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Teabags vs. Douchebags Why this May Not be the Second Coming of the New Deal After All.

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Through pamphleteers like Thomas Paine and rabble-rousers like Samuel Adams, the radical colonial teabaggers who fought the British douches during the Revolutionary War sowed the political terrain for independence, adoption of the Bill of Rights, and then for the (relatively) radical pre-Civil War eras.

Likewise, decades of activism by abolitionists (teabaggers) forced the president to take on the South's agricultural oligarchy (douchebags) and begin the process of ending the institution of slavery. Teabaggers like William Jennings Bryan, rural populist parties and labor activists railing against "crosses of gold" set the stage for Theodore Roosevelt to break from fellow Republicans and begin trust-busting the corporate douchebags of the early 20th century. And those same teabaggers helped set the stage for Franklin Roosevelt's transformative douchebag rout in the 1930s.

Though the 30-year period between the two Roosevelts' presidencies is portrayed as a halcyon era of country club Republican douchebaggery, the decades were also marked by teabaggers organizing on the left. Reactionary forces like the Ku Klux Klan and the right-wing nativists made their presence felt, but the zeitgeist of the period was embodied in militant labor activism, socialist and communist agitation for a bigger welfare state, Bonus Army revolts for veterans benefits, and feminist activism for suffrage and equality.

Thus, when the Great Depression hit, a political infrastructure and ideological ferment had already created the conditions that would channel the cataclysm's angst through the prism of a progressive economic program. Progressives had laid the groundwork during the 1920s for the kind of political dynamic that moved the debate leftward and led to New Deal.


Hiding douchebaggery inside a teabag

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Progressives remained the dominant rabble-rousing teabaggers from the Great Depression until the 1970s, winning battles not only for the New Deal, but for civil rights legislation and the end of the Vietnam War. Slowly, however, through icons like William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and ultimately Ronald Reagan, conservatives figured out how to package their Establishment agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and privatization in the argot of outsider populism. By claiming "extremism is no vice," railing on "welfare queens," and insisting "government is the problem," the Right discovered how to wrap corporate douchbaggery in a teabag.

With the help of conservative think tanks, columnists, television pundits and talk radio hosts, this sleight-of-bag created the politics of perpetual outrage predicated on the contradictions detailed by Thomas Frank in What's the Matter With Kansas?: impoverished rural states electing Senators on promises to cut inheritance taxes on millionaires and blue-collar workers supporting lawmakers who back job-killing trade deals--as Frank puts it, a country "nailing itself to that cross of gold."

Today, Republican congressmen champion a flat tax and embrace anti-immigrant xenophobia, media voices like Glenn Beck infuse their rhetoric with violent themes, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) endorses the concept of secession--all while a so-called "tea party" movement against government is manufactured via Fox News and a team of lobbyists from FreedomWorks, a corporate front group in D.C.

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)
 

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