Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to Play Tea Party

Over the past year, the peculiar rise of the "tea party" "movement" has drawn a tremendous amount of attention from the nation's media. As a thousand or so tea partiers arrived here in DC to protest ObambimateurminationCare, or whatever it is they've attempted to rename health care reform, I've been again struck by some of the defining characteristics of the movement. Let me lay some of those out there:

1) Signs Made By Preschoolers. I can't not notice this. Whenever Tea Partiers get out there, they have signs made with magic marker. They are clumsy and roughly done, and stand in stark contrast to the well-printed and designed signs of those who often oppose them. It is a defining feature of the movement.

I think it's supposed to be a mark of authenticity. But honestly, it's just sloppy. If you look back to the populist movements of the early 20th century, you do see hand-made signs. But they used stencils. They looked neat. Organized. Focused. They commanded respect. Surely, surely, amongst all of the folks in that movement, someone must be an assistant manager of a Kinkos. Find that guy. Do a better job.

That may be a highly visible feature of the movement, but it's just surface level. Let's move on.

2) Race: Everyone sees this. In the multihued America in which we live, it is astoundingly obvious. The Tea Party makes the Republican National Convention look like Showtime at the Apollo. Yeah, some of the tea partiers will tell you they have lots of black friends, and their granddaughter is biracial. That's real nice, but honey, y'all are still one big Honkeypalooza.

That doesn't mean they're racists. Not at all. In fact, I think that only a fringe of that fringe harbor nasty ethic hatreds. But it does mean there's a rather impressive monoculture going on...and monocultures have a tendency to fall deep into uncritical groupthink.

3) Class: This is more important. Most tea party folks are working class. They're the folks who used to make things in factories and grow things on farms. They're people with rough hands, with oil and dirt under their fingernails. Though they'd blanch at the very thought, they are the proletariat. They were the flesh-and-blood engine of America's industrial and agricultural might. Now, of course, there's not a thing for them to do besides an eight hour shift at Dennys, followed by two nights a week behind the register at the Gas'N'Go. They are tired, overworked, and underpaid, and their backs hurt.

4) Rage: These are angry, angry people. They are angry because the America they thought they knew is gone. The jobs are gone. The sense of America as a shining city on a hill? Gone. They're on the front line of the collapse of our industrial might.

Why? Well, there's the rub. The reason for that collapse is...well...them. Tea partier's aggressive independence and rugged individualism meant that for decades, they voted for the party of the unfettered and free market. Freedom! Business! America!

That brought about globalization, as capitalism did what capitalism does. The ethic of profit maximization heartily endorsed by American conservatism drove manufacturing to places where it was less expensive. So tea partiers lost their jobs. The ethic of unfettered markets meant that big corporations and agribusinesses flourished, crushing uncompetitive small businesses and small farms under their low, low prices. So more tea partiers lost their jobs. It's the nature of the market, folks. When you voted for Reagan, and then Bush, and then Dubya, that's what you voted for.

But when you exist in a monoculture, which lacks the capacity to critically consider it's own presumptions, you aren't going to be able to make that connection. You just know that EVERYTHING IS GETTING WORSE. Your anger is inchoate, formless, and can't seem to find it's mark...because you can't see that you are responsible for your own downfall. Aimlessly angry people are easily manipulated, and so deeper they go, lost in a trap of their own making. It's hubris in it's most classical form, writ across the broken lives of the common people of our republic.


  1. I'm an independent. Never registered for a party. Your post is thoughtful but I am so fed up with the Republicans I can't even give them the benefit of the doubt anymore.

    If the Democrats put a bill through congress to call the clear sky blue, the Republicans would vote unanimously against it, claiming it violates people's right to choose their own sky, and lead to a socialist takeover at sunset.

    Then they'd stir up the unemployed working class claiming that blue skies were going to lead to thousands of baby fetuses being murdered.

    We've seen these people before.

    In old movies clips of the late 20s and early 30s. Mostly in Germany.

  2. I think we should seriously stop emphasizing the race of others in our various political camps. When disagreement arises too many liberals seem to jump straight to the "R" word. I can disagree with liberals and it not be because I'm a lower middle class white male. Who'd a thunk it, right?

    @Jodie, that comment about the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 20's and 30's, that's the same kind of shrill emotional rhetoric one hears from the tea party folk regarding Obama. C'mon, you're better than that. It's highly irresponsible. Read Frank Rich's latest column? Super irresponsible!

  3. No, it IS responsible. I grew up overseas, and I have seen how this plays out up close. Don't think it can't happen here too. This needs to be called what it is, and stopped.

    It may be shrill and I may have emotions about it, but what I am talking about is not rhetoric. It's about the GOP having zero restraints in their hate Obama campaign. Those guys out there are violent thugs. Already they are breaking glass windows and playing on racial fears and threatening the use of force.

    The GOP is trying to lead this country down a very dangerous path assuming, perhaps, that they can regain control of the situation after they get re-elected, and not caring about the consequences if they don't.

    It's dishonorable, its disgraceful, and if they keep it up its going to get people killed. If they can't win without the help of thugs, then it is best if they loose.

    Sorry, but I am really fed up with the GOP. As best as I can tell, they have completely lost their way.

  4. @Jodie-no need to apologize for one's convictions. If you believe what you've stated, then certainly do not apologize for those beliefs.

    My growing concern with both sides of the aisle (left wing, right wing) is the ongoing tendency to make broad sweeping generalizations about various groups of people. That, too, can get dangerous and I find that disconcerting and alarming as well.

    I think it's good to keep in perspective that for some, whatever Obama does will be recieved poorly. I call it ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome) and interestingly enough it is very similiar to BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) of the previous 8 years. Bush was compared to Hitler, Mussolini and various other despots by those on the left and yes, hated. For whatever reason the nation is more polarized and has been for awhile now and I find that sad.

    Seems as if civil disagreement is a rarity these days. Except on Beloved Spear's blog. ;o)

  5. I have to agree with Jonathan a little bit in that both sides are pretty paranoid about things the opposing side does. However, it does seem to me that the far right is more psychotic about it than the far left. There have been threats of violence on both side but it seems like there is more violence on the right and far more racism. That doesn't mean to say that all those on the right are violent and racist, but it certainly gives conservatives a bad name and if I were conservative I would be embarrassed. I AM embarrassed that I'm an American with all these lunatics, however.

  6. There needs to be some compassion for these folks. They trusted in something (the GOP, the State, their credit score, whatever) that didn't deliver on its false promises. They're emotional and ripe for a new leader/savior to exploit them all over again. If they don't think beyond a two party political system, or the political system in general, they'll be doomed to repeat their mistakes.