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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/27/11

It's time to name the tea party politicians (and their sponsors)--and call them out

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In just one year, the tea party went from hating billionaires to fronting for them

As he keeps demonstrating, President Obama is not exactly Mount Rushmore material. But -- good God! -- the petulant pettiness and corporate servility of Congress' tea party Republicans makes Obama's timidity seem like a chapter from Profiles In Courage.

America has BIG needs right now--a jobs crisis, housing crisis, infrastructure crisis, energy crisis, climate crisis, middle-class crisis, democracy crisis. But they can't even be addressed because tea party ravers in the House, joined there by a gaggle of old school right-wingers, keep throwing hissy fits over far-out ideological gimcrackery.

Our problem in Washington really comes down to this: We have too many 5-watt bulbs in 100-watt sockets. Take, for example, the astonishing clamoring by tea party congress critters to pass a light bulb bill. Yes, light bulbs! In July, these addle-brained lawmakers actually spent time, energy, and their credibility on stopping the horrible scourge of energy efficient bulbs from spreading across the country.

This non-issue was literally drummed up by the billionaire Koch brothers (who, by the way, are in the dirty energy business and profit if you have to use more of it to light your home). During the past couple of years, various Koch front groups have been shrieking that nanny-state Democrats have banned Thomas Edison's old, glowing 100-watt incandescent globes. As of next January 1, they wailed, sales of Edison's marvel will be outlawed, replaced by the cold glare emitted by spiral, fluorescent bulbs.

Only, none of that is true. There is no ban, just a new standard for all bulbs to consume less energy. And it was not set by Democrats, but by a Republican-sponsored law signed in 2007 by George W. Bush. Furthermore, the light bulb industry backed the new efficiency standard. "Everyone supported it," says a top executive of bulb-maker Philips. So did Edison's descendants, who issued a simple statement that old Tom himself could've written: "Technology changes. Embrace it."

Plus, the new law shows that government rule-making can work beautifully, producing a major surge in industry innovation. In only four years, Philips, GE, and Sylvania have already developed incandescent bulbs that meet the government's higher efficiency standard and save money for consumers.

Nonetheless, such dim bulbs as Michele Bachmann, along with the tea party caucus, joined the Kochs' silly circus. They merrily rolled the bizarre anti-efficiency light bulb bill right through the House. Luckily the Senate won't pass this folderol, so it won't become law, but that won't stop congressional tea partiers from continuing their goofy rant against big government "telling us what kind of light bulbs we can buy."

Name the names

Meanwhile, America's corporate media have surrendered any semblance of journalistic responsibility in covering the tea party congress. On the one hand, they treat the slightest sneeze from these lawmakers as a powerful storm. For example, on July 27 the Koch-backed astroturf group, the Tea Party Express, held a "Hold the Line" media event on the Capitol grounds. It was promoted as a mass rally to demand that Congress slash trillions of dollars from the federal deficit through spending cuts alone, with no tax hikes on billionaires and corporations.

News cameras were there to record and report every bon mot tossed out by such tea party favorites as Sens. Jim DeMint and Rand Paul. They did not report, however, that fewer than 50 of the expected masses showed up. See a great photo of DeMint at the "rally" speaking, essentially, to no one but the cameras...

The next day, the progressive American Dream Movement drew a crowd ten times larger to another Capitol Hill rally, demanding that Congress protect seniors from the budget slashers and, instead, eliminate special tax giveaways to corporations and the rich. No cameras came to cover the message of these citizens.

On the other hand, the media establishment is failing even to give the public an answer to journalism's most basic question: Who? Name by name, who are these tea partiers casting votes to harm workaday people, further enrich the rich, and extend greater corporate power over us? We can't have an informed electorate if it's not informed.

Many tea party activists themselves could benefit from this information. The rank and file assume that the crop of outsiders they sent to Congress are now inside representing their interests. But most would be stunned to know that their "representative" has voted to kill Medicare, gut Social Security, protect Wall Street speculators, and turn our natural resources over to polluting profiteers. A big chunk of the tea party nation did vote in 2010 for smaller government -- but not this.

The media, however, only generalize that tea party Republicans are doing this or that, failing to deliver such useful specifics as: "Hey, the goober you sent to Congress just stabbed you in the back." On July 28, for example, the New York Times ran an important article about the wholesale assault on environmental protections by "freshman Republicans," not even mentioning that these are tea partiers. The members were attaching some 70 pro-polluter amendments to an appropriations bill -- including unleashing coal giants to blow up Appalachia's mountains, allowing uranium mining at the Grand Canyon, exempting offshore oil drillers from any accountability for their equipment failures, blocking all agencies from doing research on climate change, letting industrial corporations escape from even reporting their carbon pollution, and stopping the EPA from so much as studying pollution by factory farms.

But, no names of the members sponsoring this stuff were reported. In America's democratic system, it's not enough to say "Congress" did this, or even "tea party" legislators did it. Name the names, so they have to be accountable for what they're doing. At a minimum the news outlets could put the names on their websites.

Who is the Tea Party Congress? Seems like this would be an easy question to answer, but it turns out that we could find no group, including the tea party's own organizations, that has made a complete list, or at least they've not made one public... [read more]

This is important for all voters, but especially for those who thought that electing this tea party bunch would help end a business-as-usual Congress controlled by corporate money and lobbyists. After all, the tea party insurgency was not sparked by a hatred of government, but by raw fury at Republicans and Democrats alike for coddling the Wall Street banksters who crashed their casino emporiums into our economy. Arrogant and avaricious bankers were handed multibillion dollar bailouts in 2008-2009, while workaday Americans were being handed pink slips and eviction notices.

This daylight robbery definitely put the "ugh" in ugly, and it brought the public's general anger about collusion between corporate and political elites into sharp focus. That political moment held bright promise for progressive populism, but it quickly dissipated. Progressive funders, organizations, and media (enthralled by the new Obama presidency and concentrating on Washington) did little outreach to the bubbling rebellion in the countryside, leaving the field to right-wing exploiters.

Armey gets an army

As a result, the tea party uprising was soon hijacked and transformed into anti-populism. The key player was Dick Armey. A former GOP majority leader in the House, he was a well connected corpo-rate lobbyist for tobacco giants, drug corporations, and others when he noticed reports in early 2009 of some mad-as-hellers brandish- ing tea bags at a few scattered protests. Armey also was head of a Koch-financed political shop called FreedomWorks. "Eureka!" this career Washington insider must have shouted as he scurried from his opulent office to get in front of this fledgling movement of unattached outsiders.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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