Nothing But a (Tea) Party: Lessons in Obstructionist Politics

The frustrated fringe elements of the Republican and Independent voter electorate gathered in Nashville, Tenessee, to vent about the first year of the Obama administration. They named the convention the “Tea Party,” a spin on the Boston Tea Party of 1767, where the British American colonists rioted over the stamp tax put on them without them having a say about it (Taxation without Representation). They rioted by throwing tea in the Boston harbor, raising tensions with the monarchy that ultimately lead to a revolution that gave birth to a new nation.

The Nashville “Tea Partiers” are protesting “Obamacare” and what they call the “overspending of the federal government.” Most of these “partiers” are conservative elements of the Republican Party that are so far right, they are out of the political mainstream. Christian fundamentalists, anti-immigration activists (the “Minutemen”), anti-abortion extremists, anti-terrorism “protectionists,” and, of course, the demoralized conservative base of anti-tax, anti-spend politically ambitious Republican electeds all came together to protest — really just for the sake of protest.

The Tea Party lays claim to the post Obama election victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and, most recently, in Massachusetts, claiming that these victories are reflective of public disatisfaction. The inference is that they represent a groundswell that will only grow, leading to the mid-term Congressional elections.

The reality is that it is more a play in obstructionist politics. The Tea Party was no more than an attention grab. It was like a person who draws attention to themselves at the neighborhood block party by hoo-rawing. All the Tea Partiers said to the nation was, “Party over here!” There was nothing else of substance to speak of. No new ideas. Just a recast of old ones and an effort to stay relevant in the public discussion.

The question really is, “What kind of party is it?” One that advances the discussion on how we become a better nation? Or one that just makes noise so the party they truly represent doesn’t become irrelevant. The tea partiers come from a demoralized party trying to recraft a message. It’s an old message from the anti-taxation, anti-spending, anti-abortion, and anti-gay platform.

They are still the baseline constituency of the Party of “NO.” And they are still the best friends of big business and the military industrial complex, currently the biggest draws on the American taxpayer. Saving industry and maintaining two wars have the American people hamstrung. The Republicans are largely responsible for the growth of the government’s deficit. And they play stupid (well, some of them really are stupid — more on this in a minute) and hit the mute button when this point is brought to them.

Yet the tea partiers want to critique President Obama’s spending plan, his stimulus plan, his recovery plan, all which are working. The fundamental principle of business is that you have to spend money to make money. The government had to spend money to save Wall Street, to save the banking and mortage industries, to save the jobs market, and now to save Main Street.

The point is that President Obama is doing something different than just expanding the size of government. He’s trying to keep the economy from collapsing. Don’t bother Republicans with details. They get in the way of their rhetoric. The Republicans lost the White House and Congress because they had no solutions. Now, all of a sudden, they have ALL the ideas. Yeah, after they’ve been shown to them and they still can’t remember most of them.

It’s really insulting, this populous movement of “know-nothings,” a repeat of a 19th Century populous movement that were skeptical of the educated, still poised to try to take over the government — after the anti-intellectualism of the Bush II administration nearly ruined the country. It’s scary, only because of the mass and new media involved. Popular tyranny of a dumbed-down nation has the capacity to spread quickly. The Tea Partiers are simply trying to light the fuse.

Then you have the most irrelevant rhetoritician in politics today, Sarah Palin, keynoting the event. Palin’s an ideologue of a different kind — one appealling to the eye and to “dumbed down” sensibilities. Sarah Palin is a bigger distraction than the Tea Party itself. The only reason people even paid attention to the Tea Party was because of the platform they gave Palin as if she’s now the “out-of-government” spokesperson for the conservative disenfranchised.

She’s the ultimate mass distraction, more ignorant than George W. Bush, with all the answers written in the palm of her hand. At least George W. used paper notes. Her grand entrance was the face time Republican obstructionists needed after President Obama faced down the Republican obstructionists at their recent retreat. They need more ways to call attention to themselves while in the midst of the populous change movement that elected Obama.

Grandstanding is what Republicans do. Now they want to act like their government has been taken away from them, a new spin on an old trick. It’s a lesson we should note and file for reference. They want to liken this party’s efforts to the Ross Perot Party that brought about government spending reforms. Only difference was Perot knew what he was talking about. You still don’t know what the Tea Party’s message is, and if they know what they say they know.

Partygoers tend to make grand entrances anyway. But every now and then, one gets lost in the crowd because either nobody notices that they’re there, or they’re irrelevant to the party mix. That’s what we witnessed in Nashville this weekend. A grand entrance that was nothing more than just “a party over there.”

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at


  1. Mad Jayhawk says

    We know. We know. Republicans bad. Democrats good. What else is new? Endlessly badmouthing your opponent without ever offering a plan of action is a good way to lose elections as was seen in the last election. Republicans ran on cutting spending and trying to get the economy moving again. Democrats ran on the idea that George Bush was a bad president. The Democrats love to call the Republicans the party of No while looking like they are the party of hate: they hate Bush, they hate Palin, they hate the Tea Party, they hate Arizona, they hate those who oppose the mosque near Ground Zero, etc etc etc. They will keep losing elections until they roll up their sleeves and get to work passing legislation that helps the American People and not just their political base, fat their reelection efforts, their fatcat corporate supporters, and the unions. 2012 is going to be another Democratic blood bath. Look at how many Democratic senators are up for reelection. The Tea Party groups are going to get stronger and stronger if the economy continues down this dark path it is on. They are very active in my community now. Very organized and vocal.

  2. Rona Reagan says

    Okay… one quick question. First of all… why the ad hominem attacks against Sarah Palin? She’s not dumb. Or a liar.

    Second of all… isn’t it sexist to say that a pretty female candidate is using her appearance to get votes?

    A Young Republican

  3. Marshall says

    My family was in the party of “NO” during the other tea parties too. Some folks seem to be trying to change our type of government now to a more progressive form, like what FDR wanted. Most are not going to like that. We will wait and see what comes next.

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