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Mislead Enough Already: An Emerging Tea Party Dilemma

Taxes, more than any other issue is what drives the Tea Party movement. Thus those philosophical arguments related to taxation and the resulting size of government constitute the very essence of the rationale for the movement's existence. How then will the movement react and adapt to the latest findings of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which reveal the movement's essential positions to be clearly at odds with empirical facts?
Taxes, more than any other issue is what drives the Tea Party movement. Thus those philosophical arguments related to taxation and the resulting size of government constitute the very essence of the rationale for the movement's existence. How then will the movement react and adapt to the latest findings of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which reveal the movement's essential positions to be clearly at odds with empirical facts? As such, the Tea Party movement may soon find that the very rationale for its existence is being fundamentally challenged by a reality very much at variance with the movement's belief system. Likewise, the Republican rhetoric about taxes increasing may also start to ring hollow.

The Bureau's findings as reported by UPI are as follows: "Including state, federal and local taxes -- with sales tax and property tax thrown in -- the average tax bill came out to 9.2 percent of personal income in 2009... . That's down from an average of 12 percent over the past 50 years. The tax burden has not been this low since 1950...The U.S. tax burden has shrunk to its lowest level in 60 years... The tax rate has fallen 26 percent since 2007, a sharp drop that reflects progressive tax rates passed during the Clinton and Bush administrations and the 2009 federal stimulus bill that cut taxes by $800 for married couples earning up to $150,000." The Bureau's findings are just the latest in a growing body of evidence that refutes the basic premise which the Tea Party movement relies upon to energize its followers and fuel it's much hoped for transformation of American government. In a piece that followed this years Tax Day Protests, the Associated Press observed: "Lost in the rhetoric was that taxes have gone down under Obama. Congress has cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion, leaving Americans with a lighter load despite nearly $29 billion in increases by states."

In an article, which appeared in Forbes in March; "The Misinformed Tea Party Movement", conservative writer Bruce Bartlett outlined just how little members of the Tea Party movement actually knew about the structure and level of taxation. Utilizing a survey of movement protestors at a recent rally Bartlett found: "Tuesday's Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944... In short, no matter how one slices the data, the Tea Party crowd appears to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family." In contrast in 2009 the corresponding number was 14.8%. When it comes to the structure and composition of taxes, the Bartlett article is chock full of repudiation for just about everything that the Tea Partiers believe in and that does not bode well for a movement that has as one of it's stated goals, the reconstitution of the size of American government based on its belief that taxes are too high and that they will crowd private borrowers out of the credit markets. Bartlett sums up his skeptisim of the Tea Party movement with an insightful statement that points out just how confused the Tea Partiers may be: "It's hard to explain this divergence between perception and reality. Perhaps these people haven't calculated their tax returns for 2009 yet and simply don't know what they owe. Or perhaps they just assume that because a Democrat is president that taxes must have gone up, because that's what Republicans say that Democrats always do. In fact, there hasn't been a federal tax increase of any significance in this country since 1993." And to think, such an observation would roll off the tonuge of an economic censervative who once promoted supply-side theories and who had also worked for Ron Paul!

Ironically, its not just on the issue of taxes that the Tea Party movement is in a bit of a pickle. For one thing, the movement's overall lack of a cohesive strategy for affecting political change works against its durability as a force on the American politcal scene. Atlantic's Michael Kinsley points out that unlike the anti-war movement of the 1960s which had a central theme and aim, the Tea Party movement is so fractionalized in terms of leadership and difuse in its overall ideological makeup so as to be more than a little precarious as a long term movement with staying power. Quoting Kinsley:" Not only do TPPs (Tea Party Patriots) not have one big issue like Vietnam—they disagree about many of their smaller issues. What unites them is a more abstract resentment, an intensity of feeling rather than any concrete complaint or goal." Kinsley points out that in their undefined frustrations the Tea Partiers have in affect discarded the much-cherished notion so dear to the conservative credo, self responsibility, in that everyone's problems can be directly traced back to Washington D.C. or their state capitol. Kinsley defines this inherent flaw in the movement as follows: "Personal responsibility" has been a great conservative theme in recent decades, in response to the growth of the welfare state. It is a common theme among TPPs—even in response to health-care reform, as if losing your job and then getting cancer is something you shouldn't have allowed to happen to yourself. But these days, conservatives far outdo liberals in excusing citizens from personal responsibility. To the TPPs, all of our problems are the fault of the government, and the government is a great "other," a hideous monster over which we have no control. It spends our money and runs up vast deficits for mysterious reasons all its own. At bottom, this is a suspicion not of government but of democracy. After all, who elected this monster?"

There is one other major time bomb ticking away inside the Tea Party movement, and that is the company it keeps. Who are the leading personalities associated with the movement, none other than some of the most controversial characters alive in American politics today: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck. If Bachmann and Palin weren't the Thelma and Louise of the far right, who would it be? I mean if the G.O.P. ever were to find itself in the back seat of their car they will, like the movie characters find themselves on a joy ride off of a cliff and heading straight for political disaster. It goes without saying, that having Beck as the Tea Party movement's most vocal media personality leaves allot to be desired, unless your aim is to turn the movement into a laughingstock. After all, can you put together a more gruesome threesome than the aforementioned when it comes to alienating independents from the Republican Party? I doubt it.

Lets face it, if it were not for the fact that the Tea Party movement has become the primary pawn in the ideological proxy war between MSNBC and Fox News, its presence on the American political landscape would be far less visible. A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that only 13 percent of American voters say they are part of the Tea Party movement and that this group is largely white, had supported McCain and presently backs Sarah Palin. But in what could be the most telling piece of evidence derived from the Quinnipiac Poll is that: "Overall, this survey paints a picture of the Tea Party movement that encompasses a broad swath of the American middle class, but clearly at this stage one that is a minority group. In essence their numbers equate to about the size of the African-American electorate overall," That said and with that empirical evidence in hand, does anyone really think for a second that the future of American Conservatism or its fellow traveler the G.O.P. is best served by hitching its wagon to the Tea Party movement, especially when that movement has been exposed as containing a fundamental philosophical credo that is so starkly at variance with established political facts and trends.

Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
May 12, 2010


1) U.S. tax burden at lowest point in years  link to www.upi.com

2) The Misinformed Tea Party Movement by Bruce Bartlett, 03.19.10,  link to www.forbes.com

3) Tea Party Rally Upbraids 'Gangster Government' by The Associated Press http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125251286&sc=emaf.

4) My Country, Tis of Me, There's nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots. by Michael Kinsley http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/04/my-country-tis-of-me/8088/