Tea Parties bring out the worst in the worst Americans
BY IAN MURPHY
This was the rabble. And they were being roused.
“I was asleep six months ago,” an angry Laurie Kostrzewski shouts into the mic. “I’m awake now!”
The crowd of roughly two hundred erupts in cheers. Kostrzewski was an organizer of Buffalo’s April 15th Tea Party. For some damn reason, they’ve decided to have another rally this weekend at the wistfully named Club W on Delaware Ave. What happened six months ago? What woke her up? What terrible thunderclap roused this cretin from her political slumber?
“I gotta get a gun now,” one denim and flag wrapped patriot tells me. “I got a friend in California sending me a rifle in three pieces—butt first.” What’s she so scared of? What unthinkable, earth-crumbling, paradigm shift has reaffirmed her 2nd amendment blood lust? Who is she going to shoot? Does she realize she’s dressed like that?
“If you’re not excited by all this,” prominent local libertarian Jim Ostrowski tells the enthralled audience, “you’re probably one of the undercover FBI agents!” I had no idea I was working for the Feds—those clever bastards.
There’s a lot of dangerous talk about “forefathers” and “revolution” going around. Clips of V is for Vendetta and Mel Gibson’s The Patriot play on the TV screens. Every dynamite explosion, every Brit shot point blank with a musket, produces a ghastly roar of approval. The pool table is covered with misleading, fact-deficient pamphlets. Colonial flag stickers adorn lapels. Bawdy old ladies swing teabags in the air like maces, gulp cheap wine by the gallon and wear hideous masks of seething contempt.
What in the name of Caucasian Jesus is going on here?
According to lore, the nationwide anti-tax “Tea Party” movement began on February 19th from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. CNBC ass-mouth Rick Santelli’s now infamous “Chicago Tea Party” rant was its genesis—a rallying cry against Big Government and Big Taxes. Within hours, the internet was filthy with new websites, like Chicagoteaparty.com, that echoed Santelli’s populist anthem of rage. It was an instant YouTube sensation, and the media humped the phenomenon harder than a Bigfoot hoax.
There’s only one problem: It wasn’t a populist message and the buzz wasn’t a spontaneous outgrowth of the people’s economic frustration. It was 100% Grade-A canned beef.
As reported originally by Marks Ames and Yasha Levine in their now-expunged Playboy blog post, Chicagoteaparty.com was “registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg…”
Around the time Christenson registered the domain name, Rosenberg was spearheading the Obama-is-best-friends-with-terrorist-William-Ayers meme by interviewing Stanley Kurtz, the conservative wanker who first wrote of the wildly exaggerated link between then candidate Obama and the former Weather Underground front man.
Christenson’s site lay dormant until the Santelli YouTube clip was posted there. And the plethora of other sites that sprung quickly to life in Santelli’s whiny wake were suspiciously well done and contained a eerily consistent message.
“As veteran Russia reporters,” wrote Ames and Levine, “both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.
“ChicagoTeaParty.com was just one part of a larger network of Republican sleeper-cell-blogs set up over the course of the past few months….All of these roads ultimately lead back to a more notorious rightwing advocacy group, FreedomWorks, a powerful PR organization headed by former Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey and funded by Koch money.”
Santelli’s purportedly impromptu screed was in reality a thoroughly plotted alarm bell that set the sleeper cells off and running. The next thing you know, with the typically pernicious Fox News in the fore, every media outlet in the nation was focused on this supposed popular uprising. The extent of coverage these relatively small protests garnered absolutely dwarfed the amount of media attention received by much larger and truly populist demonstrations of the not-too-distant past—like the worldwide millions who took to the streets in protest before the illegal invasion of Iraq. And by April 19th the whole PR screw-job had come full circle with Dick Armey appearing on “Meet the Press” to feebly defend FreedomWorks’ now admitted role in the tea parties (and the Bush administration’s right to private torture memos).
To David Gregory’s oafish credit, he opened the segment by referencing a recent Gallup poll which found that people are more satisfied with tax rates now than any time since 1956. And yet, to Gregory’s ogreish shame, beside him sat Dick Armey, there to promote his public relations ghost.
Buffaloliberty.com, the online advert for our local tea party, is registered anonymously through Domains by Proxy, Inc. Below the Buffalo Liberty logo it reads: “Est. 2007.” However, according to publicly available records, the site was created in July, 2008. Why the discrepancy? E-mails I sent to the site’s contacts were not returned.
Buffalo News reporter and obvious Jonathan Alter clone Brian Meyers wrote this of the event:
And though some national media have suggested the tea parties are public relations ploys orchestrated by the Republican Party, Ostrowski made it clear that local reform advocates aren’t shills for any political camp.
“This is totally grassroots,” he said. “There’s no Astroturf and there are no suits here.”
Ostrowski, a longtime defender of small government, likely isn’t in league with “the suits.” The only guy wearing a suit at Club W was Meyers. But this does raise an interesting question: What’s the difference between a legitimate grassroots movement and a corporate-sponsored Astroturf PR campaign if the people participating are either too dumb or ill-informed to know they’re shilling for big business?
I asked Yasha Levine by e-mail: “Regardless of who got the ball rolling, isn’t it fair to say that teabagging’s a populist movement now?”
He answered: “Yes, the tea parties have started going populist. A movement that was exposed as a fraud suddenly started showing sings of grassroots behavior. Unlike the first round of tea parties held on Feb. 27, which were designed as TV-only events, the ones on April 15 had a pretty modest turnout.”
I asked him a bunch of other questions, but he’d been up all night drinking whiskey from the bottle to calm his nerves.
Ultimately, the timing of this movement means that all who participated are either rich or stupid.
Santelli’s contrived Howard Beale shtick came nipping on the heels of news that the administration was going to lend a financial hand to desperate homeowners—a scant 300 billion dollar drop in the multi-trillion dollar bailout bucket. Until then, funds were going where the ruling class saw fit: Wall Street fiends, banks that made enormously stupid bets and greedy corporate citizens who traded in highly poisonous assets. Now, actual citizens were getting relief. This would not stand!
The attitudes being exploited by the tea party movement are disturbing ones. It wasn’t the bailout of rich subprime mortgage traders that got this ugly ball rolling; it was the bailout of poor subprime mortgage holders. Bankers have the whitest collars around. And as Larry Wilmore succinctly put it on The Daily Show a few months back, “Subprime, that’s code, man. It’s the financial N-word.”
A black president giving money to black people? Well, what else would you expect than to see a bunch of ignorant crackers put on their best—and historically insensitive—Revolutionary War garb and angrily take to the streets at the behest of a deeply entrenched oligarchy? Once again in America, we’ve been divided and conquered by the wealthy ruling class, people like the Koch family. The only color they see is green, but if they can exploit our crude prejudices, they’ll do it every time.
Comedienne Janeane Garofalo recently remarked on Countdown with Keith Olbermann that the tea parties are “straight up racist.” It’s easy to dismiss her, and Olbermann, as knee-jerk liberals. But after being at one of these events, I’ve concluded that her observation is no joke. At Club W there was only one black person, and she looked like she’d been dropped on her head as a baby. She wore the silly grin of a very “special” person.
“It’s the blacks!” one woman breathlessly complained as I struggled to snoop on the conversation. Her group became aware of my presence and went mute. This is what I call the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Journalism. Just as the act of observing an electron changes its position, the prying ear of a reporter changes where people stand on the political spectrum. No white person will knowingly tell a journalist they just don’t like black people—or black presidents.
“I don’t know what to think of him,” a guy named Dave says of Obama. “I don’t care for him.” For a person to eschew—and then immediately pass—judgment on the first black president clearly speaks to hidden motivations.
“Black people….” a dude named Mark ponders my direct question and squints awkwardly into space, “I like to give black people the benefit of the doubt.” The benefit of the doubt? His statement more than intimates racism. I can only guess that’s why he and many others came here today, because if you persist in asking them, as I did, they truly haven’t a fucking clue.
Mark is a contractor. He scoffs when I ask if he makes more than $250,000 a year. He can’t articulate why he’s for bailing out the banks, but against bailing out people who signed up for the less-than-forthright loans. “I hate to admit it,” he finally says, “but I’ll be better off with Obama.”
“Then why are you here?” I press him. “And why do you hate to admit that?”
“You make a good point,” he says and shrugs his shoulders. “I dunno.”
I reckon that some folk, like Jim Ostrowski, are here because of their libertarian ideology. They don’t think society exists. We’re all just individuals. To his ilk, the only courtesy one need extend his common man is the freedom to ignore the needs of others. Some are here for decidedly less noble reasons—reasons they can’t pinpoint. Reasons that linger somewhere in the dark and bigoted recesses of their reptilian limbic brains.
Where the fuck was Laurie Kostrzewski for the last eight years? Asleep. She napped through the worst administration in American history. She snored through a Republican cabal, which stole votes and civil liberties. She snoozed while the bastards murdered 5,000 American soldiers and a million Iraqis just to make a buck. She dreamt of puppies playing hopscotch on the moon while the most multiply impeachable criminal regime in US history helped their big business cronies suck the public coffers dry like unquenchable capitalist vampires for eight fucking years.
The Biggest, Meanest, Loudest Government we’ve ever seen in this country didn’t wake her. What finally did? The quiet rumble of a Black Man walking into the White House, and the finely crafted PR scam of America’s most wealthy and morally repugnant.
Barack Obama’s no socialist. Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are demonstrable kleptocrats. Hell, the truth is, corporate America loves it some socialism—just so long as the wealth is being spread from the plebes to the masters. You even slightly fuck with the steady one-way flow of Money River USA, like Obama did by helping homeowners, and the earth will rumble, the sky will shatter and an unstoppable revolution will smash down your fucking door. Or at least that’s how it’ll be reported.
Six months ago, I was asleep, too. I couldn’t fathom the depraved, desperate turn the defeated Republicans would take. Like a lot of us sleepy freaks, I was too proud of my country overcoming a major racial barrier to see that the racist blowback would quickly sink us back into shame.
Maybe these Tea Party nut-jobs are onto something. I fear for my country, too.