Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tea-Partying, the Myth of Intellectual Progress, Bipartisanship, and Sister Sarah

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 na├»ve 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.


  1. Thank you, Dino. Totally kick-ass (pardon my exuberant eloquence ;). It needed to be said.

    And amen to this (as well as to the rest of it):

    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.

  2. You hit the nail on it. I've been mulling a post for the longest time on Abraham Lincoln; back in December when Mr. Beale and I were in New York, the NY Historical Society had a truly amazing exhibit about Lincoln's visit to New York City on the eve of the Civil War. If anyone is in New York before it closes I highly recommend it. There was so much richness and nuance to it, I really got a much better idea of the political dynamic that existed back then. And it scared the crap out of me because it reminded me a lot of now: you had Wall Street financiers and business interests fighting against Lincoln because they had so much $ invested in Southern cotton plantations; you had the press taking sides, preachers taking sides, there was race baiting and the nativist, bigoted Know-Nothings, perhaps the political heirs of the modern Tea Party movement.

    Fascinating, and depressing, that we keep repeating the same script over and over again. Maybe we can avoid assassination and civil war this time.

  3. Thanks for this post.

    Faux tea-party folk of 2010 fail to realize that the original and true tea-part folk objected to a king on the other side of the ocean who was extracting their hard earned coins for his own wealth.

    True tea-party folk would be out there today objecting to corporations who extract our hard earned coins so their oil barons, bank execs and insurance company boards can live like kings. They just don't recognize that the modern day King George is not the federal government, but the wealthy corporations who are doing their best to own the government. It is time for we the people to take it back.

  4. The original tea party rebellion was against the British East India Co: a CORPORATION. And now we have Dick Armey and Koch Industries stoking the anger of the masses for their own profit under a Tea Party moniker.


  5. Has anybody ever googled "tea baggers"? I just did and I'll cut and paste what it says if I can stop laughing long enough!
    This is what is written in Wikipedia:"Teabagging is a slang term for the act of a man placing his scrotum in the mouth[1] or on or around the face (including the top of the head) of another person, often in a repeated in-and-out motion as in irrumatio. The practice resembles dipping a tea bag into a cup of tea."

  6. More than welcome, Elizabeth and maleeper, and thanks to SoBe. Rocky, yes, libs have been gleefully mocking them for that choice of terms. I think "Tea Party" is Brit-slang for something equally foolish, too, though I'm no expert on that kind of stuff. Best quip I've heard about "tea-bagging" has to go to Bill Maher, if memory serves. To paraphrase loosely, "these people took a perfectly good sex term and turned it into something dirty and shameful."

  7. Many years ago, when I was younger and would lay awake at night thinking of the social struggles of another time, I perceived myself and my parents’ generation as children of the 20th Century. I also believed there were throwbacks to earlier times … chauvinists, loyalists, social Darwinists, … living relics from every age and epoch since the beginning of civilization. I believed these vestiges of history still live among us, the veritable undead, a motley simulacrum from space-time.

    Plausible? I am certain Jung or Campbell would agree. Supposedly, mythical themes and archetypes offer a psychological Archimedes Point, a ground upon which to stand among the many uncertainties of modern life. At least mythic archetypes offer a moral structure; but the unruly teabag rabble seems adrift … devoid of reason, platform, or purpose.

    Sarah Palin does not represent these people. She is paid by special interests to incite them. The people listen, not because she has something worthwhile to offer, but because they are angry and in search of a scapegoat for ritual sacrifice, and a leader in which to pour their anger. That is the dangerous part. Sarah Palin is more cheerleader than leader, and the anger and passions of these people are up for grabs by the first real demagogue who comes along.

    "The falcon cannot hear the falconer ..."

  8. "The original tea party rebellion was against the British East India Co: a CORPORATION."

    Yes, a corporation that had political power greater than the sum of its members and its own army and navy and the ability to make and impose its own laws. Sounds like the future to me.

    Nothing new under the sun or in the slime bucket.

  9. "multidirectional ranting" is the best and most accurate phraseology I have heard in a long time. It reminds me of a line from Alice in Wonderland: "She's in that state of mind that she wants to deny something -only she doesn't know what to deny!"

    I've seen multiple interviews of people done at Palin's rallies and at Tea Party events who have been asked how they feel about X policy or what their views are on YZ issue, and they have no cogent answer. In many cases they don't know anything about the policy or the issue at stake. Many of the people at Palin's rallies didn't know where she stood on different things, and couldn't give you their own stance on many issues.

    But they were all very passionate about their belief that she was the right person, the most qualified and best person for the job, even if they didn't know what she stood for.

    Equally, they were all very passionate about their belief that Obama (and by default, Liberals of all stripes including Democrats) were intent on destroying America, that they were instituting Communism and Socialism, and that they were going to take away all of our health care with this reform and basically hand the keys to the country over to terrorists. When presented with information to the contrary, they simply negated it out of hand.

    This is a terrifying picture of our society; one in which uninformed emotionalism takes precedence over fact-finding and rational thought.

    It really scares me, to the point that I have asked my husband what we'll do if the unthinkable should happen in 2012 (and I don't mean anything that has to do with the Mayan Calendar, either.)

  10. But they were all very passionate about their belief that she was the right person, the most qualified and best person for the job, even if they didn't know what she stood for.

    For Palin's supporters, she is familiar, Satyavati -- she is "one of us," just a regular gal with the right ideas (= like ours), not too bright and not too strange to be intimidating and off-putting.

    This is why they like her -- and are freaked out by the strange-looking guy with a weird name and the elitist aroma about him (you know, all that intelligence, education, eloquence, and a depth to him that is alien, if not downright terrifying to Joe and Jane Wingnuts).

    Familiar is good and trustworthy. Alien, not so much. Must destroy.

    And the right-wing demagogoues, the political puppetmasters, exploit these fears and use them to their advantage, stoking the populist hatred and delusions.

    You can dump pretty much anything on The Other -- all your prejudices, fears, rage and personal disappointments. The Other is a perfect vessel for our projections -- and, for average Americans, Obama fits The Other's role like no other (no pun) president in our history.

  11. Spot-on commentary by RJ Eskow at HuffPo:

    Never underestimate Sarah Palin. She did a better job articulating anti-banker sentiment at last week's Tea Party Convention than Obama's done. Its followers don't realize it, but the Tea Party movement is really a Trojan Horse filled with bankers and lobbyists. It's a brilliantly designed mechanism for channeling anti-bank rage to the banks' own benefit, with Palin et al. in the forefront.

    And it could work.

    The plan is to channel anti-Wall Street rage into an overall fury at "them" -- big government, "liberal elites," everybody who seems to be better off than you and your family -- and turn that rage toward the political party that most favors banks.


    The irony is that this "populist" movement was a creation of the wealthy and privileged from the start.


    The Tea Party plan is simple: Use anti-bank rage to help the Republicans win, so they can give banks even more power. Can the banksters really outsmart the Democrats and pull off a trick like that? From the look of things, the answer might well be:

    You betcha.

    Full text.

  12. " ... the Tea Party movement is really a Trojan Horse filled with bankers and lobbyists ..."

    Thanks for this link, Elizabeth. This has been my theory from the start ... why I have restated in numerous comment threads over the past few weeks:

    Sarah Palin does not represent these people. She is paid by special interests to incite them."

    The tea party movement started as an "atroturf" event organized by Dick Armey of Freedom Works to kill healthcare reform. The reason why the tea baggers are leaderless right now, the organizers have moved on to other client business.

    Meanwhile, they are still out there ... the angry tea baggers ... a ragtag group waiting to be exploited by another corporate lobbying PR firm.

    And Sarah Palin is out there too ... eagerly awaiting another $100,000 speaking fee to stir the pot on behalf of the lobbyists who pay her.

    Herein lies our mission: Expose this stinking hypocrisy for what it is ... and convince the tea baggers that they are being played for suckers.

  13. If the lefties/liberals/progressives don't tap into the people's anger, the right-wing tea baggers will ... and are.

    Interested in more? Read: We the People are as Mad as Hell: Are we becoming a Banana Republic?

  14. "baggery." What a perfect name for this most painful political paradigm. Thanks and I hope I can steal it :-)

  15. Baggers are definitely throwbacks, but the attention they're generating is downright scary.

    btw, I added a link to this post at


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