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The Tea Party Is Dangerous: Dispelling 7 Myths That Help Us Avoid Reality About the New Right-Wing Politics

It may be fashionable to dismiss the Tea Party and its radical, right-wing pals, but we do so at our peril.

Few things are more confounding to liberals and progressives than the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the media’s infatuation with it. Just as we breathed a sigh of relief with the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president, after eight disastrous years under the reign of Bush the Younger, in swept a furious wave of misanthropic pique.

Really, we shouldn’t have been surprised. Just as a recession hit of unprecedented force, yielding high unemployment, conservatives found themselves sidelined, Obama’s triumph coming on the heels of the Democrats’ congressional victories of 2006. That partisan change would have been enough to make conservatives ornery, but the cultural change represented by the nation’s first African-American president struck fear into the hearts of many -- especially after liberal San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to wield the gavel of the Speaker of the House.

The inevitable backlash against such a sweeping shift, shepherded by an array of corporate-funded entities, culminated in the creation of the Tea Party movement -- a dangerous brew of resentment and fear that threatens to roll back the majority the Democrats enjoy in the House of Representatives, and set the nation on a path to a right-wing government even more restrictive and regressive than that of the Bush era.

But bad economies create bad politics, notes economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Economic downturns traditionally, over the course of history, usher in swings to the right, Krugman writes. The administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an aberration in this regard, and, perhaps, as Michael Tomasky suggests, in the course of American history. But since the Great Depression offers our most recent experience of severe economic crisis, its story is etched in the progressive mind as the narrative for how the nation naturally responds to economic catastrophe.

More than a year ago, Robert Reich warned of the vitriol we see today from the Tea Party movement, as well as its likely targets. “Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy,” Reich wrote, “ready to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity.”

We must not make the mistake Reich warned us about; we ignore the emergence of the Tea Party movement at our peril. We are the ones they’ve been waiting for.

The impulse to dismiss the Tea Party movement is understandable, especially given the kook factor (something that every grassroots movement has). The wacky signs, the crazy rhetoric about health care as some form of tyranny: How could this add up to a force able to defeat the massive coalition that led to President Obama's election?

Charles P. Pierce, writing at Esquire’s blog, expresses this view with his claim that the Tea Party movement isn’t really a movement at all, but rather “the kind of noisy paranoid lunacy that used to be stapled to lampposts, or hollered about by people you would avoid in the public parks.” Some of that is true, but it also feeds an attendant denial of the kind of damage such a movement -- or non-movement, in Pierce’s view -- can do.

Ultimately, the same forces that launched the Religious Right in the 1970s lurk behind today’s Tea Party movement, aided and abetted by Fox News, corporate-funded organizing groups and far-right players within the Republican Party -- forces which, taken in aggregate, constitute a sort of Tea Party, Inc. They have money. They have power. And they know how to get more of both.