Did you ever watch one of those football blooper reels, where guys run for touchdowns in the wrong direction?
Sometimes they look really good doing it: fast, agile, determined. None of their teammates can catch up and turn them around.
This last year or two I’ve been feeling that way about the Tea Party — not the corporate lobbyists who run the organizations or the billionaires who fund them, but the rank-and-file types who wave signs and bring their babies to rallies. A few are the stereotypic gun-toting racists, but a lot of others are low-to-middle-class folks who have figured a few things out:
- Honest, hard-working Americans are seeing their opportunities dry up.
- The country is dominated by a small self-serving elite.
- Our democracy is threatened.
- The public is told a lot of lies.
- People need to stand up and make their voices heard.
- If we stand together, we’re not as helpless as we seem.
I could go on, but you get the idea. They’re on to something. The country needs people like this carrying the ball, if only they weren’t running the wrong way.
How they should turn around is pretty easy to describe. Tea Partiers think:
The threat to our way of life comes from government, and the solution is to shrink government while freeing corporations from government control.
Just flip government and corporations in that sentence:
The threat to our way of life comes from corporations, and the solution is to shrink corporations while freeing government from corporate control.
Perfect. Now you can explain things like too-big-to-fail banks gambling trillions on the unregulated credit-default-swap market, sinking the economy, and then getting the taxpayers to cover their losses.
And more: Did the USDA put salmonella in our meat? No, meat-packing corporations did. And they’ve got enough lawyer-and-lobbyist power to keep the USDA regulators at bay. Did the EPA dump raw oil into the Gulf of Mexico? No, BP did. They cut corners on safety and no regulator was in a position to stop them. Did the government kill the 29 miners at Upper Big Branch coal mine? No, Massey Energy did, and had enough clout to keep the mine going even after inspectors had found more than 500 safety violations.
By getting the government/corporation thing backwards, the Tea Party has channeled populist anger into the idea that corporations need even more power. Get those mean bureaucrats off the back of poor, beleaguered Goldmann Sachs. If we just let the Koch brothers’ paper plants dump more phosphorous into Wisconsin’s rivers, the economy will be fine. Let’s kill off the unions, and then the corporations that own the mines and the factories will treat working people with more respect. Let corporate money flow freely into political campaigns, and then the voice of ordinary Americans will really be heard in Washington.
Guys! The goal line is over here!
On the other hand, the government/corporate flip fixes just about all the Tea Party rhetoric. For example, John Boehner was trying to pander to the Tea Party when he said:
The bigger the government the smaller the people.
But what if he had said “The bigger the corporations, the smaller the people”? That would have been really insightful, and (among other things) would have explained why the working class needs more unions, not less.
Go to one of those Tea Party web sites full of their favorite anti-government quotes. Do the flip to make them anti-corporate, and you’ve got rhetoric that’s dead-on:
When one gets in bed with corporations, one must expect the diseases they spread. — Ron Paul
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and corporations to gain ground. — Thomas Jefferson
The corporate solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem. — Milton Friedman
We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where a corporation is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission. — Ayn Rand
Ronald Reagan becomes the font of wisdom Tea Partiers believe he is:
In this present crisis, corporations are not the solution to our problem; corporations are the problem.
A corporation is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
Lord Acton said power corrupts. Surely then, if this is true, the more power we give the corporations the more corrupt they will become.
Man is not free unless corporations are limited.
“We the people” tell the corporations what to do, they don’t tell us.
After the flip, even Sarah Palin makes sense:
People know something has gone terribly wrong with our corporations and they have gotten so far off track.
Grover Norquist is still a radical, but now he’s attacking the right problem:
We want to reduce the size of corporations in half as a percentage of GNP over the next 25 years. We want to reduce the number of people depending on corporations so there is more autonomy and more free citizens.
Here’s another rhetoric-flipping trick: Replace Washington with Wall Street. Then Rand Paul has it right:
Wall Street is horribly broken. I think we stand on a precipice. We are encountering a day of reckoning and this movement, this Tea Party movement, is a message to Wall Street that we’re unhappy and that we want things done differently.
Go Rand! Go Tea Party!
Now let’s translate the Founders:
A corporation, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one. — Thomas Paine
It is error alone which needs the support of the corporate media. Truth can stand by itself. — Thomas Jefferson
If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in our corporations, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin. — Samuel Adams
Like fire, the corporation is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. — George Washington
When you understand who today’s powerful elite really is, many of the Tea Party’s favorite Founder-quotes don’t need any translation:
The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite. — Thomas Jefferson
All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. — James Madison
There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. — James Madison
So true, James. Little by little we are losing our privacy, our access to information, and even our political system to the corporations.
And in spite of the economic collapse Wall Street’s machinations have brought upon us, how do we explain the market-worship we see all over the corporate media? The 19th-century French economist Frederic Bastiat had that one nailed:
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.
I got that from the Venango County Tea Party Patriots. Again, no translation is necessary once you know which way to look.
But that’s the real problem with the Tea Party rank-and-file: Like the guns of Singapore, they’re facing the sea when the attack comes over land. They know they’re under somebody’s thumb, but they’re confused about whose thumb it is. So when they strike back, they swing at the wrong guys.
If any Tea Partiers have read this far, I’m sure they think I’m the one who has it backwards. But I ask you, as you run free and clear towards the goal line: Whose goal line is that? Look up in the stands and see who’s cheering for you: The billionaires. The CEOs. The traders on the floor of the big exchanges. The investment bankers.
Isn’t that just a little strange? Have they all suddenly started rooting for everyday middle-class Americans?
Or are you running the wrong way?