Monday, October 18, 2010

What the Tea Party is really all about

Contra Frank Rich (in an otherwise good column) and others, FDL's Blue Texan makes a great point about the Teabaggers (one that many of us have made but that the media are generally ignoring, as it contradicts their narrative). It's not all about the economy, stupid:

Anyone who thinks the Teabaggers' unhinged "anger and bitterness" will subside in the face of an improving economy really needs to take a closer look at objective polling on the Teabaggers and review the 1990s.

The '90s was a time of economic prosperity, but because there was a Democrat in the White House, the far-right was in full freakout mode. Back then, Clinton/Gore's black helicopters were coming for their guns and right-wing "patriots" like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph roamed the countryside.

But they weren't called the "Tea Party." They were the Angry White Men.


Polls have shown that Teabaggers are lilly white and well off. They're not the people getting kicked out of their houses by the banksters. They're not unemployed. They're not bearing the brunt of the Great Recession.

They're just doing what they do when Democrats are in charge. Obama's death panels and FEMA camps have replaced Clinton’s black helicopters.

And of course, the fact that this president's middle name is Hussein and he's Muslim and black, well, that's just a few extra scoops of nuts on the wingnut sundae.

These are John Birch Society types, and the crashing of the global economy -- a direct result of the plutocratic "free market" [sic] orgy they helped usher in -- is just a convenient excuse to act out.

That's all it is.

Following up on this, I was meaning all weekend to respond to Peter Berkowitz's idiotic piece in the WSJ on Saturday attacking various liberal commentators -- Krugman, Rich, Dionne, and other "[h]ighly educated people" (sarcastically meant) -- for misunderstanding the Tea Party "movement." While Berkowitz acknowledges that "the tea party sports its share of clowns, kooks and creeps," he argues, with a heavy dose of condescension based on his (Straussian) reading of the Founders, that "the tea party movement is inspired above all by a commitment to limited government."

As a Straussian myself -- sort of, once upon a time, though a liberal one who now finds many Straussians to be highly objectionable right-wing ideologues) -- I respect any such serious reading of the Founders, but it is simply ridiculous to suggest that the Teabaggers are engaged in a "spirited defense of fundamental American principles." That's giving them rather too much credit. Instead of being true patriots, they're mostly a bunch of bitter, angry, fearful (of change, of the Other, of anything that shakes them from their positions of undeserved privilege) loudmouths being propped up by Fox News, the Koch brothers, FreedomWorks, and the Republican Party, which is increasingly indistinguishable from the Tea Party. (And what we're witnessing is not a revival of the old Federalist versus Antifederalist clash to define America. Nothing that grand is going on, certainly not with the Teabaggers wallowing in hypocrisy and resentment and delusionally attacking Obama as illegitimate.)

That aside, 2010 is not 1787. What may have been good government then isn't necessarily good government now, and it's ridiculous to suggest, as Berkowitz and other conservatives do, that it should be in 2010 just as it was back then. Besides, contra all the right-wing propaganda, it's not like Obama and the Democrats want to turn the U.S. into even a European-style social democracy, let along anything more statist.

More could be written about this, of course, but the point -- as if this should even need to be said -- is that an awful lot has changed since 1787, and the cause of the change is not solely (or even mainly) progressivism. How can you have 1787-style limited government in a country with well over 300 million people, with rights properly extended beyond the small class of oligarchic white males (remember that the Founders sanctioned slavery and prescribed in the Constitution that a slave would count as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of Congressional apportionment; remember also that original voting rights in the U.S. were highly restrictive), with the complexities of modern life, and with the globe much smaller than it once was?

If you want "limited," in the way Berkowitz means it, disband the military and give all well-to-do landowning males a musket. How would that have worked during World War II? And forget public education or any sort of social safety net. And forget all that investment that government makes in industry, spurring innovation. Space exploration? That wouldn't have happened. And I suppose the NYPD and NYFD wouldn't have been around to act heroically on 9/11, either. 

That, presumably, is the America Berkowitz would prefer. As for the Teabaggers, they're not nearly so clear about what they want, or about the consequences were they actually to achieve what she seem to want. They seem to like the military, after all, and government interference in our sex lives (most of them are social, if not also theocratic, conservatives), not to mention government handouts to business (those funding the Tea Party "movement" certainly take what they can get), along with Medicare, and perhaps some of them even like their Social Security cheques. Again, they're driven by bitterness, anger, and fear, not by a vision of America based on a reactionary reading of the Federalist, nor even by the current economic climate. They're rising up as the world passes them by. And they're taking out their venomous irrationality, as they always do, on Democratic leadership in Washington, holding American democracy in utter contempt.

That's what the Tea Party is all about.

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