In recent months, a myth has been allowed to fester and take root about how the Tea Party Movement came about, and what it stands for. In particular, it is the falsehood that the Tea Party came about because of anger against the 2008-09 bailout of big banks and Wall Street. It was disturbing to see this lie repeated so often -- usually in the context of trying to make forced and ultimately confused comparisons between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street -- and not just in the usual conservative media sources, either.
He cites instances of this spin from the New York Post and FOX Business.
But in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or even sometimes understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets -- and huge bonuses -- made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.
It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility all across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we’re still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs and the homes and the basic security of millions of people -- innocent, hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities but were still left holding the bag.
And ever since, there’s been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness. Throughout the country, it’s sparked protests and political movements -- from the tea party to the people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. [my emphasis]
But Bunch does refute the story with a bit of recent history:
The rise of the Tea Party had nothing to do with bank bailouts.
Remember, the federal government and the Bush administration (remember them?) started bailing out Wall Street and the banking industry in the fall of 2008, six months before the first Tea Party rally, or anything remotely like it. There was no great outpouring of anger from the rank-and-file of the American right. The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was signed into law by Bush on Oct. 3, 2008. It was supported by Bush's successor, then-Sen. Barack Obama, but it was also supported by Sen. John McCain, his running mate and future Tea Party queen Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and even by none other than Glenn Beck. Simply put, there was no Tea Party movement, and no public protests by conservatives (or liberals for that matter) in 2008.
Instead, the Tea Party formed within days of Jan. 20, 2009, the date that Barack Obama became America's 44th president. The famous "Tea Party rant"by Rick Santelli credited with helping to launch the protests wasn't about bailing out banks or Wall Street but the idea that Washington would provide relief for middle-class homeowners who were under water. Another seminal moment came less than a month into Obama's presidency when a young Seattle conservative activist named Keli Carender organized a public protest. Against the bank bailouts and TARP? No. It was against the first major action of the new president, the $787 billion stimulus proposal that included infrastructure projects, saving blue-collar government jobs, and tax cuts (yes, tax cuts) for the middle class. [my emphasis]
Bunch did a considerable amount of original reporting on the Tea Party, including a book about it, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama (2010).
Glenn Beck, weirdly enough, managed to say on FOX Business last week that some Tea Party sympathizers were motivated by white racism. Which, of course, is not supposed to exist any more in the Republican Party.
Not that this represents some newly-found reality-testing skills on Beck's part. He brought this up in the context of accusing Newt Gingrich of being the same kind of "big government progressive" that he calls Obama. Go figure.
But, as Bunch puts it, "any dose of honesty is a breath of fresh air, even if emerges from the fetid swamp of Beck, Inc." And he explains:
But whatever his reason, the idea that Beck re-injected into the national conversation -- that race and the Tea Party are linked -- is an important one. The media needs to re-ground itself in the fact that on the playing field of social movements, Occupy Wall Street, despite its flaws, is rooted in a reality of billionaire-bought economic injustice, while the Tea Party is based heavily on an emotion. The ideology that was created in the wake of that emotion -- distrust of any government steps to ease a jobs crisis, distrust of elites even if that means not believing in established science such as man-made global warming -- continues to steer the current debate, even if actual Tea Party activists have all but vanished the scene. [my emphasis]