Palin and the tea-party "movement": nothing new

After Bush/Cheney, the GOP needs a new branding campaign and this is what they've found

Published February 7, 2010 11:08AM (EST)

(updated below)

Fox News, April 6, 2006:

Hundreds of protesters gripped Mexican flags as they marched for immigration reform in the past few weeks, but they say a display of cultural unity is being mistaken as a lack of loyalty to the United States.

The displays turned off many Americans. Conservative talk show hosts admonished the protesters, while everyday people wrote angry letters to the editors of their local newspapers.

Some called for those carrying the Mexican flag to return to Mexico. Others questioned why immigrants demanding rights in the United States would wave symbols of Mexico. . . .

Critics of waving the red, white and green have questioned marchers' loyalty to the United States, but Latino activists deny the implications.

The Washington Post, yesterday, on Sarah Palin's Tea Party speech:

[Palin] had on three opera-length strands of pearls, two white and one multi-colored.  [O]n her lapel, a small pin with two flags -- for Israel and the United States.

In its adulating report on Palin's speech, National Review -- whose Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg both bitterly complained about the waving of Mexican flags on U.S. soil -- also proudly noted:  "On her lapel, Palin wore a small pin with two flags -- for Israel and the United States."  Along with the fact that she remains deeply unpopular with most Jewish-American voters, Palin's flamboyant display of her so-called love for Israel -- she previously boasted that the Israeli flag was the "only" one she kept in her Gubernatorial office -- is almost certainly grounded in her creepy desire to mold America's foreign policy to fit her evangelical belief that God demands that "Israeli land" be unified under Israeli control in order for Jesus to return and sweep all the good Christians up to heaven in Rapture (while banishing everyone else -- including the Jews she loves so much -- straight to hell forever).  That's one major reason why neocons such as Bill Kristol love her.  Led by Joe Lieberman, neocons have repeatedly shown their willingness to cynically exploit extremist Christian Rapture dogma for greater American fealty towards Israeli actions, and Palin reliably spouts neoconservative dogma on virtually every issue.  Almost every one of her national security pronouncements sounds exactly like Dick Cheney and The Weekly Standard (though her call for expanded Israeli settlements go beyond what even most neocons are willing to advocate openly).  

Is there any other nation in the world where a leading politician can appear in public -- without controversy -- wearing the flag of a foreign country?  It was a huge scandal on the Right when immigration reform marchers waved Mexican (along with American) flags in order to display cultural solidarity with Mexican immigrants who were being demonized and living in wretched conditions, as non-persons, in the U.S.; isn't it obviously more significant when someone who recently wanted to be Vice President and is now the leader of this Fox-News-sponsored political movement appears at events in the U.S. wearing an Israeli flag melded to an American flag, as though the two nations are joined as one entity?  Why should an American political leader be wearing an Israeli flag?

All of this underscores both (a) the total incoherence of the "tea party movement" and (b) how it is, at bottom, nothing more than a cynical marketing attempt to re-brand the right wing of the Republican Party under the exact same policies and principles which defined it for the last couple of decades.  As I've noted before, there are many individual participants in this "tea party movement" with valid populist grievances against the sleaze and corruption of both parties in Washington, but it's all being directed towards a pedestrian goal that has nothing to do with any of those sentiments:  namely, the re-empowerment of the Republican Party in completely unchanged form.  Palin last night righteously condemned the Wall Street bailout even though she (like Glenn Beck) supported that bailout.  She wears the banner of "freedom" and "individual liberty" even as she mocks the notion that our laws and Constitution -- the instruments by which we restrain government power -- ought to limit what the President can do in the name of national security; cheers for the omnipotent Surveillance State; and demands that her religious beliefs form the basis of government intervention in people's lives.  She rails against government debt while supporting the policies largely responsible for its explosion:  namely, limitless increases in military spending and endlessly expanded wars and imperial policies (primarily in the Middle East and oh-so-coincidentally aimed at Muslims). 

In sum, Sarah Palin loyally supports virtually every policy that defined the uniquely disastrous Bush/Cheney first term.  The "tea party movement" depicts itself as some sort of novel and independent force in American politics, and the establishment media -- which patronizingly equates far right extremists with "real Americans" and is petrified of accusations of "liberal bias" -- plays along.  But exactly the opposite is true.  It's just an appendage of the Republican Party:  more dogmatic and boisterous than party leaders would like, but nonetheless devoted to the purest of partisan goals of restoring the same GOP to power that ran the country into the ground over the last decade.  All of the GOP leaders whom this movement seeks to empower are the same ones who subserviently supported almost every Bush/Cheney policy for eight straight years.  As is true for Palin, Fox News is this movement's primary sponsor because Fox, which craves a return of the Bush years, knows that the "tea party movement" will promote that goal by re-imaging the destroyed GOP brand into something fresh, pretty and new.  Hardened GOP loyalists like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol, National Review and Sean Hannity are perfectly at home in the "tea party movement" because its principal effect is to empower the standard right-wing GOP politicians and policies they've long craved.

George Bush and Dick Cheney are too widely discredited for anyone trying to appeal to the unconverted to praise their rule directly.  The GOP needed new packaging, a new face.  The "tea party" movement is just a respectable way for love of GOP dogma to once again be safely expressed

In a bid to advance the tea party movement from holding rallies to holding office, the leaders of the anti-establishment groups announced a new political organization Friday that they say will "endorse, support and elect" conservatives across the country.

Mark Skoda, chairman of The Memphis TEA Party, made the announcement at a news conference in the middle of the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. . . .The announcement came with an official platform that could help define what the multi-faceted tea party movement stands for and expects from the candidates it supports. The group's leaders plan to support candidates who stand for a set of "First Principles."

Those principles are: fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, less government, states' rights and national security. Prospective political candidates will be expected to support the Republican National Committee platform. If a particular candidate meets the proposed criteria he or she would be eligible for fund-raising and grassroots support.

Though it's not true for all of its supporters, the "tea party movement" itself is just a Republican movement -- the standard-issue type that blindly cheered Bush and Cheney.  It's all the same nationalistic militarism and warmongering, Wall Street-subservient economics, and religion-based policy-making that has defined the GOP forever.  There's nothing new here.  If anything, it represents a demand for even greater allegiance to the Bush/Cheney mindset, for a more purist and even less restrained version of the national security insanity, civil liberties assaults, massive increases in the rich-poor gap, control of Americans' lives through "social issues," and endless wars which the Republican Party has long rhetorically claimed to embody.  Other than a Medicare prescription plan here and an immigration reform plan there, from what Bush/Cheney orthodoxies do they dissent?  None.

This movement is nothing more than the Republican Party masquerading as a grass-roots phenomenon.  In 2000, the GOP found a cowboy-hat-wearing, swaggering, "likable" Regular Guy spouting "compassion" in domestic policy and "humility" in foreign policy to re-brand itself in the wake of the Gingrich-led branding disaster.  Sarah Palin and the "tea party movement" are just the updated versions of that, the re-branding in the wake of the Bush/Cheney-led image disaster.  They're every bit as extremist, radical and dangerous as the last decade revealed standard right-wing Republicans to be, but the one thing they're not is new or innovative.


UPDATE:  The Nashville Post's A.C. Kleinheider, who covered the Tea Party convention for that paper, says Sarah Palin killed the tea party movement ("The tea party movement is dead. The one I was familiar with anyway. Judson Phillips held it down and Sarah Palin drove a stake right through its heart live last night on C-Span in front of an unsuspecting audience").  He also observes that "Sarah Palin didn’t give a tea party speech last night. She gave a partisan Republican address"; he asks:  "what was [Palin] doing justifying and perpetuating the foreign policy of George Bush at a tea party convention?"; and says that what began as "an authentic protest movement" -- "of ragtag and unorganized libertarians, independents and conservatives [that] was something new and unique" -- has now been completely annexed by Palin and her GOP operative-controllers who want a  restoration of the standard Bush/Cheney agenda.

I think it was clear from the start that the populist and anti-Beltway rage fueling these gatherings was being diverted (absurdly) into standard Republican dogma, by the same party that ran the country with virtually no restraints for the last decade.  And a large faction of this movement from the beginning was driven by the same ugly nationalism, Christian fanaticism, and Limbaughian hatreds that have long shaped the American GOP Right.  There's a reason why the Bush-revering Fox News embraced it from the beginning.  But whatever else is true -- whatever authentic elements once existed here -- it is now nothing more than a vehicle for rejuvenating the standard GOP, draped with even more neoconservative extremism and religious fervor than drove it for the last ten years. That's why Sarah Palin is their most beloved leader.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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