SYNDICATED COLUMN: Tea Party: Why the Right Doesn’t Get It

Larry Elder, a black conservative columnist and Tea Party speaker, has a piece out this week titled “Tea Party: Why the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

Setting aside the question of why any African-American would vote Republican (did any Jews vote for the Nazis?), Elder’s column unintentionally reveals the intellectual inconsistency of the Tea Party.

For liberals the Ur question about the Tea Party concerns the timing of its origin: February 2009. Where, they ask, were these self-declared deficit hawks when Bush and his Republican Congress turned Clinton’s budget surplus into record deficits? Where were these advocates of small government when Bush hired the biggest roster of federal employees in history and created a new federal department—the Department of Homeland Security—that became a national laughingstock due to its incompetence? Where were these Constitutional purists when Bush suspended habeas corpus, built concentration camps and signed off on torture?

“As to Bush’s non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending, [right-wing] people did complain—lots of them and frequently,” Elder points out.

And he’s right. There was grumbling. I remember.

But there weren’t anti-Bush rallies, much less scary guys showing up at presidential appearances brandishing automatic weapons. Under Bush, of course, said scary guys would have been declared “enemy combatants” and tortured into psychosis like Jose Padilla.

“Better late than never,” Elder lamely retorts.

Another right-wing columnist, Jonah Goldberg, goes so far as to call the Tea Party “a delayed Bush backlash.”

But 57 percent of Tea Partiers say they like Bush. Huh.

On most of the policies Tea Partiers claim to deplore—deficit spending, expansive government, the bank bailouts—Obama is identical to Bush. The only difference between the two men is the color of their skin. Which makes lefties think anti-Obama racism is the Tea Party’s true driving force.

As Paul Butler wrote in the New York Times: “No student of American history would be surprised to learn that when the United States elects its first non-white president, a strong anti-government movement rises up.”

“Slanderous hogwash,” Goldberg calls the charge that the Tea Party is motivated by racism.

If not racism, then what?

Stupidity. Or at least intellectual dishonesty.

Elder’s qualifier that righties didn’t like “Bush’s non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending” is revealing. Bush’s two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy will account for a staggering 70 percent of the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. (Obama’s bailouts will cost five percent.)

Either you’re against deficits, or you’re not. Making an exception for optional military spending—neither the Afghan nor the Iraq war was necessary—is like saying you adore sharks except for all the sharp teeth.

My leftie friends find the Tea Party frustrating. They applaud Tea Partiers’ distrust of government, their willingness to take to the streets to express their grievances. If only the Left had their energy!

Progressives also find much to like in Tea Partiers’ calls for a return to core values embodied by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But only in theory.

The Tea Party’s selective Chinese-menu style approach to constitutional purity and small government is appalling. They’re loud and proud when it comes to the right to own guns, yet oppose or remain silent when it comes to the right of gays to sleep with whomever they want-and marry him. They decry government intrusion in the form of healthcare reform, but have nothing to say about the fact that the NSA is listening to their phone calls and reading their email. They complain about illegal immigrants but not about the corporations that hire them. And what should be more terrifying to opponents of big guvmint than reserving the right—as Bush did and Obama does—to assassinate American citizens just for fun? (The Tea Party is silent on this too.)

If the Tea Party is to emerge as a potent force in American politics, it will need to develop a coherent platform with broad appeal across class, party and racial lines. An appeal to fiscal sanity, constitutional freedoms and a government that keeps out of our bedrooms could form the foundation of a new majority. Otherwise, the Tea Party will be remembered as the latest incarnation of the nativist white wing of the GOP (c.f. “angry white males” circa 1995).

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is


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About the Author

Ted Rall
Ted Rall
Setting himself apart from the herd with a unique drawing style and a take-no-prisoners approach, Ted Rall began editorial cartooning in the 1980s with a handful of alternative weekly newspapers whose editors saw his photocopied work hanging from lampposts in New York City. In 1991 San Francisco Chronicle Features began syndicating Rall’s three-times-a-week editorial cartoons syndication with newspapers including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register and Philadelphia Daily News.

Universal Press Syndicate picked up Rall’s cartoons in 1996. Today the man often called “the most controversial cartoonist in America” appears in more than 100 newspapers throughout the United States, ranging from the Washington Post to the Village Voice.

His trademark “Generalissimo El Busho” is an iconic caricature of President Bush. It has drawn criticism from conservatives. He was called “treasonous” by the right-wing Weekly Standard and “anti-American” by the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page. The Right Wing News website named him 2003’s “Most Annoying Liberal” and was named number 15 in Bernard Goldberg’s book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. He has received numerous death threats.

Rall has also won awards, including the 1995 and 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged. In 1996 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Rall also draws non-political strips for MAD magazine and cartoon journalism for EurasiaNet, a news website about the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

"Editorial cartooning is an intrinsically negative medium,” Rall says, “but I’m an optimistic person. My hope is that, by calling attention to hypocrisy in our government and the inward focus of American culture in an amusing way, things will change for the better.”

Four collections of Rall’s cartoons have been published: Waking Up In America, All The Rules Have Changed, Search and Destroy, and America Gone Wild, as well as three award-winning graphic novels, My War With Brian, Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done! and 2024, a parody of Orwell’s 1984. He edited an influential three-volume anthology of edgy alternative weekly political cartoons, Attitude. He wrote the bestselling 1998 “generational manifesto” Revenge of the Latchkey Kids.

Rall covered the war in Afghanistan in cartoon form, where his harrowing experience—3 of the 44 journalists with whom he traveled were killed—led to the critically acclaimed book To Afghanistan and Back. He released two books of prose during 2004, Wake Up, You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho.

Rall’s most recent book is Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, a detailed analysis of the region in prose and cartoons.

See his books from NBM!

1 Comment on "SYNDICATED COLUMN: Tea Party: Why the Right Doesn’t Get It"

  1. PATRICK REDSON | May 1, 2010 at 4:47 am |

    What I’d like to know, is where was the T.E.A. party for the last 8 years? The problem is borrow and spend without compunction and the lack of guts to tax and pay for the war. Leaving business to monkey around without limits and providing cover for them is not a leftist idea. The T.E.A. party is just a group of people who don’t want to pay their dues.

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