Let me explain the reason that the Tea Party exists: It is to redirect popular anger. Remember that when the Tea Party first arose, we had just experienced a financial free fall. 100 year old institutions on Wall Street were teetering, while others had drowned under seas of debt. Personal wealth was declining rapidly, and retirement accounts were vanishing. The stock market soon lost 60% of its value. At the same time, the per barrel price of oil was approaching $150.00, with fuel prices at over $4.00 per gallon. Our Mideast wars had forced us to borrow a trillion more from the Chinese, so the national debt ballooned. Banks were shaky as well, so commercial lending dwindled. Homeprices fell, as many homeowners walked away from a mortgage debt that dwarfed the newly diminished value of their home.
These problems were not cyclical , but the product of deliberate policy choices made by Wall Streeters and Neo-Cons, backed by most Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. The power structure feared a popular revolt. It knew there would be a Populist surge to the left if the voters began to blame the generals, politicians, and businessmen whose decisions made this mess. So there had to be a mass distraction, something to distance those responsible from their dastardly results.
Enter Richard Mellon Scaife, billionaire of Whitewater fame and co- author of the Arkansas Project that sought to prove that Clinton had murdered scores of Arakansans . The co-author of that project was Jerry Falwell, who later recanted and repented. After torrents of Scaife's millions had scattered across some right- wing think tanks, there suddenly appeared a movement concerned about socialism. Joe the unlicenced plumber became the folk hero of those decrying government largesse. A.C.O.R.N., the only voice for the urban poor, was slandered by Fox News and its minions, and weak Democrats soon voted, unconstitutionally as it turned out, to end all A.C.O.R.N. funding. Sarah Palin began to dominate the news, and Rupert Murdoch put Fox into a 24 hour attack mode against the President. Gun sales soon skyrocketed, as many Americans became afraid that our new black President would become a dictator or hatch plots to disarm them. Where it was legal, they would show up at political rallies with loaded weapons, though( or because) the President was only 500 yards away. Perhaps, the blackened poster of a golden crowned Obama in African garb spurred them, as this particular momento to racism found its way to many Tea Party demonstrations, designed on same size posters anywhere from Tampa to Seattle.
More astroturf than grassroots, the Tea Party movement gave the masses a chance to vent their rage, but its wealthy founders made sure the real culprits were immune to it. Obama bore the brunt of their ire and too often their racism, when all he was doing was trying to contain problems that were not of his making, but of the Neo-Cons, greeedy Wall Streeters, and their allies in Congress and business. The floundering institutions that Obama (and Bush) bailed out were simply too big to sink, and like it or not, we are their passengers.
By stoking the racist and political fears that the sometimes ignorant American public have of blacks and socialism, the Tea Party was able to change the conversation and stifle any movement that could address the real roots of the current crisis, from which our country continues to suffer. Thus, our one sacred form of capitalism remains safe from real structural reform, and few arrests or convictions will ever flow from the stream of fraud, pilferring, and deceit that underscored and caused our Great Recession. The Tea Party's emergence as a political hegemon has been a victory of form over substance, a political sleight of hand that would drop David Copperfield's jaw any day of the week.