You're Leftists! 

Time for progressives to reclaim populism

NEW YORK--Born of the Great Recession and ongoing economic collapse, the Tea Party movement is America's latest contribution to a long tradition of populist agitation.

The Tea Party doesn't have a platform. Which makes sense, since it isn't a party. The Tea Party movement is a loose, decentralized coalition of radical libertarians, Goldwater Republicans, Sarah Palin-loving populists, black-helicopter militia types, nativist Minutemen obsessed with the New World Order, members of the retro John Birch Society, even a group of sheriffs who swear not to obey "stupid laws." Some of them hate President Barack Obama. They say they hate his policies, but some use racist rhetoric. They are almost all white.

(The Tea Party also doesn't have a media spokesman. Or one willing to talk to columnists, anyway. I reached out, but never heard back. If any major Tea Partiers want to chat, please get in touch.)

What unites the Tea Party, which is more or less symbiotically affiliated with the so-called "Patriot" movement, are three issues. First, they're Constitutional purists. Second, they want the federal government to shrink or go away entirely. Third, they want lower taxes and government spending. So why is the Tea Party seen as a right-wing movement?

Many Tea Partiers fiercely deny they're a branch of the Republican Party. Tea Partiers have declared jihad against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (because he accepted federal stimulus money) and forced Sen. John McCain of Arizona to tack right in his re-election bid. But, from the Palin connection to the openly stated goal of "taking over the Republican Party," the GOP-Tea Party overlap is undeniable.

Which makes no sense. True, America First immigrant-bashing doesn't fit in with the politically correct Democrats of the 21st century. On the big issues, however, the Tea Party belongs on the Left.

Tea Party followers are obsessed with privacy rights. They want the government out of their lives. Worried about creeping totalitarian tyranny, they're against Obama's health-care reform proposal in part because they believe it would grant the feds access to heretofore private medical records.

Americans have good cause to fear the Democratic Party on privacy rights. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration ramped up the National Security Agency's Echelon system, which supposedly intercepts and automatically analyzes every single e-mail, phone call, fax and wire transmission on the planet. Obama has kept the USA-Patriot Act and Bush's domestic wiretapping program in place.

But on privacy rights, Republicans have been just as bad. The Patriot Act was their idea. They abolished habeas corpus, created the Total Information Awareness data-mining program, and after Congress protested, they canceled it, renamed it and quietly reestablished it. As much as Tea Partiers hate Democrats, they ought to hate Republicans more.

If the Left were smart it would talk to the Tea Party folks. "To hell with the Republicans," they'd say, "and to hell with the Democrats, too. We might not like the same music, and we might talk a little different, but we're all tired of getting ripped off and lied to by a bunch of government scumbags and their dirtbag pals on Wall Street and corporate America. And we're going to stop them."

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