Every so often Washington’s tectonic plates shift. As in most countries, the U.S. political landscape readjusts in accordance with economic forces. For example, two-hundred and thirty seven years ago, London’s attempt to reassert itself over its American colonies produced a tax revolt that culminated in its independence. Almost a century later, the industrial north’s attempt to tax the commodity windfall generated by the south resulted in its succession and a subsequent bloody war of reconciliation. The concept of taxation and representation is a bulwark of American politics. This is why the Obama Administration’s unilateral move to rescue Wall Street, along with several major industrial sectors, against the wishes of the electorate sent powerful tremors through the political system. The White House’s fiscal largess is not only a transfer of wealth to the richest individuals of the country; it also implies future tax increases—or equally destructive waves of inflation. This ignited a grassroots movement, known as the Tea Party, which may produce sweeping changes in the upcoming midterm elections.
Although usually associated with Republicans, the Tea Party consists of middle class males rebelling against the Obama Administration’s economic policies. The explosion of the fiscal deficit, the temporary suspension of market-based rules and the government’s interventionist policies are the lowest common denominator that unifies the movement. However, it also includes broad based opposition to the Administration’s attempt at health reform and the country’s ongoing military commitments abroad. There is a sense that the political agenda was hijacked by a sliver of special interest groups, intent on pursuing expensive government policies—while leaving the electorate to foot the bill. While many of the country’s woes were legacies of the previous administration, the President’s decision to maintain the status quo on many fronts, particularly to continue with key members of the economic management team and foreign policy initiatives, obviated his campaign promise of change. His biggest mistake may have been his decision to center his economic team around the unholy trinity of former New York Fed Governor Tim Geithner, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers. This may go down in history as the major factors that contributed to Obama’s demise. It is becoming clear that Geithner’s bulge bracket ambitions were always a guiding factor in many of his policy decisions. Larry Summers is a highly compromised individual, with deep ties to the financial nomenclatura. Last of all, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s refusal to acknowledge any role in the creation of the credit bubble is an act of hubris that can never be pardoned.
Sadly enough, the Washington establishment does not fully grasp the importance of the Tea Party. Although it is hard for many legislators to focus on events outside the Beltway, the absence of a figurehead is one of the reasons why many politicians dismiss it. Typically, political movements are built around individuals. William Jennings Bryan’s Free Silver movement in the late 1800s and Ross Perot’s Reform Party in the 1990s were dependent on their strong personalities. Even today, Colombian President Uribe’s U Party will cease to exist once he passes from the stage. The same will occur to Venezuelan President Chavez’s Bolivarian movement. However, the absence of a galvanizing leader does not mean that a movement has no future. The Green Party, and even Socialism, was much larger than any single individual. The growing momentum of the Tea Party reflects that the economic pressures impinging on the American economy. With dwindling resources, the electorate realizes that it must harbour its remaining assets in order to retain its prominent position on the global stage. It cannot fritter them away in useless military expeditions or rescuing financial institutions that provide little economic value to the nation. President Obama may be brilliant and a great orator, but he seems to have lost the pulse of the people who elected him. For all of his acumen, Obama forgot that the American political psyche reacts violently when economically wronged. This is why the nascent Tea Party aint no party in the literal sense. It is also something that should not be ignored. As France taught us in 1789, fiscal and debt woes can whip themselves into populist fury—with very dire consequences for those who dismiss it.