22 September 2010

Tea Partyers - the useful idiots of capitalism

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, one frequently heard the expression "useful idiots." The term described people in the West who sympathized with Soviet communism naively believing it to be a force for good. The Soviet Union cynically used them even as it held them in contempt.

This term now applies perfectly to the Tea Partyers. They ardently support the neo-liberal dogma of unfettered markets and small government, assuming naively that power removed from government devolves to the people. Unfortunately, it doesn't. It is absorbed by those best positioned to absorb it, and that is usually the rich, particularly the corporate sector.

We have just experienced a clear and powerful example of exactly that. I refer of course to the financial and economic collapse triggered by Wall Street greed. U.S. governments stripped themselves of power in the financial sector by increasingly deregulating the industry. Did this power devolve equitably to the American people? Hardly. It was assumed by bankers who used it to fabulously enrich themselves at the expense of the public. Not only did ordinary Americans not gain possession of the power government gave away, they were exploited by those who did get it. And then they were plunged into the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. So much for the virtues of small government.

The chief beneficiaries of reduced government handsomely fund those who do the dirty work. A recent article in The New Yorker describes how the immensely rich Koch brothers, Charles and David, have donated over a hundred million dollars to a vast network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups dedicated to reducing the size of government. The Koches are the richest men in the United States after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Heavily invested in energy and chemicals, they have even outspent ExxonMobil in funding organizations fighting climate change legislation. (Koch Industries is one of the top ten air polluters in the U.S.) A former Koch adviser bluntly described their approach, “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.”

While David Koch insists, “I’ve never been to a Tea Party event. No one representing the Tea Party has ever even approached me,” the Americans for Prosperity Foundation -- an organization he started -- has worked closely with the Tea Party from the beginning. It helps educate Tea Party activists on policy details, offers them “next-step training” after their rallies, and provides them with lists of elected officials to target.

Tea Partyers fit every criteria of the definition of useful idiots. They believe the neo-liberal philosophy of unfettered markets and small government is a force for good when it is, for ordinary citizens, a recipe for economic disaster. Those who do benefit cynically use people like the Partyers to enhance their own power and greed.

Like the useful idiots of communism, the Tea Partyers are well-intentioned. They genuinely feel they have found the holy grail of political and economic salvation. But, also like the useful idiots of communism, they unwittingly serve powerful masters much more sophisticated and much more devious than they.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. 'Educate' and 'Tea Party' in the same sentence. Now I've seen everything.

    Another good post Bill.