(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Last week the new employment news was not great. Unemployment jumped from 9.5 to 9.6 percent, the average unemployed American hasn’t had a job for over 27 weeks and the dreaded “double-dip” recession might be upon us. Of course in the midst of this financial malaise political leaders and pundits are trying to find the culprit.
Why is it that we’re still stuck in the mud when it comes to the economy. Who isn’t pulling their weight? While Bush, Obama and Goldman Sachs are some of the biggest culprits, I nominate one of the newest antagonists to our nation’s economic growth: The national Tea Party movement.
First, let’s deal with the non-subjective facts. This is the longest recession in American history that was not associated with the Great Depression. As far as most economists are concerned, the recession officially began in 2007 but for normal people it really began sometime in mid-2005.
A recession is when the economy begins slowing down, and many in the midwest and northeastern parts of the country started to feel that slowdown pretty soon after Bush was re-elected. It took another few years before the housing crisis and Wall Street started to hit hotspots like Phoenix, Ariz.; Austin, Texas and Atlanta, Ga.
As far as I’m concerned once people started having to calculate the cost of groceries versus the cost of gas they’d spent to drive to the store, we were in a recession.
Much of American economic growth is about attitude, when people are optimistic, they spend money and the economy improves, when they are worried they spend less and the economy tanks. Even when your personal financial situation is good if you see nothing but screaming angry people on the air, it makes people hesitant to spend.
So Tea Party members with their constant whining about health care, the president’s faith and the fact that he’s Black have so dominated the press and made public discourse so toxic that they’re bumming out the rest of the nation and further slowing the economy. It’s like when you finally think you’re getting out of a traffic jam only to see the progress is being held up by two guys arguing in the middle of the street holding up traffic. That’s what the Tea Party is doing, holding up economic traffic by monopolizing public discourse on non-essential issues and depressing the public.
And let’s be clear, the Tea Partiers are not your average Americans speaking out for the common man. CBS, The New York Times and Gallup polls of their demographics have shown that they are better off than your average American yet are more pessimistic about the future.
The Tea Party movement is composed primarily of White men with college educations over the age of 45. Further, they are more likely than your average American to report their personal financial situation to be “good or great” AND have salaried jobs.
These are same folks who went out and bought SUVs when Bush asked them to stimulate the economy, and spent their “tax refund” checks on new dining room sets, but now they’re hoarding cash, buying up gold from Glenn Beck and pulling out of the economy right and left because they can’t stand the president.
And the rest of Americans reeling from the real recession are getting gunshy about spending having seen these people rant and rave for the last 18 months.
When you consider that those who are active in the Tea Party movement are about 4 percent of the U.S. population, that is a fairly significant number of people to have refusing to participate in the economy. No one is happy about this recession, and many in public office are doing whatever they can to get the nation back on its feet. However we’ll never get there as a nation if those of us who are relatively better off spend our time complaining and tuning out rather than getting involved and spending and engaging.
One has to wonder what would’ve happened if everyone who went to Glenn Beck’s Tea Party event in Washington, D.C. had taken all the money they spent flying or driving to D.C. and instead took their families out to dinner at a local restaurant or spent the day at the mall.
It’s in all of our power to help dig this economy out of the doldrums, and it’s high time for the Tea Partiers to stop their whining and pick up a shovel like the rest of us.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)