The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 7, 2010

The fringe of the tea wagon

By Dr. Edwin E. Vineyhard
Enid News and Eagle

Two fringe movements have been spotlighted in the news lately.  The Tea Party folk continue to be active, and a militia group in Michigan made the news, charged with seditious conspiracy.  The tea party people have a bus going cross country toward Washington, D.C. to arrive near April 15, which just happens to be the day when federal income taxes are due. Of course, this is no coincidence. 


The historical Boston Tea Party was carried out by a group of colonists who were enraged by a new British import tax placed on their tea.  Essentially the current “tea party” movement is a tax protest.  Many have never understood that.  They think that it is a movement against socialism, big government, threats to liberty, national deficits, and government takeover of health care. 


Since none of those issues stand up to the light of facts and reason, and serve as window dressing for ditto-heads, then the question arises:  “What is the real motivation behind the Tea Party?”  As indicated above, the basic reason is taxes.  The tea party coordination, staff, activities, and publicity are funded by billionaires who do not want to pay taxes. 


They fear the expiration and reversal of the Bush tax cuts the wealthy have enjoyed.  It is as if nobody remembers when the richest paid a 90% tax rate in this nation, coincidentally the time when wars were fought and great bridges, dams, and highways were built.  They forget that Reagan lowered taxes on the wealthiest and started the precipitous growth of the federal debt.  The Bush tax cuts for the rich took deficits higher.  Tax cuts have brought nothing but fiscal trouble for the nation. 


For these billionaire backers added angst about health care reform is that they may have to pay more taxes to insure all those extra people -- mostly minorities, poor whites, and sick people.  They have no social conscience when it comes to taxes.  Unfortunately, this may well be the motivation also for those middle class white followers who already have a health insurance policy.  The fact that an expensive 30% of Hispanics are uninsured and 20% of blacks, compared with 10% of whites, may add a racist tinge to motivation with some. 


There is a certain amount of just plain anti-government hostility involved in all this tea party stuff, as well as in the militia movement.  The notion that they are losing control of the country is paramount.  Perhaps the recent election of a black president with a platform of change has been threatening to their sense of order.  A long series of court decisions going against white males toward minorities and females is a source of rancor.  The notion that the wage earner is paying taxes to support a lazy sub-class is involved in this fear of “socialism” among working class people.   


A big problem for some lies in national demographics.  The country is becoming less white and much more Hispanic, black, and minority.  In a few decades, forecasts are that white people will no longer be a majority in the United States.  This issue of change, compounded by immigration, threatens many white Americans.  This is likely an underlying motivation for the militia movement, in that some Americans think that they may sometime in the future have to take up arms to protect their rights and their property – or to take their country back. 


A large number out there believe that religion is being suppressed by government, and that the Bible is being tossed out of public schools and other public agencies.  They have been threatened by a moral blow of rock and roll music and now comes “hip-hop,” whatever that is. 


Some people no longer believe that they can trust “democracy” in government because “we” are becoming outnumbered, and people don’t vote according to our ideas of good and bad.  Some feel that they can no longer trust legislative bodies to do right, nor can they trust other social institutions such as courts and schools to do right.  So, they organize “patriot” groups of one kind or another – tea party, tea party militias, Hutaree militia, American patriots, or some groups with other similar high-sounding titles.  There has been a 245% growth in number of “patriot” groups since 2008. 


Those who see their way of life changing due to demographic and cultural shifts become easy prey to those political demagogues who are selling an off-brand type of patriotism.  They respond to anti-government political movements, such as the tea party.  They are handy pawns for political use by the party out of power against the party in power.  They are even prey for those organizing militias and advocating violent resistance against the legitimate government.  They respond to a Texas governor shouting “secession” into a microphone. 


Those who are disenchanted for one reason or another are vulnerable to conspiracy theories, as well as lies told to gain political advantage.  They are easily led by distortions of reality and demonizing rhetoric in pointing blame for problems, both imagined and real.  They should ask themselves a basic question:  “To look after my interests, do I trust unregulated big business more than government?”  That is their choice.  


This country is ripe for the growth of such fringe groups and organizations.  Political and media demagogues have used biased media and other means to coalesce anti-government sentiment in our society into a broad movement which is potentially dangerous to our democracy and our nation.  They have created a level of incivility and hostility in our political discourse which invites violence. 


That is starting to occur, and it will worsen unless we stop it. 


Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate