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The only way to combat the tea party is with a new New Deal coalition

Michael Lind at Salon has written a series of articles that do the best job of laying bare who and what the tea party is about.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it basically comes down to “Cheap Labor Conservatism“.

In the first article, Tea Party radicalism is misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”, he goes about explaining who the tea party is, and more importantly who they are not.

The Newest Right, then, cannot be explained in terms of abstract ideological extremism, working-class populism or ignorance and stupidity. What, then, is the Newest Right?

The Newest Right is the simply the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right, adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances. While it has followers nationwide, its territorial bases are the South and the West, particularly the South, whose population dwarfs that of the Mountain and Prairie West. According to one study by scholars at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas:

While less than one in five (19.4%) minority non-Southerners and about 36% of Anglo non-Southerners report supporting the movement, almost half of white Southerners (47.1%) express support….

In fact, the role that antigovernment sentiment in the South plays in Tea Party movement support is the strongest in our analysis.

The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.

Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables—the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.  These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.  [Emphasis added]


While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.

In the second installment, The South is holding America hostage, he shows the two strategies that are being used, economic and political.

Another mistake is the failure to recognize that the Southern elite strategy, though bound up with white supremacy throughout history, is primarily about cheap and powerless labor, not about race. If the South and the U.S. as a whole through some magical transformation became racially homogeneous tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the Southern business and political class would suddenly embrace a new model of political economy based on high wages, high taxes and centralized government, rather than pursue its historical model of a low-wage, low-tax, decentralized system, even though all workers, employers and investors now shared a common skin color.

So the struggle is not one to convert Southern Baptists to Darwinism or to get racists to celebrate diversity. The on-going power struggle between the local elites of the former Confederacy and their allies in other regions and the rest of the United States is not primarily about personal attitudes. It is about power and wealth.

For some time, the initiative has rested with the Southern power elite, which knows what it wants and has a plan to get it. The strategy of the conservative South, as a nation-within-a nation and in the global economy, combines an economic strategy and a political strategy.

The economic strategy is to maximize the attractiveness of the former Confederacy to external investors, by allowing Southern states to out-compete other states in the U.S., as well as other countries if possible, in a race to the bottom by means of low wages, stingy government welfare (which if generous increases the bargaining power of poor workers by decreasing their desperation) and low levels of environmental regulation.

The political strategy of the Southern elite is to prevent the Southern victims of these local economic policies from teaming up with allies in other parts of the U.S. to impose federal-level reforms on the Southern states. Voter suppression seeks to prevent voting by lower-income Southerners of all races who are hostile to the Southern power elite. Partisan gerrymandering of the U.S. House of Representatives by conservatives in Southern state legislatures weakens the votes of anti-conservative Southerners, if they are allowed to vote.  [Emphasis added]

If voter suppression and vote dilution strategies fail, the Southern conservatives can still try to ward off unwelcome federally-imposed reforms that might weaken control of the Southern workforce by Southern employers and their political agents, by policies of devolving federal programs to the states, privatizing federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, blocking the implementation of new federal entitlements like Obamacare or a combination of these strategies.

That sounds awfully familiar.


After all, the Medicaid expansion won’t just provide health insurance for roughly 300,000 Ohioans 1.3 million Texans. That funding also means cash-strapped hospitals and state government won’t be stuck with the bill for the costs of treating tens of thousands of uninsured patients. (That’s why, the Rand Corporation concluded in a recent study, accepting federal dollars for the Medicaid expansion is such a great deal for the states, even when Washington’s contribution drops to 90 percent after 2017.) As it turns out, today Medicaid not only pays for a third of nursing home care in the United States; it also a third of all childbirths. (The figure is one-half in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry also learned the hard way that slashing family planning spending would actually cost the Lone Star State three times as much in health care spending for all those extra children.)

He says the best way to combat this is through federal laws.

To date the response of progressives and centrists, as well as moderate conservatives in the North (who have a quite different tradition) to what might be called the Southern Autonomy Project has been feeble and reactive. The South acts, the rest of the country reacts.

Here Midwestern Republican legislatures or governors try to copy the South’s anti-labor “right-to-work” legislation, and labor activists and liberals react. The legislatures in the South and their allies elsewhere pass voter suppression laws, and civil rights groups scramble to counteract them. Now the Southern-dominated Tea Party in the House shuts down the government and threatens to force the federal government into default. In this game of “Whack-a-mole,” the Southern right and its neo-Jacksonian allies in other parts of the country always has the initiative.

Instead of waiting for the next Southern conservative outrage, and treating it as a single, isolated example of inexplicable craziness, the rest of America from center-left to center-right should recognize that it is dealing with different aspects of a single strategy by a regional elite — the Southern Autonomy Project. It is time for the non-Southern American majority, in alliance with many non-elite Southerners of all races, to target and attack every element of the Southern Autonomy Project simultaneously. If the neo-Confederates want to wage political and economic war, their fellow Americans should choose to respond with political and economic war on all fronts, not on the terms and in the places the Southern conservatives choose.

  • A federal living wage.
  • Nationalization of social insurance.
  • Real voting rights.
  • Nonpartisan redistricting.
  • Abolish the Senate filibuster.
  • Abolish the federal debt ceiling completely.

It’s sad to think that differences that were there at our founding, that caused the civil war, and many thought had culminated during the Civil Right Era are still causing the same problems today.

In the third article, Tea Party is an anti-populist elite tool. And it has progressives fooled. Lind goes on to explain that the tea party is, “..the newest incarnation of a rich, elite, right-wing tradition”.

I have also argued that the Tea Party is not a new movement that sprang up as a result of spontaneous populist anger against Wall Street bailouts in the Great Recession, but rather the “newest right,” the most recent incarnation of an evolving right-wing tradition that goes back beyond Reagan and Goldwater to mostly Southern roots.


Against progressives and pundits who insist on blaming the white working class for Tea Party radicalism, I have argued that the radical right agenda serves the interest of the economic elites of the South and some areas in the Midwest and other regions — particularly those whose business models are threatened by unions, high minimum wages and environmental regulations.

He goes on to describe how liberalism and the left fractured from the old progressive and populist movements.  Which was a fracturing of the New Deal coalition, which lead to Reagan and our current decay.  Lind concludes with this.

In light of all of this, it comes as no surprise that  identifying the Tea Party with the white working class is a mistake:

White working-class Americans (13 percent) are no more likely than white college-educated Americans (10 percent) to say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party. White working-class Americans (34 percent) are also about equally as likely as white college-educated Americans (31 percent) to say the Tea Party movement shares their values.

If it wants to live up to its claim of being “the reality-based community,” the American center-left needs to dispense with the half-century-old anti-working-class mythology of Hofstadter and Adorno and look at real-world electoral and opinion data, for a change. By refusing to recognize that today’s right-wing radicalism serves the interests of elites — in particular, Southern elites — and blaming it erroneously on the non-Southern white working class, progressives only harm themselves, not least by confusing their enemies with their potential allies.

Until a new New Deal coalition is put together we will continue in this fractured state. The only way to combat the powerful, is for the American people of all races, colors, creeds, and lifestyles to come together. Even if we don’t necessarily like each other, or agree on everything, the only way we can all prosper is to work as one.


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