Michael Moore: At First Tea Party was ‘Reasonable,’ but ‘Different Animal Now’

COMMENTARY | There may be no single person on the planet whom conservatives loathe more than documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning director of “Fahrenheit 911.” His positions on issues scream liberal and left-winger to the average conservative and his attacks on institutions that those on the political right hold dear (the Bush administration, privatized health care, capitalism) have made him a target of their ire and scorn. But in a recent interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Moore said that conservatives might be surprised that despite his reputation and his movies he agrees with them on some issues and thought that the tea party movement started off as a well-meaning grass roots political groundswell.

On the September 26 edition of “Piers Morgan Tonight” Moore told the talk show host that ” I could tell you things that I agree with conservatives on. Or I should say what used to be the — not the new conservatives.”

Morgan prompted him to go on and asked what he thought of the tea party, considering that at the heart of the movement, their reason-to-be and their positions seemed inarguably valid. “At the very beginning,” Moore explained his partial alignment with “old school” conservatism, “there might have been some people who were trying to join the tea party to say some reasonable things because they were upset at Wall Street and what was happening, but these days, no, the tea party is a wing of the Republican Party thinking, it’s funded by billionaires. So no, it’s very — it’s a very different animal now.”

And Moore has a point.

What began as a grass roots movement that cobbled together various small groups of anti-taxation and anti-bailout protesters bloomed into a full-fledged political opposition movement in 2009, shortly after Barack Obama was sworn in as the latest president. Adding health care reform to their list of grievances, the tea party gained strength, dramatically increasing their scope and impact as Fox News Channel began covering nearly each and every tea party rally. As their influence grew stronger, various factions of the tea party were also able to lend not only their voices and votes but also financial support (as well as ad campaigns for and against) for political candidates that met their minimum requirements. But as the movement grew in power, it also developed stronger and stronger ties with the Republican Party. By the time the tea party helped place a good number of politicians in office in Washington after the 2010 midterm elections, they not only had prominent politicians supporting them, like Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (who would become the leader of the House Tea Party Caucus), but the issues they supported had placed an umbrella over social issues as well.

The increased power, money, and political connectivity with the Republican Party (although there is lip service paid that the tea party has many Democrats within their ranks, the number is comparatively low and comprised primarily of conservative Democrats) has made the tea party “a very different animal,” one that stands somewhat right of the Republican Party and seems closely akin to the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition movements of the ’80s and ’90s. In fact, sociologists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell suggested when revealing the results of a five-year study that the one key factor that indicated tea party affiliation was the desire to see more religious involvement in the political sphere, drawing a direct line from the modern make-up and political alignment of the tea party to those very evangelical movements. This could mean that the strict Constitutionalist, anti-taxation grass roots movement was co-opted by the religious element that never found sure footing (but nevertheless maintained considerable political power) among the general electorate and found somewhat like-minded individuals in the new and growing tea party political groundswell, using the nascent movement as a new vehicle to power in Washington. Although a little more radical than the predominantly moderate conservatives that controlled the Republican Party, the GOP assimilated the tea party for fear of losing not only power at the federal level but across the nation in local and state offices as well.

And it might be that moralist element suffusing the tea party that has seen their popularity decrease over the past year and a half since taking over several governorships and the U. S. House of Representatives.

One thing is certain: Michael Moore does not agree with the tea party in their present form, even if he at one time agreed with much of their political message. Not that that would bother most Republicans, tea party affiliated or not.

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