Not everyone’s cup of tea
Barack Obama’s problems are many, as evidenced by this week’s mid-term elections, but chiefly it’s that Americans are experiencing buyers’ remorse. In 2008, ordinary people in the US became exasperated with the status quo and bought in to the message of hope and new beginnings preached so eloquently by the man who would be the first black president. But Obama lost the gift of oratory as president. Maybe that reflects how much easier it is to wax poetic on the campaign trail than deliver bad news in office.
But beyond that, I’ve detected another interesting factor: the same Americans who chanted the slogans of change two years ago now appear frightened of, well, change. And hence the growth of the Tea Party, which takes its name from the Boston rebels of 1771 who destroyed British tea rather than pay oppressive taxes demanded by the colonial masters in London. In two short years, what began as a grass-roots movement with strong libertarian values has become an umbrella organisation of the Right with substantial influence.
Polls say about one in three Americans identify with the aims of the Tea Party, whose presence was strongly felt in Tuesday’s congressional mid-term elections. I’m surprised, frankly, that the other two-thirds doesn’t, because there’s nothing in the Tea Party’s mandate that’s anything but an homage to mom and apple pie. Its beliefs are essentially that government should be smaller and not interfere in people’s lives, budgets need to be balanced, taxes reduced and any kind of attempt to turn the US into a European-style social democracy – such as the idea of universal health care – should be vehemently opposed.
Even though the left-of-centre mocks the “Teabaggers”, and the Republicans (who showed under George W Bush that they could outspend every Democratic administration in history) fear them, both parties should be listening.
What the Tea Party represents is the yearning of many Americans to return their country to an idealised yesteryear. In Australia, John Howard probably best capitalised on the fear of a new, different future; a future that may be bigger but less safe than the comfortable smallness of the past. Paul Keating used to preach about Australia finally becoming part of Asia without realising he was scaring so many people. Keating was right. But politics isn’t about who’s right.
The Tea Party may be small-minded, but its ideals will be felt for some time to come. Yet the party will implode, because it’s allowing itself to be hijacked by extremists like Sonny Thomas, who Twittered this pearl: “Illegals everywhere today! So many spics makes me feel like a speck. Grrr. Wheres my gun!?” Sonny doesn’t like Mexicans coming across the border. Well, get used to it, because the US once was a mainly Hispanic country and birth rates tell us that it will be again soon. Almost half of all kids under the age of five in the US aren’t white.
The other reason the Tea Party’s bound to disintegrate is that it’s embracing Sarah Palin. Apparently the ’baggers didn’t get it when she came to their first convention and demanded a $US100,000 appearance fee. Palin, the former Alaskan governor and 2008 Republican presidential running mate, has no apparent grasp on policy and, in my view, isn’t qualified to run a chook raffle. But she’s captured the imagination of all those people mad at a corrupted political system and, with the help of the Teabaggers, may just be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Which will pretty much guarantee Obama a second term, because Americans aren’t that crazy.