U.S. Tea Party -- French Journalist’s Snapshot of its Political Program     Print Email

The Tea Party – the radically conservative movement that has emerged within Republican party ranks – exploded onto the American national scene in 2009 in a powder trail of local and then national protest rallies.  The movement's core concerns, so far, are reducing the size of the U.S. government, lowering taxes and cutting back on federal spending.  [They have generally de-emphasized the “cultural wars” about social issues such as abortion that have been an electoral staple of right-wing politics in the recent U.S. elections.]

Ahead of next week’s Congressional elections, more than 300 candidates have signed the Tea Party’s manifesto, the Contract from America, advocating “individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom.”  The movement itself seems highly diverse in its ranks, motivations and aims in different places, with no real leader – Sarah Palin frequently appears as an emblematic figure attacking the Washington establishment, but is not part of any hierarchical leadership.  Some of their more radical demands split from the Republicans old guard’s comparatively moderate philosophy and have created divisions within the Republican party that could carry over in the new Congress.

Providing a European’s look at the program, with an eye to future U.S. policy on Europe, Le Monde journalist Corine Lesnes provided her account of the overall “Tea Partyer” approach in her blog, “Big Picture.”  Here is a partial translation of her post, “Get Your Program for the Tea Party.”  She wrote:

The list of reforms promised to be reversed or gutted is headed by the following:

  • energy legislation [essentially cap-and-trade provisions].
  • financial regulation: not to be repealed but to be radically amended.
  • health care reform.  The opposition Republicans would need to gain a majority in the Senate before than can repeal the law, so Tea Party activists are demanding a commitment from “their” future Congress members to cut for implementing the legislation.

Tea Party signatories have also promised not to allow any legislation longer than 4453 words, the length of the Constitution, to pass the Congress – a symbolic way of presenting their calls for a return to “straight-forward fundamentals,” they would say – contrasting their demand for short, clear laws with the 2000-page health care-reform bill.

At the top of their priorities, Tea Party advocates list rejecting the pending bill on emissions-reduction via cap-and-trade bill – a priority they put even higher than the goal of balancing the budget.  This issue will be at the forefront of American political debate this December when President Obama attends the Climate Change Conference in Cancun.”  [Ms. Lesnes’ blog post includes a link to a campaign video of West Virginia candidate Joe Manchin dressed in hunting gear with a shooting rifle.  In it, he is shown taking aim at a bull’s-eye target placed dead center on the text of the cap-and-trade bill.]

The first major battle after the election will be the question of whether or not to renew the laws known as the 2003 Bush "tax cuts" which radically lowered the levy on rich people.  The Democrats want to eliminate the tax breaks for the “super-rich” but want to keep the lower rates for people earning more than $250,000 a year (in an economy where the salary a public-school teacher is roughly $30,000).

Maintaining the “Bush cuts” will cost an estimated $700 billion in tax revenues over the next 10 years, but the Republicans claim that the net result could turn out to deliver a reduction in the federal deficit, mainly (they say) because small businesses will be stimulated to create jobs and generate tax revenue.


Go figure.

The blatant paradox is that the Democrats are in trouble at a time when socio-economic inequalities in America have never been more pronounced.

In her blog post, Ms. Lesnes includes the current cover of 'Mother Jones' magazine, a left-wing, bimonthly publication.  It depicts Tea Party super heroine Sarah Palin as a comic-strip supervillain attacking Middle America.  The magazine stresses a recurrent theme in leftist American political analysis: that the working and middle classes often vote in favor of certain cultural and social issues at the expense of  their own economic interests, i.e. by supporting tax cuts for the rich.  This idea is explained in the book  What's the Matter with Kansas.

A more extensive treatment of how the Tea Party is viewed in other countries can be found in 'Foreign Policy' magazine, including this article by the author of a new book on the movement entitled “Boiling Mad.”

-- Juliana Knapp