Coffee, Tea, Wall Street Welfare and Campaign Finance Reform
I wrote about the Tea Party a couple of weeks ago, remarking upon its newfound dynamism and the fact that it is attracting “regular” people in addition to those who would be considered radical right-wing extremists. Well, it looks like another social movement has sprung up in response to the Tea Partiers– we now have the Coffee Party.
In contrast to the T.E.A. Partiers (Taxed Enough Already), the Coffee Party does not believe that the solution to today’s economic problems is to dismantle the federal government. Indeed, the Coffee Party feels that the federal government has to be part of the solution. I guess I was a member of the Coffee Party and I did not even know it!
An excerpt from one of the Coffee Party’s notes:
We believe that the federal government–despite its many shortcomings–MUST get its act together, and start solving the enormous problems we face as a nation. It’s not because we LOVE the federal government. It’s just that it’s the ONLY apparatus that we have at our disposal to counter the special interests and multi-national corporations that wield way too much power over a government that was intended to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We cannot solve the health care crisis at the state level. If the insurance corporations’ were limited to state borders, then perhaps. But these are national and multi-national companies that have been gaming the system for decades. As consumers, we have been abused. We all know it. These corporate practices are literally making us sick and killing us. They have no shame. We cannot allow this to continue. No way. We cannot take the abuse anymore!
In terms of ideological leanings, this is definitely a centre-left/Democrats movement. There does not seem to be the fringe elements from the extreme left– it is unlike the Tea Party in this respect. For the most part, these are frustrated Democrats who are upset about how the economic crisis has played out, but believe that the Tea Party’s approach is counterproductive. It also seems to have its roots in the Obama campaign. This is pretty clear. But where people like William Jacobson have questioned whether this is a genuine grassroots movement or just astroturf, it looks to me, on balance, to be the real deal.
A Brief Tangent: Consider briefly what grassroots stands for: emerging from the citizenry itself. Annabel Park, one of the founders of the Coffee Party, may have worked for the Obama campaign, but she did not start the Coffee Party as an outpost of the Obama campaign. As far as I can see, the Coffee Party is not receiving support of any kind– financial or otherwise– from the Democrats or anyone else. Unless you believe in conspiracy theories (and many Tea Partiers do), it also does not look like the Coffee Party is receiving any political direction from the Democratic Party or individual Democratic politicians. Using these basic criteria– the accusation of astroturf should be thrown out.
Of course, this does not mean that the same grassroots movement that swept Obama into power will not be reinvigorated by the Coffee Party and choose to get involved again– but previous involvement in a political campaign should not preclude it from being considered a genuine grassroots movement.
On to the Similarities
What is also remarkable about the Coffee Party is the similarities that it shares with its Tea Party brethen. There are three fundamental overlapping interests.
1. Both movements are upset about how dysfunctional Congress has become– clearly, they are sick of political posturing for its own sake. Then again, it’s hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t be.
2. The federal government needs to be fiscally responsible. Spending needs to be reined in.
3. At heart, they are both anti-corporate movements. Both movements are sick of Wall Street Welfare and cannot comprehend why politicians cannot find the cojones to stand up for the public interest.
A recent Financial Times Op-Ed by William Galston speaks to the dangers posed by a lack of trust in government. One of the key statistics that jumped out at me while reading this piece was this: “78 per cent believed the government to be run by a few big interests, not for the benefit of the people.” This stat underscores how precarious the situation is. It’s easy to understand the anger– and indeed, this is how a lot of people feel about their government in some of the world’s more corrupt countries.
These three strands of thought are woven directly into the Coffee Party platform. This is an excerpt of a Note from the Coffee Party’s pages entitled: Our Message to Congress: Get to Work or Get Out:
You work for us, not for corporations. We hired you and we get to fire you. We pay you and give you great health insurance. Now get to work serving the interests of the American people, or get out.
Anyone who wants our government to function in the interest of ordinary Americans, not corporations, is welcome to join this movement.
We believe that the majority of Americans are regular folks like us, and some of us have been misled into thinking that the federal government is the cause of our struggles, our anxiety and our fear. In short, our government has been presented to us as our enemy.
Another way of putting it is this: we have a democracy with a loophole. The most active, most well-funded, and most organized interests can dominate the process. And for many years, corporations have dominated our democratic process because they can afford to hire thousands of lobbyists to reside in Washington DC and actively influence the direction of our government. Yes, the corporations have a lot of money. But we have the power of the vote. They may attempt to influence us, but our vote belongs to us and us alone, and herein lies our power.
Also of note is a link to a clip of Elizabeth Warren in conversation with Jon Stewart, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to monitor TARP (the federal bailout package for banks). From a review of that interview:
Warren has been the TARP oversight chair since November 2008, and Stewart asked her why the system hasn’t been fixed yet.
“Well, these guys really do get it.” Warren told Stewart — the CEOs, bankers, and people in power — “They get it. And they work best behind closed doors.” If the decisions are in their hands, she said, “Nothing, nothing will change. You know, I want to turn to these guys sometimes, and I want to say: what part of ‘we bailed you out’ do you not get? These are people who would not have their jobs because they would not have their companies.”
“The chips are all on the table,” Warren added. “We are going to write what the American economy looks like for 50 years going forward. And right now the CEOs have any real change bottled up in the Senate.”
If you consider the two movements in aggregate, it pretty much encompasses the entire US polity. Just about every American is upset with the dysfunctionality of Congress and feels that the Banks and Wall Street got away with murder– at the taxpayer’s expense. Half the population thinks that since it was Congress that messed it up, the solution is to minimize the powers of Congress– to prevent further screw-ups. The other half of the population thinks that even though Congress messed it up, Congress is still the only institution that can improve the situation.
As far as I can tell then, just about everybody philsophically belongs to either the Tea Party or the Coffee Party– and they agree on 3 important things: corporate power is too great, Congress is dysfunctional, fiscal responsibility is paramount.
I think that even members of Congress would probably agree with these fundamental problems!
Crossing Party Lines: Campaign Finance Reform
If there is agreement on these basic problems, then there is one obvious issue that both the Tea Party and the Coffee Party should be working on together: Campaign Finance Reform. This might seem like a strange thing to emphasize given the massive economic problems confronting the US right now, but it lies at the very heart of the problem.
Until American politicians stop feeling beholden to the corporate interests that are financing their campaigns, it will not be possible for them to truly act in the public interest. I have written about how recent actions by the Supreme Court have placed an albatross around the neck of American democracy. Transparency measures like the ones being put forth by Senator Schumer and Rep Van Hollen will help, but these are band-aid measures and do not address the core problem. The system is, in its own sophisticated and legalized way, absolutely and utterly corrupt.
What is clearly needed is a Campaign Finance Law that is not riddled with loopholes like the McCain-Feingold Act— even before large chunks of it were struck down. As unappetizing as this sounds, one way to even out the playing field is to provide public financing; another way is to set limits on how much money can be spent. Currently, the two parties have the equivalent of a nuclear arms race going on in terms of campaign expenditures. Parties spent $5.3 billion on the 2008 election. $2.4 billion of that was spent on the presidential election alone.
If Coffee Party members and Tea Party members are as genuinely fed up with the political system as they appear to be, then what they need to do is change it– from the inside out and starting with its financial structures.
- Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)
- Click to email (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)