Tea Party Politics Demystified

“The leisure class is the conservative class.”

So writes economist Thorstein Veblen in his famous work, The Theory of the Leisure Class, first published in 1899. Veblen’s analysis of the connection between wealth and politics more than one-hundred years ago rings true today.

It’s no secret that the tea party movement is comprised of some rather rich folks. That these wealthy tea party types are also conservatives is no coincidence. But their influence over the middle and working classes in America, the common man, is not always so easy to figure.

Enter Veblen, who in a chapter entitled “Industrial Exemption and Conservatism,” tells us that

. . . the institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought.

In this passage Veblen outlines how the rich, who wish to maintain their enormous wealth and status, prevent the middle and lower classes from even thinking about new ways to improve the lot of all Americans, especially in cases where any political or economic changes would deplete the upper class of significant power and control over the entire system.

Hence the rise of rural and middle-class conservatives in the fringes of the Republican Party today, people who struggle economically but continue to adopt rigidly conservative politics that prevent the improvement of their daily lives.

Wealthy tea party cronies shout: “Big Government is intrusive and any time it interferes in the Free Market Process, it’s intrusive and limits our individual rights.” And the struggling middle and lower classes immediately think: “You’re right, upper class, the government has failed us and anything that might extend its power is bad!”

Tax the rich at a higher rate? Why, that’s un-American. Provide health care for all Americans? You’re a communist.

In the end, the wealthy use the fears and biases of the working classes against the working classes, so that the rich can thwart progress and sustain their ridiculous levels of wealth. “Conservative,” in essence, refers in this case to the rich “conserving” their money and status and power.

And they’re the patriotic ones, with “patriotism” here analogous to any policy or political stance that furthers the status quo. But, of course, the tea party hides from the fact that their unabashed “love of country” rhetoric is simply a cover for discrimination and exclusion.

It’s the reason the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are still in effect. It’s why the average America is still denied basic health care coverage at every turn.

And it’s downright criminal to any thinking citizen.