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U.S. needs grassroots movement besides Tea Party

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Tea Party sympathizers have a right to be mad at the government. The gap between the rich and poor is increasing while social mobility is decreasing. We are falling behind other countries in education, our infrastructure is crumbling, and we could be doing a better job of taking care of the environment.

However, the Tea Party movement addresses none of these issues. Conservative political action committees have manipulated the movement’s followers to serve their own agendas. They have capitalized on the Tea Party’s belief of limited government to roll back regulations on corporations, enact tax cuts for the wealthy and slash benefits for the nation’s poorest Americans.

The average Tea Party sympathizer advocates for things that don’t even remotely serve their own interests. There are two reasons why this is happening. First, business tycoons like Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Adelson have spent millions of dollars to convince them that these are good policies. The two highest-spending groups in the 2012 election cycle supported Tea Party candidates. One narrative these PACs produce is that people on welfare are too lazy to work for themselves. Another is the denial of global warming to elect representatives, who are more than happy to roll back environmental regulations.

Secondly, the average Tea Partier considers President Barack Obama public enemy number one. A 2012 survey by the American Cooperative Election Study found that only one percent of Tea Partiers approved of Obama’s job performance. The survey also found that more than half of Tea Party Republicans believe that Obama was a Muslim and born in another country. The Tea Party’s distrust of Obama runs so deep that they will oppose his policies even if they are clearly beneficial, and support policies advanced by his opponents that subvert their interests.

With dysfunction running rampant in Washington D.C., the American public needs a powerful grassroots movement that puts pressure on Congress to mobilize — not one that exacerbates the problem. We need a movement that puts pressure on our representatives to enact sensible legislation — not one that forces government shutdowns.

The cornerstone of this movement should be minimum wage. If all Americans were paid a salary that was sustainable, there wouldn’t be much need for entitlements. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median fast food employee is 29 years old and earns less than $9 an hour. Raising this median salary a few dollars would go a long way toward reducing government spending and improving the quality of life for a lot of people.

We also need to invest more heavily in education, infrastructure, jobs programs and feasible environmental policies that preserve our country for future generations.

These are sensible ideals that will move our country forward. The only problem is there isn’t a movement large enough or organized enough to champion such values.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 30 print edition. John Axelrod is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]

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