TEA PARTY: EXTREMISM OF THE MIDDLE
By Tomasz Konicz
[This article published on 10/27/2013 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/40/40172/1.html. Other articles by Tomasz Konicz including "The Crisis Explained" are available at www.freembtranslations.net.]
The budget conflict in the US illustrates the increasing influence of right-wing extremist forces within the Republican Party.
The super budget dislocation in Washington was averted at the last minute. Hundreds of thousands of state employees were back at work on October 17 after the US House of Representatives approved a compromise proposal 285 to 144 ending the week-long feud between Republicans and Democrats over raising the debt ceiling.
The new law enables the US government to continue its deficit budget to February 7 while a balanced commission of House representatives and senators haggle over a proposed compromise for the current state budget. A repetition of this budgetary trial of strength threatens if this commission cannot work out a sound proposal that incorporates both democratic demands for tax increases and the persistence of Republicans on budget cuts [cf "The American solution is called delay" by Tomasz Konicz].
This deferment of the permanent conflict between republicans and democrats is often judged by political commentators as a victory of President Barack Obama who refused to yield to the extortion attempts of the extreme right-wing within the Republican Party. Republicans had demanded far-reaching cuts in Obama's most important domestic project of health reform passed in 2009 amid vehement protests [cf. The Flogged Health Reform]. Now John Boehner, the republican speaker of the House of Representatives, had to concede the failure of this aggressive extortion strategy in a right-wind populist radio show: "We fought - and lost."
The question is raised whether "the republicans" still exist as a somewhat united political group since the latest budget conflict revealed enormous ideological dislocations in the party. Traditionally those forces set the tone for republicans who ruthlessly represent economic conglomerates and the rich upper class. However the extreme right-wing gained more and more influence in the last years as America's right-wing extremist mainstream. The voting behavior of this right-wing party in the latest budget compromise is symptomatic for this right-wing swing. Only 87 republican representatives followed their spokesperson Boehner and voted to raise the debt ceiling. The majority of the party refused the "moderate" party leadership.
A recently published poll of the Pew Research Center verifies the schism in the US right-wing. The "positive evaluation" of the right-wing extremist Tea Party movement among moderate republicans fell from 46 percent in June to only 27 percent. The approval ratings of the new shooting star of the extreme American right-wing, the Texas senator Ted Cruz, deteriorated within the moderate republican camp. Four months ago only 16 percent had a negative view of his work; now 31 percent have a negative opinion. On the other hand, Ted Cruz seems to have established himself as the new leader among followers of the Tea Party. Around 74 percent of the extreme right-wing judges positively the policy of the Texan senator who led the fight of the right-wing against Obama's health reform in the latest budget conflict; four months ago they were only 47 percent.
RIGHT-WING EXTREMIST PARTS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY ARE OUT OF CONTROL
The Washington Post recently made drastic comparisons to illustrate this continuing right-wing development in the Republican Party. The Tea Party carries out regular "purges" reminiscent of the elimination of oppositional forces during the great Stalinist show-trials.
Like the Stalinists and Jacobins, the fanatics of the Tea Party have purged their movement - not through executions but by banning all republicans who do not share their enthusiasm for scrapping the country if they cannot get the majority to follow their convictions.
According to this extremist logic, there are "fewer but better republicans" today, the Washington Post said. One obvious symptom for this continuous development consists in the distancing of the right-wing from the past leaders of the party who now are regarded as too "weak or soft" and willing to compromise. The "hard right-wing core" sees politicians like former president George W. Bush, the presidential candidate Mitt Romney and republican senator McCain as "irritating remnants of a compromising past." Instead figures like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann and the inevitable Sarah Palin are extolled.
The arguments between the moderate wing of republicans and right-wing hardliners were clear in the repeated calls by American economic associations to end the right-wing blockade. Important economic financiers of republicans like the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation pressed unsuccessfully for an end to the latest budget strife. Thus a right-wing extremist part of the Republican Party is manifestly out of control.
Meanwhile some of these economic associations even suggest financing rivals of Tea Party politicians to break their dominance. Today's republicans express "resentment" that haunts an alarmed white middle class and no longer speak "for Wall Street or Main Street," the Post concluded.
CRISIS IDEOLOGY OF THE FRAGILE WHITE MIDDLE CLASS
The new arising ideology of the extreme American right-wing represents a regressive and irrational processing of crisis fears that is enriched by an increasing racism in the eroding US middle class. In hatred toward the US government felt to be "all-powerful," the powerlessness appears that seized many American suburbs given the uncontrollable crisis dynamic and the social devastations going along with that.
The Tea Party wants to return to an idyllic past that really never existed. The Tea Party wants to stop the accelerating descent of the while middle class by driving the ideological conceptions existing in this "middle" to the extreme. The irrational exaggeration of the neoliberal litany of personal responsibility will to performance, entrepreneurial spirit and skepticism toward government is actually the core of the Tea Party ideology.
In a classical "extremism of the middle," the worldview ideas prevailing in the mainstream are pushed to the extreme that seize the US right-wing in reaction to the crisis dislocations of the US right-wing. What all of a sudden hostilely faced the US economic associations in their own traditional party is the extreme result of neoliberal indoctrination that was urged for decades by these economic associations. The Tea Party does not use the polemic against tax hikes and "big government" purely tactically to gain tax- and location advantages as American economic lobbies do. The right-wing hardliners really believe capitalism could be reanimated if the state were shattered as much as possible and all necessities of life simply left to the affected people.
"There is no society; there are only individuals." The Tea Party wants to practically realize this slogan from Margaret Thatcher. In addition a resurging racism manifests in this white middle class that cannot come to terms with the demographic changes in the US.
Consequently the assessment that Obama is the great winner of the latest trial of strength can only conditionally be maintained. Obama successfully resisted an offensive of the right-wing. Because of their extortion strategy, republicans must accept enormous losses of popularity that could have effects on the coming elections.
LONG-TERM RIGHT-WING SHIFT OF THE ENTIRE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
However representatives of the extreme right-wing are also regarded as the great winners of the budget conflict. The Wall Street Journal sees a "hero of the Tea Party right-wing" in Texas senator Ted Cruz who helped escalate the latest budget feud and has now created a "platform for his presidential candidacy." On the other hand the moderate John Boehner has been "clobbered by his own fraction." The Wall Street Journal asks "how he can keep his job."
Thus an extremist right-wing is growing that could act as a central political rallying point for fallen and frightened members of the middle class in a future crisis. The "extremism of the middle" practiced in this movement could become a dominant crisis ideology and make possible a similar ascent of right-wing extremist parties as is happening in Europe.
Finally a "victory" of democrats must be set in the context of a long-term right-wing shift of the whole political spectrum in the US. The entire social climate in the US has fundamentally changed since the "neoliberal" revolution triggered by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The policy of the "democratic" President Obama for example still maintains the Guantanamo prison and carries out a global program of extra-legal killings by a high tech drone fleet. The right-wing may have lost a battle but it has long won the war. The neoliberal capitalist ideology - like the capitalist economy - has long won a totalitarian victory against all dissonance or deviation. Now that ideology breaks up in its contradictions and passes into open irrationalism and mania.
Still this is really not a genuine American tendency. The United States functions on account of advanced crisis processes (as in the de-industrialization of enormous regions) only as an early indicator making the US an ideal projection surface for resentment. Similar processes of a long-term right-wing shift of the whole political spectrum are occurring in Germany [cf. "The New Middle is Right-Wing"] where the alternative for Germany is ultimately stylized as a German "Tea Party."