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Tuesday 13 October 2015

He's a Tea Pot?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 9th February 2014

Colin Craig has frequently compared himself to the US Republican "Tea Party" faction. But what is the "tea party" faction and how accurate are these comparisons?

In October 2013, the US federal government was shut down due to gridlock within the US federal political system, which resulted in a temporary case of federal fiscal paralysis. It led to a fortnight of work suspension furloughs and work without pay for many US federal public employees. The cause? Obamacare. The culprit? The Republican Tea Party faction (s).

What is the Tea Party? This loose network of populists, libertarians and conservatives wants to slash the US federal budget and public debt through slashing federal government services. It has sponsored (Republican) political candidates since the movement coalesced in 2009. One of its bête noires is the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's legislation to insure that every US citizen has access to public health care through compulsory health insurance. The Tea Party's success is overrated- at times, its militancy and extremism have cost its preferred candidates electoralfailure at the polls. At an organisational level, there appear to be a bewildering array of factions within this movement. National Tea Party organisations such as Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks tend to be more libertarian than other, local state factions of their movement, and even include some lesbian/gay libertarians/fiscal conservatives. At the state level, however, organisations like Fox News demagogue Glen Beck's 9/12 Tea Parties, Tea, the Iowa Tea Party and Delaware Patriot Organizations all pursue social conservative obsessions like attacking abortion rights and marriage equality. Broadly, both national and local state Tea Party organisations oppose federal corporate bailout legislationandgovernment economic stimulus programmes, as well as Obamacare, and back tighter US border security and anti-union "right to work" legislation as well as crackdowns on illegal immigrants. Compared to the general US population, Tea Party zealots tend to be disproportionately white, male and fundamentalist Christian. Despite its patchy record of Republican candidate support, there's a Republican Tea Party caucus, led by fundamentalist Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann. Fundamentalist former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is also a strong backer of the movement.

As for US LGBT communities, given that Obamacare provides support for HIV/AIDS programmes and increases their scope and reach, it assists efforts against the HIV/AIDS epidemic and therefore, apart from lesbian/gay libertarians and fiscal conservatives such as contributors to the centre-right Independent Gay Forum, Obamacare is mostly supported by US LGBT organisations, individualsand key publications such as the Advocate.

In 2010, the Republicans seized back control of the federal House of Representatives from the Democrats, who still control the US Senate as well as the Obama Presidency, however. Republican House of Representatives leaders and Tea Party activists supported obstructionism and stonewalling against US fiscal budget allocations for 2014, while Republican Senators were split. Some supported the Tea Party agenda, while others sought compromise, leading to horizontal hostility from House of Representatives and Senate colleagues and a series of compromise bills, aimed at restoring funding to other federal government services so they could function while targeting others.

However, after a fortnight, the Republican Congressional nerve broke. Tax refunds, government contractors, NGOs and indigenous American social services were all disrupted, as were museums, art galleries and other government services, leading to considerable public resentment, most of it aimed against the Republican Party, especially its Congressional and activist Tea Party elements. During and after the shutdown, its opinion poll popularity levels plummeted to twenty five to twenty eight percent. Moreover, the Obama administration and Democrats used the unpopularity of the Tea Party and its antics to prompt antagonised New York and Virginia voters to dump Republican candidates for the New York mayoralty and Virginia governorship, although admittedly they failed to unseat popular moderate New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who isn't a Tea Party faction member.

However, Obamacare's online delivery system engaged in some unfortunate delays and Obama has now taken to using executive orders through the power of his office to sidestep a fractious and unco-operative House of Representatives. Despite a recovering US economy in recent months, his opinon poll ratings are dropping. As for the Tea Party faction, a current Washington Post poll indicates that although its popularity is low amongst Democrat voters, it is higher amongst independent voters and Republicans, although it has been dropping steadily there. The movement seems far from buried.

Bear in mind that midterm Congressional elections are going to be held later this year, and it will be interesting to witness any electoral backlash against the perpetrators of the shutdown. Given existing Republican dissent and factionalism after the bruising and divisive US Republican presidential nominee primaries, and now Tea Party factional retribution against ideologically impure Republican Senate opponents of the shutdown, the Republican Party's prospects seem to have suffered as a result of this fiasco.

The question is therefore applicable to our own context. In comparing himself and his Conservative Party to the Tea Party faction, does Colin Craig also seem to favour sectional infighting against the National Party here, given that he's trying to win over New Zealand First's elderly social conservative voter contingent, through stealing New Zealand First's raison d'etre? And does this right-wing factionalism threaten the electoral strength and stability prospects of the Key administration, given Craig's professed admiration for it? Is that why Colin Craig is refusing to commit to a centre-right government?


Elizabeth Foley: The Tea Party: Three Principles: New York: Cambridge University Press: 2012.

Anthony DiMaggio: The Rise of the Tea Party: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama: New York: Monthly Review Press: 2011.

Ronald Formisano: The Tea Party: A Brief History: New York: John Hopkins University Press: 2012.

Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party Revolution and the Battle over American History: Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2010.

Chris Parker: Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America: Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2013.

Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen: Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking our Two-Party System: New York: Harper: 2010.

Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson: The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism: New York: Oxford University Press: 2012.

Michael Leahy: Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement: New York: HarperCollins: 2012.

Kate Zernike: Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America: New York: Times Books: 2010.

"Obamacare and Its Benefits for LGBT families: Advocate: 07.10.2013:
"Obamacare's impact on LGBT families" Advocate: 12.09.2013:
Opposed to Obamacare
Independent Gay Forum (libertarian)

Craig Young - 9th February 2014

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