By Mike Lofgren
Monday, 28 October 2013
We read in the aftermath of the government shutdown and near default on the country’s sovereign debt that the US Chamber of Commerce is clutching its pearls. “We are going to get engaged,” said a mouthpiece for the chamber. “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.” The chamber is the top lobbying organization in America, and it gave 93 percent of its political contributions to Republican candidates in the 2010 election that birthed the Congressional Tea Party Caucus. Apparently it is now having buyer’s remorse. Politico, the newsletter of the Beltway illuminati, reports similar tidings: Rich Republican mega-donors like hedge fund vulture Paul Singer are expressing frustration with Republican office holders, even though Singer has been a major financial backer of the Tea Party-oriented Club for Growth, which egged on the politicians who forced the shutdown. Even the Koch brothers have been distancing themselves from the shutdown.
Most Democrats, needless to say, are rubbing their hands with glee, and predictions of doom for the GOP are too numerous to count. The Tea Party, according to this narrative, has taken over the Republican Party and will lead it to inevitable electoral oblivion: The sheer irrationality of their demands constitutes electoral suicide. Others are not so sure. Michael Lind has advanced the theory that the Tea Party is an aggregation of “local notables,” i.e., “provincial elites [disproportionately Southern] whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.” He links it to a neo-Confederate ideology that is “perfectly rational” in terms of its economic objectives – a stark contrast to the prevailing description of the Tea Party as irrational. Lind further contends that progressives have misread the Tea Party, downplaying the element of elite control and obsessing over the anger and craziness of its followers.
There is some truth in this. The Tea Party definitely is disproportionately Southern, as Lind stipulates, and any movement that seeks to hobble the functioning of the federal government naturally will advance themes and tactics that sound a lot like the template of the Confederacy: states’ rights, disenfranchisement of voters, use of the filibuster and so forth. Some Tea Party candidates look an awful lot like neo-Confederate sympathizers. But Lind misconstrues some of the data. If, as he says, 47 percent of white Southerners express support for the Tea Party, how does that square with his “local notables” theme: That the “backbone” of the movement is “millionaires [rather than] billionaires?” It is doubtful that 47 percent of the white population in the poorest region of the country consists even of local notables, much less millionaires.