Call it the glocalization of the Tea Party movement.
As those in the global – and permanent – superclass seek to make borders irrelevant, increase taxes, and empower unaccountable and far removed bureaucracies, racking up debt, increasing cronyism, and ruining economies while becoming more out of touch, Europeans are taking cues from America’s Tea Partiers. They are saying, “Enough. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
When Sarah Palin galvanized conservatives, independents, and blue-collar Reagan Democrats who were disaffected with the political system during the 2008 presidential election as John McCain’s running mate, the permanent political and media class in America ridiculed her, while some Europeans tagged her as representing everything that was exceptionally wrong about America. They thought that Palin – and the movement for which she was the most passionate voice – would disappear quickly.
Those critics could not have been more wrong.
Soon after President Obama took office, that movement congealed into a Tea Party movement in America that The Economist noted is unified by those who “share three convictions: that the ruling elite has lost touch with the founding ideals of America, that the federal government is a bloated, self-serving Leviathan, and that illegal immigration is a threat to social order.”
Those ideals are spreading to Europe and attracting not only Europeans who want to hearken “back to simpler times,” but also those of all political stripes who “worry about immigration.” They often “spring from the squeezed middle – people who feel that the elite at the top and the scroungers at the bottom are prospering at the expense of ordinary working people. And they believe the centre of power – Washington or Brussels – is bulging with bureaucrats hatching schemes to run people’s lives.”
The American equivalent of the “squeezed middle” are voters of all ethnicities who are not wealthy enough to never have to worry about their tuition bills or the cost of health care, but not poor enough to get full-ride scholarships or completely subsidized Obamacare.
The Economist mentioned that, like in America, the mainstream media and the permanent political class have “tried to marginalize the insurgents” in Europe by “portraying them as unhinged, racist or fascist.”
“But it is not working,” The Economist writes, noting that while “attacking the insurgents as fascists worked when Hitler’s memory was fresh,” many of today’s Europeans “rightly see it as mostly a scare tactic.”
Described as anti-elitist, anti-Brussels, and against unchecked immigration, European Tea Party leaders like Geert Wilders, who leads the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen, who leads France’s Front National (FN) movement, and Nigel Farage, who leads the the UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence Party), are heading movements that “are populist and nationalist.” Their supporters are fed up with those who got Europe into the political and fiscal mess that it is in today. And similar movements are gaining strength in Italy, Austria, Poland, Romania, and even Greece. Those who support the European Tea Party movements have said they are not against institutions, but rather fiercely opposed to the “cosy mainstream consensus” in which “the left and right… says the same.”
In another article The Economist, often the promoter of all things “superclass,” had to concede that these “insurgent parties” are not only on the rise, but are continuing to gain strength:
UKIP, the FN and the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands could each win the most votes in European Parliament elections in May. In France, 55% of students say they would consider voting for the FN. The Progress Party has joined Norway’s government. Slovakia has a new far-right provincial governor. Count insurgents on the left, such as Syriza in Greece and the Five Star movement in Italy, and mainstream parties in Europe are weaker than at any time since the second world war.
And these movements may achieve more success in May when “voters across the 28-member European Union will elect 751 deputies to the European Parliament:”
Polls suggest that the FN could win a plurality of the votes in France. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has similarly high hopes, as does the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands. Anti-EU populists of the left and right could take between 16% and 25% of the parliament’s seats, up from 12% today. Many of those votes will go to established parties of the Eurosceptic left. But those of the right and far right might take about 9%. And it is they, not the parties of the left, who are scaring the mainstream.
According to The Economist, this “insurgency is doing well partly because the mainstream has done so badly. Governments encouraged consumers to borrow, let the banks run wild and designed the euro as the pinnacle of the European project.” And “in the past five years ordinary people have paid a price for these follies, in higher taxes, unemployment, benefit cuts and pay freezes.” As a result, more Europeans are viewing the modern state as being “designed to look after itself, rather than the citizens it is supposed to serve:”
Across Europe disillusion with the EU is at an all-time high: in 2007 52% of the public said it has a positive image of the EU; by 2013 the share had collapsed to 30%. The new identity politics is a way of linking the problems of Europe and those of immigration. It also taps into concerns about the way [globalization], defended by the mainstream political consensus, undermines countries’ ability to defend their jobs, traditions and borders.
The blue-collar populist movements in Europe are also resonating with “younger voters for whom Europe’s dark past is the stuff of history textbooks, not their or their parents’ experience.” And an issue that is particularly appealing to young and jobless Europeans is unchecked immigration. A prominent British think tank found that “those aged 16-20 years were twice as likely as the over-50s to cite immigration as the reason for their support. Fully 55% of French 18- to 24-year-olds say that they would not rule out voting for the FN, according to a recent poll by the Union of Jewish Students in France.”
Like in America, even when the Tea Partiers are not successful, the “populist right can prompt established politicians to sound a tougher note.” The mainstream political establishment that demonizes the insurgents sees the power in their ideas and often adopts “pale versions of their policies” – against unchecked immigration, global finance that plays by a different set of rules, and the unaccountable EU:
The best example of how the new nationalism can pull the political debate in its direction by getting others to ape it is offered by UKIP. It has ten seats in the European Parliament (one of them Mr Farage’s) but none in Westminster; it secured just 3% of votes in the 2010 general election. Yet, as Heather Grabbe of the Open Society think-tank in Brussels points out, good poll numbers and impressive showings in by-elections have been enough to give its views potency… As a result David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, has promised a referendum on British membership of the EU. He also sounds an increasingly hardline note on immigration from the EU, and on the need to clamp down on “welfare tourism”. The opposition Labour Party, relaxed in the past about open borders, now promises to be tougher, too.
Even though they dismiss the movement in public comments, establishment politicians in Europe that voters are viewing as ossified and corrupt are taking the European Tea Party movements more seriously – and trying to blunt their influences with more of a sense of urgency – because they see their power being threatened. Movement leaders like Wilders, Farage, and Le Pen are sensing that their moments may soon come, as they seem as optimistic as the Brussels crowd looks dour. Wilders speaks about an “historical moment” in which “our generation of politicians can for the first time make a difference and get back what belongs to us, which is national sovereignty.” The Economist notes that a Europe that the establishment politicians have “battered” is, like in America, “fertile terrain” for such messages and messengers.
That is why Palin, despite being hammered by the political establishment of both parties, still has the highest favorability rating among all Republican presidential primary voters. She has ripped the Republican establishment and lashed out against the permanent political class and the bipartisan crony capitalism that has infected Washington before it became cool to do so. In fact, her landmark speech in Indianola, Iowa, in 2011 injected those themes into the political bloodstream. Her supporters have the same enemies as Palin, and they are drawn less to her personal brand of politics and more to the ideals for which she has always stood since she took on the GOP establishment in Alaska, where she not only won but successfully enacted reforms.
Tea Party movements across the pond have different flavors, but are ultimately a vehicle for the continent’s working class, whose interests are often ignored and dismissed for those of the Brussels elite and the broader global superclass.
And just like how Europeans gained inspiration from Ronald Reagan and embraced democracy and limited government, the continent is again looking to America to take back their countries from the global political establishment. The European Tea Party is on the march, and it has put “the Party of Davos” on alert.