Not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS -

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.

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