislators now should be required to adorn their grey business suits with the patches of their commercial sponsors, just like NASCAR drivers. At this point, it might even make sense to end the ritual of elections altogether and simply hold auctions for government positions. As it is now, public office already goes to the highest corporate bidder. This would at least make fascism honest.