Democrats Need Something Better Than A Tea Party
Reprinted with permission from USA Today.
You can understand why some on the left are drooling for their own Tea Party movement.
Only eight years after Republicans suffered a nearly cataclysmic defeat, they are roaring back into “unified” power. It all started with a movement that seemed to appear out of nowhere to challenge GOP orthodoxy, only to be handily co-opted and weaponized to win both houses of Congress and control of more state legislatures than at any time since Republicans actually were the Party of Lincoln.
Now, thanks to the grabby hands of Donald Trump — who marched the GOP establishment through all the stages of mourning as he led a sort of one-man Tea Party movement of his own — Republicans will soon add to their trophy case the White House and possibly Supreme Court control for another generation, coasting on the winds of the best economy any new president has inherited since 1988.
Trump’s campaign is almost impossible to imagine without the equally unlikely candidacy of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement she once inspired by being a know-nothing, Obama/lamestream-media-bashing straight word-salad shooter.
Like Palin, Trump was supposed to be a Frankenstein’s monster lacquered with bronze toner who turns against its creator, punishing the party’s donor class for indulging the worst instincts of a Republican base driven into a frenzy by the “conservative entertainment complex,” as David Frum calls it.
Instead, conservative donors are now preparing to live out fantasies they’ve had since they were their mistresses’ ages.
Forget slicing taxes for the rich, their kids, their corporations and their kids’ corporations, along with uninsuring millions. Too easy. Soon they’ll be ready to gut Medicaid and possibly Medicare while deregulating and privatizing everything from the Department of Veterans Affairs to roads to schools. And Trump, like Mitt Romney before him, has adopted wholesale much of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand-on-Red-Bull agenda.
Why wouldn’t the Democratic Party want all this — a chance to live out its wildest dreams, freed from the constraints of consequences, facts, promises, transparency, tax returns, news conferences or any experience in public service?
The past six out of seven presidential elections proved that there are more Democrats than Republicans, Liberals just happen to enjoy living around each other too much to maximize their electoral clout. As for what Democrats stand for, even as Arizona went for Trump by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, it passed a ballot referendum by nearly 18 points to raise the minimum wage.
Democrats obviously just need a presidential nominee named “Raise T. Minimumwage.”
America is a majority left-wing country that has been gerrymandered into a distorted reality, right? With sprawling protests already planned for Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20, it should be easy to spark a national uprising against the biggest popular-vote loser elected president in modern American history.
So why aren’t liberal donors trying to spark a Tea Party of the left?
They know as well as anyone that the “spontaneous” uprising of 2009 was fed or led by an extremely well-financed web of conservative networks. How else do you get a movement enraged by teacher’s salaries and government regulation during an apocalyptic financial crisis caused by bankers exploiting a lack of government regulation?
Conservative donors have spent tens of millions of dollars and decades building a movement that revolves around resentment of liberals and the government. The gains of tax breaks, deregulation and privatization are massive — so massive that the donor class is willing to suffer some demands from an activated grassroots, as long as those demands don’t get in the way of tax breaks, deregulation and privatization.
Big Democratic donors also tend to have their pet causes, such as guns and climate change. And in some cases, such as climate and immigration, a Demos study shows, these funders actually push the party to the left. But the story is different when it comes to “pocketbook” issues such as the budget and taxes.
Democrats in general were nearly six times as likely to support raising taxes to reduce the deficit as Democratic donors who gave $5,000 or more, the Demos research found. Organized labor, meanwhile, the backbone of the left, has been systemically hollowed by the right while Democrats failed again and again to strengthen unions when they had the chance.
Yes, the left needs a movement that rivals the Tea Party movement’s passion, reach and influence. But rather than happening with the encouragement and funding of the party’s rich donors, it might have to happen in spite of them.
There are some models for this, including the genuinely spontaneous Black Lives Matter movement, the Fight for $15 effort birthed by the Service Employees International Union, and the Bernie Sanders campaign for president, which was able to marshal small donors and large crowds even with much of the Democratic Party’s establishment working against it.
The left needs something better than a Tea Party movement because the party base needs to drag its donors’ economic agenda toward the people and not the other way around. And in American politics, dragging is expensive.
True equality of opportunity that enshrines health care as a right and puts workers on equal footing with their bosses might not have the same obvious economic constituency as eliminating the inheritance tax. But there are more of us than there are of them. And that has to be worth something.