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POLITICS-US: Obama Bailout Plan Not the Right’s Cup of Tea

OAKLAND, California, Mar 25 2009 (IPS) - In December of 1773, colonists in Boston – then a town in the British colony of Massachusetts – protested against the British government after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain.

The protesters boarded the ships and tossed the tea into Boston Harbor. The action became a signature event of the nascent American Revolution.

Now, more than 235 years later, a number of conservative organisations are resuscitating the “tea-party” concept. On Apr. 15, Tax Day in the U.S., organisers are hoping that thousands of people will turn out in cities across the country to protest the Obama administration’s “wasteful spending”.

Desperate to turn their flagging political fortunes around and aiming to take advantage of the public’s anger over government bailouts, and the bonuses handed out to executives at American International Group (AIG), several longtime Republican Party operatives, religious right groups, a 25-year-old free market advocacy group, and a newly formed coalition of previously unknown groups are organising “tea parties.”

On Mar. 21, at a rally sponsored by a group called Floridians United, between 3,000 and 5,000 people showed up at the Lake Eola amphitheater in Orlando, Florida, to not only rail against “wasteful Washington spending,” but also to call for the impeachment of the president.

One local television station reported that Floridians United “staged a Boston Tea Party-style protest, hoping to make it loud and clear to politicians that they were tired of bailouts and what they called a push toward the socialisation of America.”

“These ‘tea parties’ apparently seek to build on the outburst from CNBC reporter Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago mercantile exchange, when he lashed out at the ‘losers’ who had gotten in over their heads on mortgages and rallied the traders into booing President Obama’s efforts to reduce the number of foreclosures,” Robert Parry, a former AP and Newsweek reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s, told IPS.

“Santelli’s rage, which was highlighted by other NBC news programmes…became known as the Chicago Tea Party. Overnight, Santelli became a folk hero on the Right and the ‘tea party’ emerged as a way of denouncing Obama’s liberal reforms,” Parry added.

Last week, former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future – an organisation that bills itself as non-partisan, while raising millions of dollars from top-shelf longtime Republican Party donors – announced that it was endorsing the Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party, a series of events scheduled in over 150 cities and towns across the country on Apr. 15.

The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition was set up a month or so after the Obama inauguration by the Dontgo Movement, Top Conservatives on Twitter, Smart Girl Politics and now includes American Solutions.

“The goal of the Tax Day Tea Party is two-fold,” Juliana Johnson of Urquhart Media, who is doing the PR work for the coalition, told IPS via e-mail. “The first is to show the president and members of Congress how upset we are and that we will not sit idly by while they destroy our country. The second is to rally conservatives together and build strong coalitions in every state.”

Despite the signs at the Florida rally, impeachment “is not one of our goals,” Johnson said.

Several other groups, including Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, are also sponsoring their own tea-parties.

For the American Family Association, “TEA stands for ‘Taxed Enough Already,’ and is meant to invoke the Boston Tea Party,” Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told IPS via e-mail. “It’s actually a fairly clever media overture, and in the hands of some of the more sophisticated right wingers, it might get some traction.”

“But it fails for two reasons: The overwhelming majority of Americans got a tax cut under Obama, and the project is being run by Wildmon’s AFA, a group that people long ago stopped taking seriously.”

“It’s hard to say how effective any of this will be,” said Robert Parry, who is currently editor of, a 13-year-old investigative news Web site. “Because the Right has a large news media apparatus…it can spread and popularise its outrage quickly.”

“But the protests often have an awkward quality to them, like the renamed ‘freedom fries’ before the Iraq War or the crushing of Dixie Chick CDs after their lead singer criticised George W. Bush,” he added.

“On the other hand, the crude personal attacks on the Clintons – which also started early in that administration – combined with the relentless verbal abuse from Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Savage and Fox News helped to undermine Clinton’s legitimacy in the eyes of many voters.”

Rob Boston noted that these events are the perfect vehicle for Newt Gingrich, who “is trying to forge a new alliance between the Religious Right and the far-right ‘all-taxes-are-evil’ crowd. I’m sure he [sees himself as a] lead[er of] this movement and regain his rightful place in American political life and perhaps even run for president.”

Gingrich’s new group, Renewing American Leadership, “has been working on the TEA rallies with the AFA and other organizations,” Boston noted. He also “has a history of exploiting Religious Right groups to advance his political career.”

Overall, Boston doesn’t see the tea parties as being the vehicle that will transform the rage the U.S. public feels over the various bailouts and bonuses into a coherent movement: “The Religious Right has spent years backing the GOP and the Republican candidates whose economic policies have brought us to this point. For these groups to now pretend that they are suddenly standing up for the little guy who is feeling the squeeze is simply beyond belief.”

“These days, Obama has a very high approval and it hasn’t changed much over the past month. I don’t believe the Religious Right attacks on him and the TEA rallies are having any effect. Most Americans don’t even know about them. The people attending these events are the same lunatic fringe that always turns up for events like these. Most of them are probably dividing their time between attending these rallies and filing lawsuits claiming that Obama is not an American citizen.”

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column “Conservative Watch” documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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