PBS's Tavis Smiley Thinks the Tea Party Is Republican Before It Is American

On his PBS show Monday night, Tavis Smiley welcomed liberal former Sen. Bill Bradley to discuss his political agenda, which began with repealing the Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United decisions on campaign financing. But what stood out most was Smiley ripping the Tea Party as more Republican than American.

Bradley suggested “even” the Tea Party are Americans first. “I’m just not sure that I’m persuaded,” Smiley said.


SMILEY: There’s one part of the book that I came across that you and I disagree on, and you and I are almost always in agreement. But I think this is perhaps a charitable read, a generous read, when you suggest that even President Obama’s staunchest opponents, since we’re talking about the Tea Party, you argue in the book that even his staunchest opponents are Americans before they are Republicans; they are Americans before they are Tea Partiers.


SMILEY: Well, theoretically, of course, you’re right about that. I’m just not sure that I’m persuaded. It’s plausible, (laughs) but not a persuasive argument for me.

In this reading of what's "American," agreeing to raise taxes and impose ObamaCare is identified as the most American thing you can do, and fighting them is somehow just a Republican agenda that can't be painted as helping the country.

Earlier, Smiley asked Bradley to compare the political impact of the Tea Party movement vs. the Occupy Wall Street movement. Bradley thought the occupiers had nice themes and slogans, but the Tea Party was so powerful it almost brought the country to bankruptcy:

SMILEY: Since you just ticked off, Senator Bradley, a list of activist movements that have, in fact, made the country better, you talk in the new text “We Can All Do Better” about the two activist moments I would suspect that most Americans would list if asked to name the two most contemporary movements that we have seen impact our body politic.

In no particular order, namely, the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. It is your opinion, though, as I read your book, that neither one of them, neither one of these movements, that is, has really succeeded. Is that accurate?

BRADLEY: No, I would say that I think Tea Party succeeded more than Occupy.  And I’ll just create the context. [The] Tea Party had a very specific objective, which was roll back government. They chose to get involved directly in congressional relations – sorry, congressional races, and in 2010 they elected 43 Tea Party Republicans.

In the summer of 2011, when President Obama and Speaker Boehner had an agreement on principle on the deficit that included taxes, entitlements, defense, et cetera, et cetera, it was the 43 Tea Party Republicans who rejected that in the Republican caucus and brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy.

So when people say, look, things can’t change, well, nobody heard of Tea Party in 2009, and here they were, two years later, bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy because of their radical, right-wing views.

In a one-sided discussion on PBS, a fight over spending and the debt limit is blamed on the Tea Party Republicans, who were apparently supposed to arrive in Washington and wave a white flag at Nancy Pelosi. Bradley went on to suggest that Republicans like Richard Mourdock are “ignorant” of the Constitution if they seek to build majorities to direct the D.C. compromises further to the right:

BRADLEY: You saw Dick Lugar, Republican senator from Indiana, losing in a primary to a Tea Party guy two weeks ago, and the Tea Party guy said, “The era of collegiality is over. The era of confrontation has begun.” He went on to say his idea of being successful in Washington was to get Democrats to agree to his position. That shows such ignorance about the country. We wouldn’t have a Constitution unless we had compromise, and they don’t want to compromise.

On the other hand, you have Occupy. Occupy called attention to a very important issue – income inequality – and they had a great slogan – “We’re the 99 percent.” They were also very well – and what they did also, however, was they chose not to get involved in congressional races, and they chose not to have a specific objective. So they have had less impact than the Tea Party on the system.

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