Tea Party: Raging Against the Wall Street/DC Machine?

Time‘s Michael Crowley deserves some credit for saying this about the Tea Party movement, in his piece about how they largely won the debt standoff:

The Tea Party movement has proved not only that people can have their own facts but also that they can use them to vast tactical advantage, crashing through the taboos of political convention and changing the game along the way.

But in explaining the political origins of the movement, he writes:

It is an article of faith in Tea Party circles that Washington and Wall Street are in bed together, colluding for power and profit at the expense of the little guy.

We’ve seen this before; that is, attempts to brand the Tea Party movement–which is in no small part bankrolled by wealthy corporate interests– as anti-corporate populism. He writes:

Indeed, for some Tea Party activists, the summer of 2011 has been all too reminiscent of the fall of 2008, when the movement truly took root. After the financial world crashed, Washington insisted that a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street banks was necessary to avert a depression. To the Tea Party, however, this was yet another scare tactic to justify transferring taxpayer money to the bankers who helped cause the mess in the first place.

There are probably some Tea Party activists who opposed the TARP bailout, but it’s a stretch to suggest this is where the movement “took root.” Glenn Beck, as much as an intellectual godfather to the movement as there is, supported the bailout, only to later recant and wish he hadn’t.

The Tea Party movement was really energized by a rant from CNBC host Rick Santellithe one where he called for a Tea Party based on some class resentment directed at people in expensive homes who were all getting bailed out while hard-earning stockbrokers were making their payments. Or something like that–read this piece from CJR to get a sense of what Santelli was upset about, which was a modest mortgage modification program directed at people who were, in Santell’s words, “losers.” His call for Tea Party protests led to, well, actual Tea Party protests.

This happened in February 2009,months after the TARP bailout. Very little of his rant was based on bashing Wall Street–it would have been rather remarkable for an anti-Wall Street movement to be birthed on CNBC, a network whose target audience is people who trade stocks. And, of course, the movement began to really find political success during the health care debate–when it was mostly concerned with portraying Obama’s plan as some sort of Communist killing machine.

Crowley adds:

In Tea Party doctrine, both major parties are complicit with an elite Washington–New York establishment that lies to the public to cover for policies that enrich the wealthy and strengthen the powerful.

If this were really what was motivating Tea Party activists, you’d see more evidence to that effect–and it’d be more ideologically diverse than it is. The truth is that there are such activist mobilizations–US Uncut, the One Nation march on Washington–but they’re hardly given the media platform granted to the Tea Party.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.