“Tea Party ain’t dead.” That was the message following Eric Cantor’s recent defeat. And indeed they ain’t, except maybe intellectually. The Tea Party, for those who don’t follow politics, is a group on the right-wing edge of the Republican Party. They are Republican when it suits them to be and separate otherwise. You may know them for their claims to be the only people around today who are in spirit with the founders of this country.
They stage little events where they dress in tri-corner hats and 18th century costumes and make speeches. They are as far to the right as almost anyone in America today.
A problem emerges when you think about their claims to brotherhood with the 18th century American revolutionaries. In the 1770s the conservative Americans were the Loyalists, that is, the people who were loyal to England. William F. Buckley, the dean of right-wingers, said if he had lived in the 1770s he would have been a Loyalist all the way. Thus, Buckley would have cheerfully hanged George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other wearers of tri-corner hats.
The modern Tea Party is also gung-ho for the Confederacy, at least down South. All kinds of flags and symbols and apologias are trotted out by the Tea Partiers for their wonderful “Southern Heritage.” It was an era of good old-fashioned hard work, you know. So, the intellectual forebears of our great Tea Party “patriots” were aligned against the United States in the two defining wars we fought. And don’t doubt that there were Nazi sympathizers amongst the American right-wingers of the 1930s, as there are today. If you see someone with a swastika tattoo, chances are he is not going to be a lefty on the political spectrum.
Incredibly, Tea Partiers and other conservatives will try to sell the notion that the Third Reich was a leftist phenomenon. “They were the ‘National Socialists,’ remember? What part of ‘Socialist’ don’t you understand?” While I am more of a liberal than a socialist, I do understand that the Nazis were no socialists, either. They simply hijacked the term, which was popular in Germany in the 1920s, and gave it a meaning of their own. In the Nazi world, socialism did not mean elevating the lower classes, but rather something along the lines of “All classes pulling together for a single purpose.” Ein Folk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer. If you were promoting anything Marxist in 1930s Germany you were in the deepest of deep trouble, subject to arrest. You would think that most people understood that history. What does it say about the Tea Party that they don’t?
The modern day Tea Party was put on the map by wealthy plutocrats like the Kochs, Dick Armey, and others. Its standing has been magnified out of proportion by the bankrolling of billionaires, for entirely self-serving and cynical reasons. So, it’s not grass-roots but “astro-turf” all the way in the case of our contemporary Tea Party.
As it turns out, I, Bart Stewart, have a rare insight into the clout of the 21st century Tea Party. It is something unlike what any TV talking head or political science professor or even a member of the Tea Party can know. Only a few hundred other guys in all the world will have this perspective. For two years, from 2010 to 2012, I drove a sightseeing tour trolley through Boston, Massachusetts, giving tourists the American Revolution history show. Six times a day I drove loads of tourists, mostly American, past the site of the actual 1773 Boston Tea Party. We always encouraged people to ask questions on our tours. In the course of two years, which were prime years for the modern Tea Party, how many times do you think anybody mentioned that organization, so beloved by Rush Limbaugh and Rand Paul?
The answer is – twice. On two occasions somebody asked me about the 21st century Tea Party. And again, we encouraged audience participation. But virtually nobody ever asked about the Tea Party of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck! Only the 18th century event ever drew any comments or queries! When I asked other tour drivers about this they said it was the same for them.
Maybe it should be no surprise. It’s not like the Tea Party never craps out. Eric Cantor was their only big win this year. Then there was Operation American Spring. It is strange how that one has dropped out of the public consciousness, like a short-lived TV series from twenty years ago. But it was a high profile 2014 event, billed as the conservative answer to Occupy Wall Street. There was to be an encampment of Tea Party conservatives on the National Mall in Washington DC for at least several days beginning on May 16th of this year. The promoters promised a throng of ten million to thirty million people, shutting down the nation’s capital and reclaiming America for righties. One million armed militia members were vowing to attend.
In the actual event less than a thousand people showed up. It must surely rank among the most breath-taking flops in American political history. Trying to find the reason for this colossal no-show, the only thing I have been able to pin down is that it was raining.
All I can say is – that didn’t stop Woodstock!