The Tea Party movement: five highlights

We pick out the movement's controversies, following Sarah Palin's keynote speech to the first nation

Sarah Palin said last night that the US is "ready for another revolution" and condemned Barack Obama's budget as "immoral" in her keynote speech to the first national Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Tea Party movement is a grass-roots network of conservatives, a protest movement that sprang up in early 2009. But while they are united in their opposition to Obama's health-care programme, public spending and the growth of government, the 600 delegates who gathered at the Gaylord Hotel (I know . . .) are a rather disparate group of angry right-wingers.

So, as Palin calls for a revolution and taunts Obama ("How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?" -- a direct quotation), I thought it was about time to pick five highlights from the Tea Party movement's short history.

1. Palin's notes

The more observant among you might have noticed some scribbles on Sarah Palin's palm, in photos of her giving her speech, in which she mocked Obama's use of a teleprompter.

Oh, irony is a beautiful thing. It appears that Palin, while eschewing a teleprompter, has written herself some helpful notes on her hand.

Stefan Sirucek at the Huffington Post provides this blown-up image:

Tea Party Palin 

It's arguable how useful these notes will have been, but then, Palin works in mysterious ways. Ben Smith at Politico translates it thus:

It appears to be an outline:

Energy
Budget Tax Cuts
Lift American Spirits

Fiscal hawks will note that the difference between budget cuts and tax cuts is pretty much the core of the criticism of Republican economics.

2. Opening-night bigotry

This one's not so funny. The convention's opening speech by Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Denver, focused primarily on illegal immigration. Amid the standard bigotry about "Islamification" and the "cult of multiculturalism" was an even more worrying historical reference to racial segregation.

He said that Obama had been elected only because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country". This refers to the practice -- banned by the 1964 civil rights legislation -- of setting prohibitively difficult tests to prevent black people from getting the vote in segregated Southern states.

Tancredo received a standing ovation for his speech.

3. Money-making

There was controversy around the convention before it even began. It emerged at the end of last month that Palin's fee was in the region of $100,000, while tickets to the weekend were $550 a head.

If that doesn't seem like it's in keeping with the whole "grass-roots" thing, that's probably because it isn't -- the event was also sponsored by corporations, making the whole convention look like a nice little money-spinner.

Palin said she won't benefit from the fee, and told the adoring crowds last night that "This isn't about money", although that's easy to say when you've just been paid more than $1,000 a minute to make a speech.

4. Questionable placards

Tea Party rallies attract a broad range of reactionaries, and the movement has become notorious for the offensive signs displayed. The Huffington Post has photos of some choice highlights, including:

"Obama's plan: white slavery"

"The American taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's ovens"

"Barack Hussein Obama: the new face of Hitler"

5. Tea Party: the Movie

 

Everything about this documentary looks brilliant. What more can I say?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.