Aug 312010
 
Authors: Ian Bezek

Last weekend’s gigantic rally at the Lincoln Memorial showed that the Tea Party movement has grown far beyond its humble economic roots, and it has turned itself into a full-fledged
reinvention of American conservatism.

But change isn’t always good. Though I’m not usually prone to nostalgia, after seeing a bit of last weekend’s rally, I was left thinking, “I want the old Tea Parties back.”

The Tea Party movement began in 2008 as a reaction to President Bush’s ill-planned bailout and general anger regarding the government’s utter incompetence in regulating the financial system.

Drawing inspiration from the original Tea Party in Boston’s harbor more than two centuries ago, protestors levied valid complaints against our financial system.

In the past few years, numerous problems plagued our economy. Mortgage fraud sprouted up almost as rapidly as suburban sprawl, banks engaged in numerous deceptive and unethical practices and thoroughly ordinary business executives received outlandish bonuses.

In this environment, it’s unsurprising that a popular movement rose up to protest the excesses of the financial system. Once the government decided to shower taxpayer money on these out-of-control financial institutions, populist rage was unavoidable.

The Tea Parties started with a just cause. It’s too bad that the Tea Parties did not keep their focus on the problems with our financial system, as the recent reforms passed by the Obama administration were greatly shaped by lobbyists and as such do little to prevent another economic calamity in the future.

For example, efforts to regulate the credit card industry last year have already run aground as banks have just started offering “professional” credit cards –– cards traditionally targeted to savvy businessmen ­­­­–– to ordinary Americans. These cards are exempt from last year’s credit card
law; a financial law is never passed without a loophole.

But the Tea Parties moved away from their original focus of offering needed criticism about our financial system.

By the middle of 2009, conservative spokespersons seized control of the Tea Parties and re-directed them toward anger over a range of more traditional conservative issues. When Sarah
Palin was anointed as de facto leader of the Tea Party movement, I figured the movement was on its way to irrelevancy.

But I was wrong. Instead of fading away, the Tea Parties managed to merge with a socially conservative and often xenophobic wing of the Republican Party in an unholy alliance that continues to gain strength.

As I documented in my column on the tax day rally in Fort Collins this April, as many of the protestors seemed as interested in conspiracies about President Obama’s birth certificate or his religious practices as they were in his economic policies.

But still, the flame of anger about economic abuses smoldered on. Saturday, however, “Reverend” Glenn Beck extinguished those embers with his absurd monologue.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times described Beck’s speech perfectly, saying, “This was a tent revival crossed with a pep rally intertwined with a history lecture married to a U.S.O. telethon — and that was just in the first hour.”

Beck kept hammering on the idea that America was returning to God, and that we, America’s patriots, must be ready to do God’s work.

No longer is the point restoring our economy or fighting economic corruption, now Beck wants us to focus on “Restoring Honor.” Here’s one idea, Mr. Beck, perhaps your Republican Party could stop launching optional wars against innocent countries 5,000 miles from home? It’s hard to restore honor while you are busy killing off civilians across the world.

Combine Beck’s religious nationalism with Ms. Palin’s nonsensical babbling about patriotism, and it’s obvious that the Tea Parties of 2010 are all about launching a revival within the religious wing of the Republican Party.

Now the Tea Parties serve as an inspiration to narrow-minded white Americans to be proud of their obliviousness. It’s a shame Beck chose to have the rally on the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Talk about spitting on someone’s grave.

Once a noble cause, the Tea Party brand is now little more than a front for far-right activism. I want the old Tea Parties back.

Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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