Some Tea Party activists are complaining that their grassroots movement has been co-opted by the corporate mainstream Republican Party. Progressives are complaining that their hope-and-change president has been co-opted by pro-corporate, Democratic centrism.
Books could be written about the myriad ideological divides between the Tea Party and Progressives, but I’m struck at this moment by our similarities. Perhaps it’s time for these populist insurgencies to unite in the short-term to topple the political status quo that hampers each of our long-term agendas.
Regardless of which party comes out on top after the mid-term elections, it will neither be as progressive nor as Tea Party-infused as either side would like -- and in terms of restoring politics to the people, both sides will still have more work to do. So what could a joint Progressive Tea Party agenda look like?
1. Ensure Clean Elections. At the very least, we all want to remove the veil of anonymity and know who’s really behind campaign donations on the left and right. But beyond that, both the Tea Party and Progressives are concerned that Washington politicians increasingly represent their moneyed campaign donors (whether big business or unions) more than their voting constituents.
We can’t return politics to the people if politics is a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate America.
Imagine if both sides of the political aisle demanded that candidates only take public funding for campaigns. And ultimately we could overturn Supreme Court rulings on money and politics and mandate strict campaign finance restrictions.
2. End Bailouts and Subsidies for Big Business. The Tea Party began with opposition to the TARP bailout of big banks. For years, Progressives have opposed government subsidies of corporate agriculture and tax abatements for big businesses that alleged aim to create new jobs but end up just increasing profits. If we believe in the private market, then for-profit businesses should compete on their own without government assistance.
3. Abolish Corporate Personhood. The Tea Party wants to decrease the role of government. Progressives want to decrease the influence of giant corporations in our government and our society in general. One way to do both is to get rid of laws and practices that treat corporations as people. Otherwise, not only do behemoth corporations wield disproportionate power in America, but government resources are expended catering to and protecting the “rights” of big business.
Tea Party adherents are big critics of the notion of “rights” in general. At least we can agree to abolish person-like rights for big business -- to make government more responsive to actual human beings.
Once enacted, these three actions would dramatically curtail the corrupting influence of special interests in government and society and return power to the people. Then we can return to our respective ideological corners to fight over tax cuts versus public infrastructure or the future of gays and guns -- but at least we’d be fighting fair, with the outcomes truly determined by public will as opposed to which side's outsized corporate influence throws its weight behind which argument.
I think substantively there’s even more we might agree on, like abolishing unfair “free” trade agreements like NAFTA that have hurt workers in the U.S. and abroad, or creating real incentives for locally-owned businesses and small scale enterprise.
Given the escalated vitriol between Tea Party members and Progressives, it can be hard to recognize that, in fact, most of us share common concerns and common dreams. And amidst all the extreme rhetoric, it can be hard to acknowledge that our shared problems have shared solutions. Reforming the political process itself is a good place to start.
Both the Tea Party and Progressives are fed up. For too long, the agenda in Washington has been dictated by K Street. It’s time to return politics to Main Street. Then, whatever the ideological outcome, at least it we’d have a political system about which, whether left or right, we could all be proud.
Sally Kohn is the Founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab (http://movementvision.org), a grassroots popular education organization.