Mad as hatters? The Tea Party movement in the US

Issue: 129

Megan Trudell

Two years after his election Barack Obama presides over an increasingly divided nation, in both economic and political terms. His failure to deliver on the promise of real change has seen him punished in the midterm elections for Congress and for many state governments, as many whose hopes were raised in 2008 sat out the contest. The result was a serious defeat for the Democrats, with the Republicans securing control of the House of Representatives and coming close to taking the Senate.

The midterm results are an expression of two interconnected developments. First, the Democrats’ betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the tremendous popular movement that delivered Obama’s victory—a movement
that signalled the potential for a renewal of political engagement on the part of millions of ordinary Americans. Second, the strengthening of conservatism in a Republican Party scarred and divided by the Bush presidency and two deeply unpopular wars, now reinvigorated by the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Underlying both features is the widening gap between the rich in the US, for whom the challenge of the current recession is to fight off any government attempts to increase taxes or damage profitability, and the poor. The impoverishment of greater numbers of people as a result of the recession—fully one quarter of the US population, around 70 million people, rely on government food programmes to some extent, a figure that has trebled since 2006—is piling pressure on the working and middle classes in US society.1 The tensions generated by this class polarisation and instability, and the absence of effective government action to alleviate them, go a long way to explaining the contradictory nature of the Tea Party phenomenon.

Predictably, the electoral swing away from the Democrats and the emergence on a national scale of the Tea Party has resurrected the refrain that the US is moving to the right. It’s easy to see why this argument has particular resonance in 2010. Tea Party candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential hopeful in 2008, included the pro-life, anti-sex, Christine O’Donnell who, in the course of her—fortunately unsuccessful—bid for the Delaware Senate seat, had to defend herself from accusations of witchcraft and, more seriously, stupidity, when she questioned that the Constitution mentioned the separation of church and state.2 Sharron Angle in Nevada, who also lost her Senate bid, has baselessly accused Canada of letting the 9/11 bombers into the US, and described the city of Dearborn, Michigan, as living under Sharia law and representing a “militant terrorist situation” (Dearborn has seven mosques and 60 churches).

Rand Paul, who successfully won the Kentucky Senate seat, is the son of right wing conservative Republican Ron Paul. Paul Junior is anti-abortion, opposed to gay marriage, and declared in 2002 that “a free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the colour of their skin”. This year it emerged that he had been part of a college secret society that tied up and blindfolded a female student and made her worship a god called “Aqua Buddha” in a nearby stream.

The argument that the US is moving right is not simply based on the existence of such politicians—not in itself a new phenomenon in US politics—but on the level of support they are receiving. Exit polls for the elections showed that “a sizeable number of voters (40 percent) said that they support the Tea Party political movement (including 21 percent who strongly support it). Fewer (31 percent) said they oppose the movement (23 percent strongly); another 25 percent said they neither support nor oppose it”.3 Among Americans more generally, ie not just those who voted, Tea Party support is in the region of 11 percent of the population—around 34 million people, though this is only half the number who consider themselves to be conservative Christians.

What are the Tea Parties?

The right wing nature of the Tea Parties’ origins is not in question. It was Ron Paul, during his ill-fated bid for the Republican presidential nomination, who organised the first “tea party”, his supporters symbolically throwing banners that read “tyranny” and “no taxation without representation” into a box in Boston harbour. Other early protests were ostensibly spontaneous reactions sparked by the conservative bloggers Keli Carender in Seattle and Michelle Malkin in Denver, but were actually organised by an assortment of conservative groups: Young Republicans, Fox News Radio and other right wing radio stations, the conservative youth organisation Young America’s Foundation, and the right wing think-tank Americans for Prosperity.4 The latter is part funded by arch-conservative (and fifth richest person in the US) David Koch, whose father Fred was co-founder of the ultra right wing John Birch Society.

In February 2009 a television business reporter, Rick Santelli, ranted against the Obama government’s measures to slow foreclosures and prop up the mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae, calling the bailouts a reward for “bad behaviour” and railing against the funding of so-called “losers’ mortgages”: “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organising.”5

There is ample evidence that the Tea Parties are examples of “astroturfing”—an apparently grassroots movement that is funded and directed by the right of the Republican Party and conservative lobbying organisations. One of those lobbying groups is FreedomWorks, led by Dick Armey, a Republican congressman who co-authored Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America during the “Republican Revolution” in 1994 in which Bill Clinton’s Democrats lost control of both Congress and the Senate. In 2009, FreedomWorks outlined their “mission”:

For too long, the organised forces of the liberal Left have dominated the grassroots political landscape and delivered huge victories for candidates and policies that grow government and reduce our freedom. We are looking for leaders to help us build our network in all 50 states: a grassroots juggernaut capable of going toe-to-toe with the unions, extreme enviros, and the’s [sic] of the world.6

The Tea Parties have received clear encouragement from sections of the Republican Party machine: Sarah Palin was first provided with her ever-expanding media platform when she was chosen as John McCain’s running mate in the presidential race in 2008, and almost all the Tea Party candidates in the midterms stood as Republicans. Fox News has provided the Tea Party movement with blanket and sympathetic coverage, and Palin is rarely off the television screens.

It is difficult to get accurate membership figures of the Tea Party movement as a whole—there are a number of different umbrella organisations claiming to represent hundreds of local groups around the country whose membership numbers range from single figures into the hundreds. As a rough guide, the National Tea Party Federation—to which not all Tea Parties are affiliated—claims 1 million members in 85 organisations. It also cites its affiliates as including Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, among many others.7 The Tea Party Express, whose leader Mark Williams was expelled from the Federation for racism after writing a letter claiming to be from “the Coloured People” to President Lincoln in praise of slavery, also claims to represent 85 groups.8

A New York Times/CBS poll showed that the average Tea Party member is more likely to be an older white male, a Republican voter, a regular church-goer, to own a gun, and to be wealthier than the average US citizen. Some 52 percent of Tea Party supporters believe too much has been made of the problems facing black people—compared with 28 percent of the overall population.9 However, a deeper look at what “support” for the Tea Party entails is revealing: 78 percent had not donated money or attended any meeting or rally; 47 percent only receive their information about the Tea Party from the television, and most watch Fox News.

Although Tea Party candidates won in some previous Democrat strongholds, notably in Pennsylvania and Ohio, they were mainly successful in areas where conservative Republicanism is strongest—in the South, the Midwest and the Mountain states. Generally, the election results showed that the appeal of Tea Party supporters “stopped at the border of the most densely-populated states and metropolitan areas”.10

Is the US moving right?

While 40 percent of voters expressed support for the Tea Party, the figure for the population at large is around 28 percent—most Americans do not support the movement. There is good reason, also, to believe that much of the support they do have is more contradictory than a clear indication of a country “moving right”.

As much as they expressed the rising prominence of the Tea Party, the midterms told a story of the disillusionment of progressive hopes. The electorate in November 2010 was older, more conservative (41 percent described themselves as such) and wealthier—only 37 percent of voters earned less than $50,000—than was the case two years ago. As often in US elections, the majority was constituted by those who didn’t vote at all, and of non-voters in 2010, 54 percent were Democrats, 50 percent approved of the health care legislation, 34 percent were aged between 18-29 and 38 percent between 30-44. Fully 72 percent described their personal financial situation as “only fair” or “poor”.11 For these people, a dashing of their hopes for change has not equated with a move right, but to a disengagement with the political system.

Many young people, who are more likely to lean to the Democrats and less likely to support the Tea Party, stayed away. A survey of young people’s political attitudes described the feelings of those they canvassed:

Suddenly, the generation that in 2008 proudly made the difference as caucus-goers in snowy Iowa for Senator Barack Obama, tell us less than three years later that they are so discouraged with politics that they may sit this one out. A generation marked earlier this decade by their community spirit and optimism, seems on the brink of a despair similar to that of their parents, grandparents and millions of disaffected older voters.12

The inadequacy of the stimulus to protect or create jobs, the bank bailouts and the surrender of single-payer health insurance before there was even a fight all worked to demoralise the Democrats’ new and enthusiastic base. Obama himself confirmed the squandering of that spirit and optimism when he qualified his famous slogan to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show: “When I say that when we promised during the campaign, ‘change you can believe in’, it wasn’t ‘change you can believe in’ in 18 months… What I would say is, “Yes, we can”, but it is not going to happen overnight”.13

The Republicans, therefore, “enjoyed a wide enthusiasm gap” as many natural Democrats did not come out to vote, and it made big gains among political independents: “By 55 percent to 39 percent, more independents voted for the Republican candidate this year; four years ago, independents favoured the Democrats by nearly an identical margin (57 percent to 39 percent). And just two years ago, Barack Obama won the votes of independents (by 52 percent to 44 percent) on his way to the White House”.14

In reality, most voters weren’t very keen on either party. In exit polls both Democrats and Republicans were given unfavourable ratings by 53 percent of those polled.15 As Pew Research Centre found, “Despite the Republicans’ sizeable gains among virtually all demographic groups—with the exceptions of African Americans and young people—voters express a negative view of the party. The outcome of this year’s election represented a repudiation of the political status quo, rather than a vote of confidence in the GOP or a statement of support for its policies”.16

This statement is borne out by the contradictory nature of voters’ attitudes to policy. Few voters (19 percent) rated cutting taxes—the Tea Party standard—as the highest priority, while 37 percent favoured job creation and 39 percent prioritised deficit reduction. Voters were also divided over whether to repeal health care reform (48 percent) or to maintain it (16 percent) or even expand it (31 percent). About as many people favoured extending tax-cuts only for families with incomes under $250,000 (37 percent) as favoured extending them for all Americans (39 percent), while 15 percent said they should not be extended for anyone.17

The contradictory nature of voters’ opinions illustrates the class anxieties felt by a section of the US population. The changes in ordinary Americans’ lives over the last three decades have swept away old certainties—a process accelerated dizzyingly by the recession—and much of the Tea Party support is based on a middle class howl of rage and fear at the precariousness and instability of lives that appeared to be privileged and safe.

Over one hundred and fifty years ago Marx described in the Communist Manifesto the impact on the various classes in society of capitalism’s continual transformations:

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. 18

For many Tea Party supporters, and many Americans who don’t support them, all that is holy is being profaned. Prosperity for those who work hard, the foundation promise of the American Dream, is in tatters as job security and home ownership are increasingly threatened while the government rescues the rich. In the New York Times/CBS poll, 41 percent of Tea Party supporters felt they were in danger of “falling out of their social class”.19

What many of the states where Tea Party candidates won (and others where high profile candidates stood but lost) have in common in addition to a tradition of political conservatism, are unemployment rates that are higher than the national average: 10 percent in Ohio, 10.1 percent in Kentucky, 11 percent in South Carolina and 14.4 percent in Nevada.20 This doesn’t mean there is an automatic connection between unemployment and the rise of the Tea Party—the majority of Tea Party supporters are not the most vulnerable to the effects of recession, though 30 percent in the NYT/CBS poll are concerned about losing their jobs—but does contribute to feelings of profound instability and therefore unease in their communities.

As Gary Younge explained, “When Tea Party supporters talk about ‘taking our country back’, they are—in part—expressing nostalgia. They literally want to take it backwards to a past when people had job security, and a couple on a middle class wage could reasonably expect their children to have a better life than their own”.21

Not only are their lives as individuals changing beyond anything their grandparents would recognise but, as Ronald Dworkin argues, the Tea Party desire to “take the country back” could also be an attempt to articulate the fact that the slow decline in US economic power and weight, coupled with military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a body blow to people who have believed in the ideology of the American Dream and the superiority of their country; the material basis of their ideological convictions is fracturing. “All their lives they have assumed that their country is the most powerful, most prosperous, most democratic, economically and culturally the most influential—altogether the most envied and wonderful country in the world. They are coming slowly and painfully to realise that that is no longer true; they are angry and they want someone to blame”.22

Part of the attraction of the Tea Party is that it articulates a feeling that neither party offers an alternative to the havoc being wreaked; the language of a plague on both Democrat and Republican houses, an urge to hold Congress to account, and the demand for limited government all speak to this sense. Although most Tea Party supporters polled believed the US is heading for “socialism”, a big majority consider the definition of the term to mean “government control”.23

The economic situation remains dire and the Democrats are likely to move to the right as a result of the election. Increased pressure from conservative Republicanism and the acceptance of the argument that the US voting population is right wing points to a further watering down of healthcare legislation, cuts to social security, tougher immigration measures and moves to a Clinton-style “triangulation” policy. This suggests that polarisation of social conditions and politics is likely to increase as growing numbers of Americans are alienated from the political system altogether and their concerns remain unaddressed.

These concerns are overwhelmingly economic—most voters in the midterms, 88 percent, rated economic conditions as not good or poor, and 86 percent said they were very worried or somewhat worried about the economy. “Moral” issues such as gay marriage, abortion and immigration, or concern over the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, rate only a handful of percentage points. This is true even among self-described Tea Party supporters, of whom only 2 percent felt that moral values were the most important problem facing the country, 1 percent felt abortion was the key issue, and 1 percent immigration. The economy was cited as the biggest problem by 23 percent, and “jobs” by 22 percent.24

The view of Noam Chomsky, among other left wing observers, that the Tea Party represents incipient fascism, risks lumping together the right wing demagogues and bankrollers together with many who are responding to the economic crisis and the lack of political alternatives with an often unfocused anger, and risks demonising the Tea Party movement’s working class sympathisers—who are a minority, but who do exist.25 Although middle class anger and fear at the uncertain climate and the dramatic social changes that US capitalism is presiding over is being pulled to the right, and while conservative Republicanism is in the ascendance in official politics, there is no discernible wider shift rightwards in public opinion and social attitudes.26

It is also significant that the likes of Glenn Beck, the religious radio and TV presenter and Tea Party darling, know this. Beck shows an understanding of Tea Party supporters’ anxieties and the relatively progressive nature of social attitudes in the US: rather than spout the usual right wing evangelical line, he mines the seams of people’s alienation by combining a traditional conservative emphasis on religion and family with opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the influence of Wall Street.

The economic libertarianism of many Tea Party “leaders” is aggressively pro-free market (Rand Paul’s father allegedly has a picture of Friedrich Hayek on his wall) and opposed to all government intervention—including taxation and healthcare provision. However damaging such policies would be to their supporters’ real lives, the language of these right wing politicians and radio hosts also translates into vocal opposition to the bank and car industry bailouts, expressing and amplifying—in however distorted a fashion—the pent-up anger and frustration of a far greater number of people than would support their moral positions. One telling statistic from the elections is that, while 41 percent of Republican voters blamed Obama for the economic situation and 55 percent of Democrat voters blamed Bush, 32 percent of Democrat voters and 37 percent of Republican voters blamed Wall Street for the country’s economic troubles.27

It is also noteworthy that many of the more overtly reactionary stances have been quietly dropped. The more astute Tea Party spokespeople recognise that such extremism doesn’t chime with many people’s experience or views. At Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington in August this year, he spoke to 87,000 people from the Lincoln Memorial in front of a poster of Frederick Douglass while images from the civil rights movement were projected behind him.

Key players in the Tea Party elite are libertarian, rather than conservative, not just on the economy but on moral questions such as gay marriage and some, like Beck and Rand Paul, articulate widespread opposition to war and neo-liberalism, albeit refracted through the prism of isolationism and small government. In other words, as much as it is in the right wing libertarian tradition of US history, the Tea Party movement also has shades of opinion through which it “expresses the disquiet of people unhappy about the more atomised and anarchic world they now find themselves in”.28 And, crucially, it gives them something to do about it. As Jane Slaughter and Mark Brenner put it,

With the economy a mess and neither Democrats nor Republicans producing a solution, the field is open for folks who says the whole system is broken. The Tea Party taps into many people’s very real sense of both insecurity and urgency. The movement dares to say that our problems are enormous, not fixable with Band-aids… Besides, ordinary people know—either intellectually or in their gut—that they don’t really count in the political system. It was a bilateral consensus, after all, that bailed out the bankers—and may soon cut Social Security benefits, too. The Tea Party feels like something they can get involved in and have a say.29

Workers and the Tea Party

Henry Olsen, of the Conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute, said before the midterm elections that it is “no coincidence that a disproportionate number of the Democrats’ most vulnerable House seats in the South, the north-east and the Midwest are in districts dominated by blue-collar whites”.30 Democrats did in fact lose Senate seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and the presumptive speaker of the House of Representatives, conservative Republican John Boehner, was elected from Ohio.

Although the Tea Party is not supported by large sections of workers, it is the case that working class Americans have been chronically let down by the Democrats, and the Tea Party seems to offer something different. A recent Observer interview illustrates this. The paper spoke with two women who used to work for GM in Dayton, Ohio, at a plant that has been closed down:

The women, who worked on the assembly line, are bitter. They’ve worked hard all their lives and played by the rules…Now they’re on the scrapheap through no fault of their own. The older one, just turned 50, doubts she’ll ever work again. Both believe their children will have an even worse time than them…The federal bailout of GM failed to save their factory. They face a future struggling to make ends meet doing part-time jobs on the minimum wage. They don’t think the government cares about them and have no faith in it. Indeed, they don’t want its help any more; they’d rather it just went away…For them, the American dream is over. They’ve joined the Tea Party.31

It is hardly surprising that an active and angry movement that blames government and harks back to earlier certainties would attract working class people with their own fury at the destruction of their lives in the economic maelstrom. Workers in the US are face poverty and the loss of their homes through unemployment or, if they are in work, increasing pressure, harassment and uncertainty—the Obama administration is continuing the process of savaging the Democrats’ working class and union base.

The US unemployment rate remains at 9.6 percent, 14.8 million people, and the number of long-term unemployed—those out of work for a year or more—has risen from 645,000 in 2007 to 4.5 million by mid-2010.32 There were 1,297 mass layoffs in the third quarter of 2010 that resulted in 187,091 workers losing their jobs for at least 31 days.33

At the same time, productivity increased at a rate of 2.3 percent during the third quarter of 2010. Output increased 3.7 percent and hours worked increased 1.4 percent. Over the last year, productivity was up 2.5 percent, output rose 4.3 percent and numbers of hours worked increased by 1.7 percent.34 These statistics translate to a terrible and constant strain on workers and their families. As Kim Moody puts it, “This type of across-the-economy productivity increase at a time when workers are being laid off is certain to produce a long-term increase in work intensity that affects workers of all kinds”.35

A Labor Notes survey in July 2009 found that workplace bullying had risen sharply since the recession began: “It may be that a measurable chunk of the unemployed have been harassed out of their jobs, fired rather than laid off. Union members report increases in verbal abuse, discipline including discharge, crackdowns on attendance, surveillance, hassling to work faster, forced overtime, and a concerted effort to get rid of older workers.”36

Despite the pressure, many US workers feel they have no choice but to stay in work longer than they previously planned. A report from October 2010 found that,

Today, 40 percent of employees plan to retire later than they did two years ago. Perhaps the most significant action employees are taking is delaying their retirement. Since February 2009, the number of employees who are planning to retire later has grown by six percentage points. This change is consistent across all age groups and plan types, and there is an even larger jump (nine percentage points) among those in poor health.37

Potential and limits

The economic situation has generated vast anger across US society, but there are limits to the Tea Party appeal, certainly in connection with the Republicans. There is certainly little enthusiasm for the Republicans generally, and even less among key sections of the electorate; the party took only about 10 percent of black votes and a third of Hispanics’, representing no increase, despite the Democrats presiding over the recession. And, neither is the retention of white working class support a given, according to Olsen:

West Virginia is the capital of the white working class. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s voters were whites without a college degree, 19 points higher than the national average. Ninety-five percent are white and 69 percent say they disapprove of Obama’s job performance. Despite this, the Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, swept to an easy 10-point victory over Republican John Raese, a wealthy businessman who owns mansions in Florida and expressed doubts about the minimum wage.”38

In addition, for the Republican Party the Tea Party-induced revival in their fortunes is a volatile and risky development. Moderate Republicans are concerned about the changing nature of the Republican base and the shift to conservative activism; many are angry that Palin’s endorsement of Angle and O’Donnell lost crucial Senate seats and stopped the party short of a second “Republican revolution”. What the Tea Party movement can do is push official politics to the right, and maintain the pressure on the Obama government in the run-up to 2012 and the presidential election, but it is dubious whether an ultra-conservative presidential campaign can succeed.

Fears that the right wing populism of the Tea Party movement presages fascism are in part a result of a profound pessimism about the possibility of the revival of working class struggle. At the moment, the understandable fury many Americans feel is being voiced by the right—and by at least some in the Tea Party movement through racism and vigilanteism. However, this does not represent working class opinion, but a middle class movement that can be pulled by a stronger movement from below, should that emerge.

Central to the frustrations of working class people is the vacuum where a fighting leadership should be. Not only have the Democrats repeatedly failed to fight for them, but also the union movement has utterly failed to resist the attacks or to put pressure on Obama. At a time when every fibre should be strained to defending members from the assault of job cuts, harassment and increased pressure, organised labour is in crisis. Declining membership and its complicity in capital’s restructuring over the last three decades has left the union leaderships in conflict with each other, as Kim Moody outlines: “When all the efforts and strategies designed to slow down, halt, or even reverse labour’s loss of power (the election of John Sweeney in 1995, the many mergers, ‘partnerships’ with capital, new organising tactics, the split at the top in 2005 [the establishment of the Change to Win Federation]) failed to bring any measurable gains for labour, frustration exploded”.39

The biggest “organising” union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launched raids on other unions and a campaign of internal repression, and the Change to Win split. It’s no wonder that, as Bill Fletcher of the Center for Labor Renewal says, the unions have a “deer in the headlights” reaction to challenges like the Tea Party. “Moreover, not knowing how to respond to the Tea Party is the flip side of not knowing how to push Obama”.40

Paul Harris and Seamus Milne in the Guardian have both written that the Democrats need a Tea Party of their own in order to pursue progressive politics. The faith in “progressive politics” notwithstanding, they do touch on a central point.41 The mobilisation of millions of people desperate for change and for representation by the Obama campaign did show that Americans are not all apathetic and right wing, but can be engaged and powerful when something different appears possible. Where Harris and Milne are likely to be disappointed is in their hopes that the Democratic Party itself will regenerate that enthusiasm—the Obama campaign captured a sense that the interests of working Americans would be prioritised; the Obama government has made clear its inability and unwillingness to challenge the priorities of business and the wealthy.

However, there are other movements that can challenge the status quo. Hundreds of thousands of people marched for immigrant rights again in May this year; 200,000 in Washington—far outstripping any Tea Party gathering—in protest at a recent racist Arizona law that allows the police to question the immigration status of anyone they suspect of entering
the US illegally.

Crucially, however, any movement capable of challenging US capitalism in ways that will not simply deliver more savage destruction of welfare and jobs under a different government, must be based on the emergence of rank and file activity within the unions, and grassroots organising among the millions of un-unionised US workers: “These are workers at the centre of the nation’s most stressful workplaces: four million call centre workers; the 3-4 million or more unorganised union eligible workers in hospitals; the 1.3 million working at Wal-Mart; the nearly 400,000 in meatpacking without a union; and, of course, the countless millions in the South who have no union representation whether in manufacturing, transportation or services”.42

The history of labour struggles in the US suggests that at some point that pressure will explode. The AFL’s inability and incapacity to represent the interests and battles of newly organising workers at the turn of the century, and its repressive tactics, ultimately resulted in the creation of the CIO as a new force to drive industrial unionism. The bureaucratic cowardice that has led to the warfare that dominates the union leaderships today makes them similarly unfit for directing any combativity in the working class when it arises.

That workers will be forced to fight on a large scale at some point is without doubt—as one writer suggested recently, “It seems possible that the Tea Party crowd who want to nullify health care will provoke an angry crowd of a different sort. After all, there are people who need the things that will be taken away”.43 The proposal from Obama’s bipartisan Deficit Commission to take $3.9 trillion out of public spending by 2020 represents a profound threat to many poor Americans’ lives. The central question, as ever, is whether any organisations that struggles can give rise to will be able to coalesce wider class forces around themselves.

Significant battles over welfare attacks and the treatment of immigrants can provide an alternative pole of attraction that not only gives confidence to workers but suggests solutions to the crisis and a different future, rather than populist yearnings for the past.


1: As reported by Matt Frei, “Americana”, Radio 4, 28 November 2010.

2: The First Amendment to the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights established in 1789, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Americans are taught about the Bill of Rights in primary school.

3: Pew Research Center, 2010.

4: Hamsher, 2009.

5: See



8: New York Daily News, 18 July 2010,

9: “National Survey of Tea Party supporters”, New York Times/CBS poll, 5-12 April 2010.

10: Moroney and Dopp, 2010.

11: Pew Research Center, 2010.

12: Harvard University Institute of Politics, 2010.

13: Guardian, 28 October 2010.

14: Pew Research Center, 3 November 2010.

15: CNN, 3 November 2010,

16: Pew Research Center, 2010.

17: Pew Research Center, 2010.

18: Marx and Engels, 1848.

19: “National Survey of Tea Party supporters”, New York Times/CBS poll, 5-12 April 2010.

20: Moroney and Dopp, 2010.

21: Guardian, 10 October 2010.

22: Dworkin and others, 2010, p56.

23: “National Survey of Tea Party supporters”, New York Times/CBS poll, 5-12 April 2010.

24: “National Survey of Tea Party supporters”, New York Times/CBS poll, 5-12 April 2010.

25: The Progressive, 12 April 2010,

26: “National Survey of Tea Party supporters”, New York Times/CBS poll, 5-12 April 2010.

27: Cited in Dworkin and others, 2010, p58.

28: Lilla, 2010, p18.

29: Slaughter and Brenner, 2010.

30: David, 2010.

31: Observer, 31 October 2010.

32: “Issues in Labor Statistics”, Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2010.

33: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 November 2010,

34: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 December 2010,

35: Moody, 2010.

36: Slaughter, 2009.

37: Watson, 2010.

38: David, 2010.

39: Moody, 2010.

40: Slaughter and Brenner, 2010.

41: Guardian, 3 and 10 November 2010.

42: Moody, 2010.

43: Dworkin and others, 2010, p58.


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