What’s depressing about the Tea-Folk is how ahistorical they seem – in spite of all the Revolutionary War paraphernalia and symbolism, a lot of what I hear coming from them could only be the result of nearly total ignorance of American history, economics, and just about everything else. They evidently believe that their multidirectional ranting substitutes for genuine reflection. I call it what it is: fashionable cynicism spiked with jump-up-and-down-at-the-tinfoil-rally enthusiasm.
A contradiction at the heart of modern conservatism (allowing for some exceptions) is that the right almost invariably opposes any assertion of authority on the government’s part if it’s meant to help anybody, but they almost invariably support all assertions of authority on the government’s part so long as that authority is directed against the people. Provided that the feds are wiretapping or torturing or clandestinely imprisoning, they should be able to do it without having to deal with annoying chatter about rights or freedoms, but let someone propose to improve access to health care for ordinary citizens, and that’s a socialist projectile aimed at the heart our liberties. This contradiction renders much of what comes from the American right as incoherent in its articulation as it is pernicious and cruel in its tendencies. Libertarians may be naïve about the virtues of untrammeled capitalism, but at least they’re ideologically consistent; one can’t say the same about the Tea-Baggers.
The growth of ’Baggery as a movement shouldn’t surprise us. There is little or no progress in the history of ideas. It’s a mistake to suppose that any idea has ever been permanently consigned to the ash-heap of history: there’s always a new crop of people whose heads are as empty as a dry teapot and easily filled to the brim with the same old nonsense – in this case, the Randian myth of the absolute individual, the blockheaded assertion that all government is inherently evil and unnecessary, or the myth of the pure free market. The same stale rhetoric based upon outmoded ideas unmediated by historical experience is easily recycled for a new generation, and it works on millions since it hits them with the force of a newly articulated idea. How many of these guvmint-bashers and pro-marketeers do you suppose have ever heard of Adam Smith, much less knew that he was a moral philosopher or read his 1776 masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations?
Nothing could be more revealing about the Tea-Types than speaker Sarah’s use at the Convention of a line I think all of us have come to associate with Trollerei: to paraphrase, “So how’s that hope and change thing workin’ out for ya?” Since originally posting a version of this piece as a comment, I’ve read that the actual line was much better – “hopey changey.” That this woman is considered competent to run for national office by even a sizeable minority testifies to the poverty of our civic life and educational system. I have seen nothing in her performances that indicates comprehension or maturity beyond the level of a particularly unpleasant middle-school student. I don’t like writing in such terms about a public figure, but her repeated insults directed at the president – a man a hundred times her better in any number of ways -- compels me to call her conduct what it is: juvenile.
Finally, the same disdain goes out to the Republican Rogues’ Gallery in Congress. I wish President Obama would stop claiming to know that certain right-wing Republicans “love America.” Getting misty-eyed when the National Anthem is sung at a ball game isn’t enough: love of country demands genuine regard for your country’s institutions and for its actual inhabitants. The faction I’m referencing have made it clear by their conduct that they care nothing for the old woman who needs health care urgently, or the child whose future may depend on a decent education, or the consumer who’s been fleeced, or the worker who can’t find anything to do. The worst crime, as far as they are concerned, is not the excessive taxation they so often decry or the over-regulation they deplore, it’s to spend any of the vast wealth collected from millions of ordinary citizens on those same citizens or to try to keep corrupt monopolists from defrauding them.
The nation’s wounds, under such people’s tenure, would be declared the result of a pre-existing condition and denied Mr. Lincoln’s “binding up,” and the soldier’s “widow and his orphan” might as well pack their bags for the nether regions at once, for all the consideration they’re likely to get from such unconscionable, filibustering louts. I ask the president kindly to stop pretending that this gaggle of obstructionist buzzards are on our side or that they are even amenable to democratic process. Much more appropriate would be an FDR-style welcoming of their hatred and a determination to proceed on the mandate bestowed in 2008.
PS – this is an augmented version of a comment I made on Capt. Fogg’s recent post.