To history buffs, the recent election of Tea Partyers has a sense of déjà vu. In 1850 angry voters elected people who supported an agenda of anti-immigrant sentiment, religious intolerance, racist bigotry, and jingoism. I refer, of course, to the brief rise of the Know Nothings, America’s particular version of Britain’s Luddites. Tea Partyers, Know Nothings and Luddites all share a common emotion: irrational anger.
By 1857 the Know Nothings had run their reactionary course and fairly disappeared from the U.S. political scene. However, after 161 years, we are witnessing Know Nothing-ism being resurrected under the banner of Tea Party-ism — proving yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.
Today’s GOP, and its Tea Party acolytes, represent the ultimate expression of Reagan’s philosophy: the “Selfish Generation” whose motto is: “I want it all, I want it now, but I don’t want to pay for it. Après moi, le deluge!”
What, exactly, do Republicans and Tea Partyers offer to alleviate the damages wrought by the “Selfish Society?” Their answer is “more of the same!”— more tax cuts for the rich, in spite of the fact that the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves has been debunked beyond question. That so many voters believe in alchemy (“voodoo economics,” Bush Senior called it) gives substance to the report that we have become a nation of ignoramuses.
The National Academies (Sciences, Administration, Mathematics, etc.) recently released a report indicating that, among industrialized nations, the United States ranks 24th in life expectancy, 11th in the number of 24- to 35-year-olds who have a high school diploma, 27th in the number of students who receive engineering and science degrees, 48th in the quality of K-12 math and science education and 28th in the quality of health care. The repetition of mindless slogans like “We’re No. 1” will not make it so.
In the face of this report, what do the GOP and Tea Party offer as solutions to problems principally created by decades of Republican profligacy? Nothing beyond failed policies like tax cuts for the rich. Reagan, Bush I and Bush II gave us the largest deficits in U.S. history, and, except for World War II, the largest increases in U.S. government payroll. Where were the GOP and Tea Partyers when the government was growing exponentially under Republican presidents and legislatures? I believe that the phony outrage generated by the Tea Party is simply racial politics disguised as concern for this nation.
With unbounded chutzpah, the GOP and Tea Partyers blame Obama for not turning our $15 trillion economy on a dime — an economy that tanked under eight years of GOP presidential and congressional misrule. Had John McCain been elected, we’d be lucky to be in a barter economy — or at war with Iran and Russia. Conflicts are profitable for corporations and distract the population.
At the risk of sounding “elitist” which, in GOP parlance, means “educated and/or informed,” the report of the National Academies demonstrates, as previous surveys have, that there is a correlation between the general educational level of a nation and its overall success/prosperity; a similar correlation exists between a country’s low educational level, and its populace’s attraction to simple solutions to complicated and complex problems: The less educated a people, the more likely it is to fall prey to demagogues and charlatans.
There is a silver lining, of course. Tea Partyers and their ilk will run their string the way the Know Nothings did. Along the way, they will enrich the FOX demagogues and cause some damage to the social fabric of this nation, but probably nothing that a more enlightened generation will not be able to repair. Is there a nation that ever existed for long that banked its future on “backward progress,” as the Tea Party and GOP promise?