Peter Schrag Visits the Tea Party

Honestly, if ever there was a treasure of a political columnist, it must be Peter Schrag.  If you are interested in California politics, Paradise Lost is a must read. His new book that will be released on May 1, Not Fit For Our Society covers the history of nativism and immigration in America.  I’m looking forward to it.  You can buy his books here.

Anyway, Schrag also writes a regular column for the California Progress Report, and his most recent column describes his visit to the Pleasanton Tea Party.  Pleasanton, which lies in Jerry McNerney’s Congressional district, but this is most definitely not the same as Barbara Lee’s East Bay district. It’s a varying, mostly exurban area, and the Tea Party has some local support.  Schrag gets to the nub of the argument, and as the facts show, we are far from either being overtaxed or overly burdened.

But, like other Californians, many of the people at the rally last week, seem to have come in Japanese cars – Toyotas and Hondas mostly – that most of them must have bought long before Obama moved into the White House, and while some of the bikers may have arrived on Hogs, the bikes I saw were mostly BMWs.  

And everywhere there was the firm conviction – as old as the Republic — that Americans are overtaxed by meddlesome governments that waste prodigious amount of money, much of it in harassing innocent citizens. In California, of course, that includes the state as well as the feds.

It’s an honorable American tradition. What the Tea Party activists now say about health care, many in their grandparents’ generation said about Social Security and their parents said about Medicare. What’s was said about Barack Obama at the Tea Party events around the country was said about Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. They, too, were socialists leading the country over the cliff. To the Birchers in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower was “a dedicated communist agent.”

In fact, most of the stuff about high taxes is myth. Americans pay less of their income in taxes than the citizens of every other developed nation on earth. And, contrary to the nonsense coming from the radio and television frothers (who were again in full voice last week as Tax Day approached), counting Social Security, sales and other taxes, the rich pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than the poor and the lower middle class.(CA Progress Report)

The taxes thing is a good argument for TV. The cameras eat it up, and the newscasters repeat their lines unquestioningly.  Yet, as Schrag points out, there is no “there” there. It is the poor who are overtaxed, not the rich. We are a nation that wants everything, but wants to pay for nothing.  The Republicans, as Dave Dayen outlined last year, offer a second Santa Claus of tax breaks to counter the Democrats’ progressive social safety net.

But the root of all this is, as Schrag points out, fear. Fear of the threat to America’s “We’re #1” status and the exceptionalism amongst nations. Fear of a nation that is changing, as it always has, but this time more visibly.  In the past, immigrants were mostly white, now we are a nation of many hues, and it is a little scary. The times, they are a-changing:

Given the data, some day historians may look at the Tea Party phenomenon and decide that it had more to do with age and culture than with politics. This is the vanguard of the generations who, without radical fixes (including higher taxes), will stretch Social Security and Medicare far beyond the breaking point. This is the group in the economy that will necessarily have to give way to the brown and Asian children of the new immigrants: There’s no one else. Maybe deep down they sense something that they just can’t bring themselves to say.  

One thought on “Peter Schrag Visits the Tea Party”

Comments are closed.