I documented yesterday how St. Louis Tea Party members dressed up in SEIU shirts at the rally outside of President Obama's speech. They despise the Service Employees International Union, frequently including SEIU in their conspiracy theories and accusing union members of being "thugs." They hate them so much that they think the mere fact that a Carnahan employee used to work for SEIU is enough to prove that Carnahan is an evil person, and so much that they think that any organization that uses the SEIU call center must be involved in an illicit kick-back scheme. This hatred of SEIU is no accident, and is in fact revealing about the true nature of the tea party. They hate SEIU for the same reason they hate ACORN: because both organizations help Democrats and progressives build political power and win elections.
Those who follow the tea party will know that they continually portray themselves as being a populist movement that arose in response to oppression. Now as much as I disagree with the tea party, I could at least understand how, if you were someone disappointed with the way the country was going, angry about a bad economy, or whatever, you might blame the government for your problems. It of course doesn't make much sense to blame the Obama administration two months into their term, as the tea party did, but you could at least see the general trajectory of how the reasoning would work. The government is a big, powerful entity that has a lot of influence over our lives, so when you're looking for somewhere to project your anger, it's a great place to start. In fact, most liberals would agree that the way our government works is seriously flawed, but of course the reason we think so is because the very corporations that the tea party defends have far too much influence on legislation, leading to a health care system gone mad, an out-of-control banking industry, and environmental destruction.
But while you can tell a plausible story about why people project their anger on the government, there is no similar story to tell about SEIU. SEIU is a labor union that represents 2 million workers across the country fighting to be treated fairly. SEIU represents nurses, janitors, window-cleaners, bus-drivers, child care providers and many other people. Unions are based on a very simple principle: when workers organize together, they have enough leverage to be treated fairly, but when they are isolated, corporations whose interest is to maximize profits are able to exploit them. The fundamental purpose of the union is to ensure that their members are treated fairly. There is no plausible story the tea party could tell about how they are being "oppressed" by SEIU, so they instead make up elaborate conspiracy theories that turn momentary altercations into vast conspiracies "ordered" by the U.S. government and union leaders.
But why do they feel the need to invent these conspiracies? For exactly the same reason they felt a need to attack ACORN. ACORN registered low-income people and minorities to vote, which increased the population of people who would vote for Democrats when voting for their self-interest. For this reason, the organized Right decided that they needed to destroy ACORN, and did so by inventing stories, blowing minor points into giant conspiracies, and ultimately by secretly videotaping ACORN employees and manipulating the video. They set out to destroy ACORN not because ACORN oppresses anyone, but rather because they knew that hurting ACORN hurts the left.
The exact same basic story is true of the Right's emphasis on SEIU. SEIU is at its core a group of workers fighting to get a fair shake. However, they are also one of the most powerful labor unions in the country, and one that provides a lot of funding for political organizing that helps workers rather than corporations. So naturally the Right is determined to destroy them. And this is why the local tea party is constantly ranting and raving about SEIU, and trying to imply that there is some massive history of violence associated with the union. Just like with ACORN, they're trying to continually put out negative misinformation about SEIU, in hopes of laying enough groundwork that some minor event can eventually be blown out of proportion to destroy the organization in the same way that O'Keefe's reporting virtually destroyed ACORN.
But what I really want to emphasize is that this anti-SEIU sentiment is not something that would spontaneously arise from the grassroots. Why would the average person care about union workers fighting to get a better contract or organizing for health care? They wouldn't. The people who care are high-paid Republican strategists who get big money to think about the best way to undermine the organized Left. These are the people who determine the direction of the St. Louis Tea Party.
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