Tea Party: Why this populist rage? Why is Wall St. off the hook, now?


William Jennings Bryan 1896 presidential campaign
ostility to big government is the unifying theme of the Tea Party movement.
1900 William Jennings Bryan Poster

The movement that started in 2009 is new, but it revives old ideas. One is the idea of limited government. This has always been a theme in America. Since the founding, Americans view the proper role and authority of government as much more limited than, say, Europeans or Canadians do.

Another old idea is populism: Answers.com defines populism as “A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.” It pits ordinary people against elites.

Probably the first serious populist movement created a People’s Party (or Populist Party) in the late 1800s. It was an organization of Midwest and Western farmers and working people. Populist governors and congressmen were elected.

OV Tea Party 2009 Populist rage today is rooted in the powerlessness many Americans feel. Despite holding down jobs, paying the mortgage, saving for their kids’ educations, and other acts of responsible citizens, too many have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and lost their savings. They feel like undeserving victims.

They aim their rage at big government. In this way, they are similar to past populist movements.

But here’s a big difference: Today’s Tea Party doesn’t rail much against big business, especially Wall Street. These have been targets of populist spleen in the past. Ironically, for example, the original People’s Party called for government control of private railroads.

Why is Wall Street off the hook? It’s clear that the financial shenanigans of Wall Street bankers, aided and abetted by the Republican-led deregulation of the financial sector, caused the economic recession and created many of the problems Tea Party activists blame on big government. (To read past posts on this, use Google search in the upper right corner of this page.)

Why aren’t they calling for, say, the big banks to pay reparations to the American people?


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