Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What you don't understand about the Tea Partiers

Part 1

The way many fellow UU bloggers talk about the Tea Party phenomenon makes it clear to me that they really don't understand what is motivating them; their emotions, their fears, and most especially why now? While I am not a Tea Party organizer, I have been an old line (meaning not religious right) conservative all my adult life; perhaps I can give you a few insights.

The first thing to understand is that this is not a Republican party movement. Even many Republicans- the type who believe that conservatives must be Republican by default- misunderestimate that this is a truly new phenomenon in American politics. The Tea Parties were organized because people felt equally betrayed by both political parties; Bush was actually a bigger disappointment to conservatives than liberals because they had expected better. My proof? Here in Indiana, the Libertarian party is now the second largest party in many counties- and the party displaced is as often the Republican as the Democrat. My prediction (and remember that I predicted the passage of healthcare reform back in August of last year) is that the next election will see a record number of third party candidates elected nationwide.

The next thing to understand is what they mean when they say that government is the problem, or call new programs socialism, or say of healthcare reform, "This wasn't a victory for the people, it was a victory over the people". Tea partiers are not anarchists, like the ones who riot at G-8 summits; those are left wingnuts. They are not protesting government as keeper of the peace, or provider of services; they are protesting government as just another special interest group. They believe that the government is no longer a "civil service", but a ruling class, ever getting richer while the poor get poorer.

How can they think such a thing? Well, we can start with the fact that the average pay for federal employees is $72,800, while the national average wage is $42,270- and next year the federal average will increase to $75,419... how many of us are going to get a raise like that this year? Of course, even the current average federal wage would look mighty nice here in Indiana, where the average wage is $37,770; especially considering that wages have been dropping here, as they have most places around the country.

Worse than that gap is the accelerated pace at which that gap is increasing. From "Since December 2007, when the current downturn began, the ranks of federal employees earning $100,000 and up has skyrocketed. According to a recent analysis by USA Today, federal workers making six-figure salaries - not including overtime and bonuses - “jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of civil servants during the recession’s first 18 months.’’ The surge has been especially pronounced among the highest-paid employees. At the Defense Department, for example, the number of civilian workers making $150,000 or more quintupled from 1,868 to 10,100. At the recession’s start, the Transportation Department was paying only one person a salary of $170,000. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees were drawing paychecks that size." And not only are the wages increasing, the number of federal employees receiving those wages is increasing, according to CBS News; "At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearing double digits, and 6.35 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the U.S. government is on a hiring binge. ... Some of the Feds' hiring increases have been stunning. If you look at the four-year period from 2006 to 2010, the number of Homeland Security employees has grown by 22 percent, the Justice Department has increased by 15 percent, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can claim 25 percent more employees. (These figures assume that Congress adopts Mr. Obama's 2010 budget without significant changes.)" Has your company been hiring at that rate? Most tea Partiers think most of that hiring is just plum jobs for political supporters- and one does have to wonder why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs 25% more employees when we haven't built a new reactor in 30 years.

Liberals see the class struggle as between the evil corporate profiteers and the poor working class; Tea Partiers see it as between the citizen and the bloated ruling class. It comes as no surprise to them that the richest counties in the country are not in New York, where those evil corporations are headquartered, nor in Hollywood where movie stars and glitterati live- 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC area.

Next: What Tea Partiers are afraid of.


Chalicechick said...

I'd say that the income numbers the tea partiers keep citing, and you cite, are misleading. My guess is that if you looked at most large companies or organizaions, the average income would be about the same as the government.

Why? Because they contract out the low paid jobs, just like the government does.

For a large corporation that is an exception, Walmart has, ballpark, a million employees in near-minimum wage jobs doing things like stocking shelves and mopping floors. So I bet the mean and median income of a Walmart employees is pretty low.

The government mostly contracts out its lowest paid jobs. The people who clean government buildings and serve food in Government cafeterias aren't federal employees-they are contractors. That saves taxpayer money, but throws off the average income since it looks like the government's lowest paid employees are secretaries, who make more than janitors everywhere.

IMHO, the proper perspective is to compare a government job to the same job in the public sector. I know from my own job search that law jobs in the government pay significantly less than a similar job in the same area of law, they just offer more security. Even more for my husband's job as a systems engineer.

I'm actually interested in working for the federal government, but I promise that it isn't because I expect to get rich.

Also, if you're going to become, say, Secretary of Labor, you're going to spend more money on lawyers getting yourself through the ethics investigaton and confirmation fight that you will ever earn in salary. You will make your real money on speaking engagements from the private sector once you leave office.

who also notes that the richest man in the DC area is Forrest Mars, Jr, who doesn't work for the government: he makes M+M's.

Joel Monka said...

There's a lot to what you say, although one of the reasons government employment has often paid less for highly skilled positions is, as you mentioned, job security- witness the growth in government hiring vs private sector right now. One of my friends, a veteran with a degree, hasn't had a meaningful job in two years- and in many ways, underemployment is worse emotionally than unemployment. When someone like that reads those stories, it's little comfort to him that a government lawyer makes less than a corporate lawyer. And that's what I'm writing about here; the emotions that drive one to join a protest.

Strange Attractor said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how poorly the left understands conservatives in general.

Chalicechick said...

The partially have those emotions because people are always throwing statistics like that one around without thinking through what they mean or if they paint a misleading picture. That said, given how much overlap there seems to be between tea partiers and birthers, my impression is that they are disinclined to let the facts get in the way of a good emotion anyway.

Ironically, your friend might do well to apply to the government, Veterans get hiring preference. But I can't promise any job he gets there will be "meaningful." After all, the government is hiring hundreds of thousands of people to walk around neighborhoods filling out Census forms for a few weeks.


Joel Monka said...

While those types of stories don't tell the whole picture, neither are they totally misleading. For example, regardless of the job category, and whether or not the position would have been paid more in the private sector (which is not a guarantee), it's still true that under Bush, federal employees got across-the-board raises of 3% in January 2008 and 3.9% in January 2009. Obama, to his credit, is only asking for 2% for 2010- but those are on top of step increases that average 1.5%/year. Add up 3% + 3.9% + 2% + (3 x 1.5%)... not bad, considering what the private sector has lost the last three years. All told, I'd say the CBS and pieces I quoted are less misleading than anything ever released by one of the major political parties.

As to the overlap between the Birthers and the Tea Partiers, The Economist ran a poll they called "the GOP id", and says this: "Just over one in five (21%) Americans agrees with the statement that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, the "birther" movement’s principal claim. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats and independents to say this. (Tea party identifiers are actually a little less likely than Republicans to question where the president was born.)" In this respect, it seems, Tea Partiers are more rational than "mainstream" Republicans- but then, that's not much of a challenge.

And yes, he is applying to the Census to keep the wolf from the door.

Anonymous said...

A number of years ago, P:rof. Noam Chomsky said that the Republicans and the Democrats are two factions of the same party; both favor business interests. The absence of choice could be one of the factors that lead people to be frustrated.

The news media, especially TV news, do not help. I can't count the number of times a news reporter asked a politician a question. Too often, the answer was a torrent of words that had little or nothing to do with the question asked. Or the so-called response made no sense at all.

One example of this was the so-called debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. When asked a question, Palin said whatever it was she wanted to say. No one challenged her to address the questions.

Chalicechick said...

Isn't the keynote speaker at their convention Sarah "The Public is rightly making an issue" (Of Obama's birth certificate)" Palin?

I'm having real trouble seeing the tea partiers as libertarians given their embrace of figures like Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachman and the screaming gay slurs at Barney Frank thing. Most of the libertarians I know aren't like that.

If this movement is so bipartisan, is there any Democrats or liberal pundits the tea partiers like? Because the only folks I've ever heard of them liking are the nuttiest of the nutjobs and Ron Paul.


Anonymous said...

Umm - a quick read of the links you provide suggest the government figure of ~72,000 *includes* benefits while the ~42,000 non-government does not include benefits. That may not completely close the gap, but by the time health care and retirement are added in or subtracted out appropriately the difference is not going to be too big any more. When numbers sound unbelievable, they usually are.

Joel Monka said...

The Tea Parties are the strangest political phenomenon I've ever seen.. They are the only group I've heard of that can pull off major conventions while being less organized than the Libertarians. There is no national organization or official doctrine (at least about what they want; there's a lot of agreement on what they don't want) Yes, Palin was the keynote speaker at the largest TP convention to date- and some of the members filed suit against the organizers for paying her fee. Near as I can tell, most of them have never been involved in politics before; this is all new to them. They are still searching for an identity.

It's not a Libertarian organization- but the Libertarians are profiting from it because they're talking to them, and the Libertarian message is very attractive to reasonable TP members. The Republicans are, at this point, talking at them rather than to them, giving them the old "Come back home; this time it will be different." I don't know if it will work; conservatives have had a battered spouse relationship with the Republican party for a long time, and may have reached their limit.

Yes, the TP folks seem quite fond of Glenn Beck, but as for the "the screaming gay slurs at Barney Frank thing", how many protesters were there, and how many times did it occur? If you're referring to the incident during that parade of House members to the Senate a couple weeks back, the one where TP'ers shouted the "N" word and spat at the Congressional Black Caucus, only once. There have been some interesting developments on that; it seems that despite the event being filmed by several news organizations, no one captured anyone using the n word. Breitbart released his footage on You Tube, and pointed out that at no time do you hear the n word or anything like it. When someone at AP accused him of doctoring the video, Breitbart offered a $10,000 reward for a copy of anyone using the n word. A few days later, he increased the reward to $100,000, and released stills from his video showing Congressional staff members also filming the march, and asked them to release the footage of anyone using the n word. So far no one has come forward. Now the "spitting" incident is on video; an old man shouting "Kill the bill" had some saliva fly. Disgusting as that is, it is so common that there is a childhood cliché, "Say it, don't spray it." But what the Congressman told his hometown newspaper is that the man shouted the n word and spat at him. The Congressman also said that Capitol police arrested the man, but out of the goodness of his heart he didn't press charges. The police dispute this, saying no arrest was made, and the video supports this, showing the officer and the Congressman looking for and failing to find the man.

But returning to Barney Frank, I give you the words of the African American TP'er ABC News asked about the incident: "People do stupid things." I find it even less significant than the SEIU members egging the Tea Party busses.

Chalicechick said...

I have no idea if Brietbart doctored his video. Given that he has the one who has refused to release the undoctored footage of the ACORN sting, I wouldn't put it past him, but I don't know.

But given that Glenn Beck's opinion is that "faggot" is a 'naughty name' and nothing more serious, I don't know why people wouldn't have yelled it.

And given that there are photos of Tea Partiers holding signs that accuse Obama of "white slavery," and that the taxpayers are "Jews for Obama's Ovens," I assume Brietbart is only accepting slurs that were yelled.

What I don't get is how they get so much press given their small numbers. The highest estimate I've seen for a tea party rally was 75,000. That's nothing. DC had an immigration reform protest that got 200,000 two weeks ago that barely made the news. The low estimates for the Bush-era antiwar protests were in the mid-hundreds of thousands.

But 600 people show up to hear Palin, or 10,000 people show up to protest Harry Reid and it's national news.

I'd love to hire their press agent.


Chalicechick said...

((((The police dispute this, saying no arrest was made, and the video supports this, showing the officer and the Congressman looking for and failing to find the man.)))

According to Fox News, "U.S. Capitol Police said the protester was never arrested. He was only detained and put in handcuffs, then released. Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, told the individual was released because Cleaver couldn't identify him."

The Rep's office said that he knew the guy would be charged if the Rep identified him, so the Rep didn't.

Even if you don't believe that, I don't see a practical difference between being lead away in handcuffs and briefly detained and being arrested and instantly released without charge.*


*there can be a difference, especially if you are interrogated and later REALLY arrested for the same crime, I just don't see a difference in this case.

Joel Monka said...

"I assume Brietbart is only accepting slurs that were yelled."

Because that is what was claimed. My very own Congressman was quite specific about it: "Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted "the N-word, the N-word, 15 times." Both Carson and Lewis are black, and Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones also said that it occurred.

"It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a large former police officer who said he wasn't frightened but worried about the 70-year-old Lewis, who is twice his age. "He said it reminded him of another time."

Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., corroborated the story: "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus," Clyburn told reporters.

Other accounts of the incident were equally vivid "A colleague who was accompanying Lewis said people in the crowd responded by saying "Kill the bill, then the n-word." ... Rep. Emanuel Cleaver , D- Mo. , said he was a few yards behind Lewis and distinctly heard "nigger."
"It was a chorus," Cleaver said."

This was reported in every major news outlet, and every Republican or Tea Party spokesperson had "How can you justify this" as the first question in every interview for a week. That's the incident that has been used in Democratic fund raising letters. And somehow, despite all of this supposedly occurring at a planned media event that was covered by all major networks and other assorted news media, congressional staffers, and by crowd members with their cell phones, not one instance of the N-word at that event has been documented, much less a chant or a chorus.

Chalicechick said...

I do find it odd that "How can you justify yelled slurs?" is the question when "How can you justify signs that strongly imply slurs?" works just as well for me.

I wasn't there. CNN actually did a story about what could be proved and what couldn't. In the CNN footage of the guy spitting from several feet away (kinda long for an accidental spitting), the congressmen are much closer to the spitter than the camera and almost no words from anyone can be made out, which doesn't mean that the slurs happened, but does make it hard to prove. I don't know how easy it is to "accidentally" spit on a guy from several feet away. But even if you're correct and that is what happened, I don't see why that makes the congressman wrong to say he was spat upon.
The "arrested and released" vs. "detained and released" distinction that was so important to you a few posts ago.

A CNN reporter overheard multiple slurs against Frank and that was good enough for me, which is why I specified gay slurs in my post and that's why Breitbart is only paying for the "N word."


Joel Monka said...

"I do find it odd that "How can you justify yelled slurs?" is the question when "How can you justify signs that strongly imply slurs?" works just as well for me."

Nothing odd about it. A chorus of voices chanting "N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word N-word" is both more dramatic and much more ominous than a couple loopy signs. Without that claim, Rep Lewis couldn't have drawn a parallel between the Tea Party and the incident in 1960 in which he was severely beaten. Without the two claims combined, the claimed fears of violence seem silly. With those claims, even uncorroborated, you get better ratings and fund raising letters.

"The "arrested and released" vs. "detained and released" distinction that was so important to you a few posts ago."

I wasn't actually making that distinction- I agree that it matters little except to the person detained. I had been under the impression, from the initial simple police statement "No arrests were made", combined with the video showing the Congressman returning to the scene with a Capitol policeman, looking around, and exiting the frame empty handed, that the protestor involved had not been located. I had been unaware that he had been found off-camera.

Chalicechick said...

Yeah, Fox News did liberals a solid there. Weird.


Chalicechick said...

(As for the scary chanting vs. scary signs, I have no idea. I think both would give me nightmares.)


Joel Monka said...

Late comment to Anonymous- I address the question of direct comparison between federal jobs and equivalent private sector jobs in the comments of the next post.