Strategy Analysis

The Tea Party and Socialism: What They Teach Us About Making Change

“OK, you’ve convinced me, Now go out, organize, and make me do it” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to union leaders urging him to support pro-labor legislation.

While you won’t see too many shared policies among Tea Party ideology and Socialism, they both profoundly altered the trajectory of the United States.

The Tea Party of modern times and Socialists of the early 20th century, each pushed for such radical ideas that formally extreme policies became centrist.


The example of the Tea Party


Most of you are familiar with the now seemingly mainstream war on women and social services. These increasingly regressive platforms would not have been possible without the Tea Party.

By calling for even harsher legislation, the Tea Party ensured that the conservative establishment could implement far right policies and say they were a compromise.

Now I would doubt that most Tea Partiers would be satisfied with even these marginalizing results and compromises to the right. However, their work was part of an effective strategy, whether intentional or not, that changed the political landscape so drastically that we have a lot more work ahead of us to create a culture of justice.

This Tea Party strategy mirrors the impact of the Socialists in the 1930s.


Socialism and the rise of the New Deal


Roosevelt’s New Deal ensured the government would provide jobs to the scores of people looking for work, return of a robust U.S. economy, and restrictions on Wall Street and financial systems.

Though the Great Depression was near its height, the New Deal wasn’t a sure thing and needed an extra push to make it seem feasible. I don’t think the New Deal would have been possible without the rise in interest in Socialism.

During the 1932 election, nearly 1 million Americans voted for the Socialist or Communist presidential candidates. This desire for alternative policies propelled Louisiana Senator Huey Long to the national spotlight. Long mirrored his constituents’ interest in wealth redistribution with his Share Our Wealth program, which called for limits on wealth and the creation of a guaranteed annual family income.

As Naomi Klein writes, in the Shock Doctrine, “It was in this context that American industrialists grudgingly accepted FDR’s New Deal. The edges of the market needed to be softened with public sector jobs and by making sure no one went hungry – the very future of capitalism was at stake.”

As with the case of the Tea Party, the New Deal seemed like a moderate policy. Even though only a few years earlier, the New Deal would not have been possible.


It’s time for us to make some noise


As you can probably guess from my examples, I think that if we want true socially just policies then we need to clearly state our values even if they are considered “radical” and “not popular with independents.” By gliding toward the center, we run the serious risk of moving farther away from where we want to be.

So even if someone only who wants moderate reforms, it’s in their best interest to support those pushing for even bigger movements. That means it’s up to us to demonstrate that calling for moderate policies also means being an ally to those advocated for even bigger changes as well.

I know in some situations it’s hard for me to voice opinions that significantly differ from the majority. However, after understanding how these examples of the Tea Party and Socialism gave an opportunity to formally sideline proposals, I have a much greater belief that we must push for the “impossible.”

What do you think? How can we have e a radical movement make enough influential noise and struggle to push through sustained change? Just leave your comment below.