Let me be clear that I do not equate the two, but that I see similarities between the two. There is no formal paramilitary wing of the Tea Party, for example. (Although, there is the matter of Sarah Palin’s “hit list” that resulted in an attack on a Democratic congresswoman…) However, both movements were funded by wealthy industrialists that sought to take their grassroots anger and make it more business-friendly.
I would refer the interested reader to chapters 5 and 6 of Shirer’s excellent Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As you follow along, starting on page 135 of the PDF file, make note of the similarities.
First to be seen is the funding from industrialists, as described by Walther Funk, who later joined the NSDAP. His modern equivalent would be the Koch brothers, who have plowed extensive amounts of cash into the Tea Party to keep it from denouncing ethanol subsidies, among other things. Hitler was eager to adopt an Ayn Rand-like attitude towards business when it meant large amounts of cash would flow his way. The Tea Party is the same. When the Nazis introduced a bill in 1930 that would have made interest rates over 4% illegal, Hitler stopped that bill immediately. The Tea Party is equally quick to do the bidding of its industrial masters.
Both parties gained a great deal of popularity during hard economic times. While this is natural for populist movements, both these movements have sought to worsen conditions in order to increase their own popularity and, hence, power. The Nazis chose to start massive street battles with their political opponents, while promising strict law and order if they were elected to power. The Tea Party held the nation’s finances hostage in the debt ceiling debates, while demanding that those very finances be put in order. As a result of Tea Party intransigence, the nation’s finances took a big hit with the downgrade of our debt rating. Shirer’s description of Nazi-led parliamentary maneuvers (on p. 161 of the PDF) echo the ways in which both the Tea Party and the GOP in general have sought to rule as a minority through exploitation of rules created to facilitate legislation. They have taken those rules and twisted them into procedural weapons.
Both parties also refused to work with the majority of the people of their nations in order to impose their views upon their respective nations. The Nazis had it easiest, given the highly fragmented nature of Weimar Germany’s political parties. The Tea Party grew as a movement within the GOP and has come to dominate much of the GOP’s political discourse. The Tea Party is seen as being closely connected to the GOP base and while it cannot count on a fragmented opposition, it can count on an opposition unable to move any bills through the House without Tea Party approval. By withholding that approval, the Tea Party has effectively brought Congress’ ability to pass laws to a halt. That means the whole of America is subjected to a de facto Tea Party veto on any legislation, even though a majority of Americans oppose the Tea Party’s extremism. It’s straight out of the Nazi playbook: Gregor Strasser, one of the top Nazi leaders in 1931 said, “All that serves to precipitate the catastrophe . . . is good, very good for us…”
And what of the opposition to the Nazis and Tea Partiers? Shirer’s words about the German scene in the 1930s could easily describe the USA of the 2010s: “… too absorbed in looking after the special economic and social interests they represented to be able to bury their differences.” Dead on, I would say. “Parliamentary government had become a matter of what the Germans called Kuhhandel – cattle trading – with the parties bargaining for special advantages for the groups which elected them, and the national interests be damned.” Did Shirer have a crystal ball, or are humans that prone to such failures in representative democracies?
Both the Nazis and Tea Party movements worked with conservative political factions, with varying degrees of accommodation. In the case of the Nazis, they saw no true common purpose with the old-line conservatives and hoped to bring about a new sort of conservatism in Germany. Likewise, the Tea Party does not always play well with the rest of the Republican caucus, and has flaunted party discipline on ideological matters. There’s another similarity: the placing of ideology above all else, using it as a guide to shout down truths that would give the lie to their positions. The Nazis would hear nothing to contradict their lies about Jews and Communists: the Tea Partiers can stand no word against their position on global warming (or the lack thereof) and the free market.
Within two years of the Nazi’s big political showing in 1931, their leader was in power. If the economy doesn’t turn around soon, a Tea Partier may very well be elected to the presidency of the USA within two years of the Tea Party’s big splash in 2010. This is where differences between the Tea Party and the Nazis become critical. Hitler was not a puppet of the industrialists and they badly miscalculated in supporting him. I don’t see anyone with the same energy and drive as Hitler in the Tea Party leadership, so it’s likely that a Tea Party president would be very much like a worse(!) version of George Bush II: a plaything for the industrialists, given free hand to inflict a disastrous social and foreign policy on the nation.
Sadly, there’s one difference I wish the Tea Party had, but does not. While the Tea Party itself is not a racist movement, white supremacist groups report that they have excellent recruitment opportunities whenever the Tea Party stages a protest. That means that although the Tea Party itself does not advocate a racist agenda, its ranks are shot through with radical, racist elements.
Could a Tea Party candidate win, even if a majority of the nation was opposed to the Tea Party itself? Absolutely. If people are mad enough at Obama to either vote against him or not vote at all, a GOP led by the Tea Party could find itself in control of the White House and both branches of the legislature.