Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Progressives Can Learn at Their Local Tea Party

Say what you will about the Tea Partiers, and believe you me, I’ve said plenty. They’re often incoherent, positionless, allied with racists and religious zealots, and terrible spellers. They’re more likely to pull a Teddy Roosevelt and open the door for future conservative losses than to actually make gains. They care far more about the purity of the party than the actual activities of governance. But this isn’t surprising. Their heroes are television pundits. Their queen is a substanceless cheerleader who thinks that quitting her current government job is the ticket to getting a job with far greater responsibilities.[1] More importantly, they’re composed mostly of the sort of people who see their sojurn on Earth as an extended visit in the waiting room and believe their time is best spent twiddling their thumbs and awaiting the glorious appearing of their ever-so-tardy lord and savior. This leaves very little room for policy wonks, point-headed intellectuals[2], or anyone who is actually interested in governance. The only sort of politics or rhetoric that matter in the movement are the emotional appeals. The reason the Tea Partiers don’t seem to have any coherent platform is because we keep looking for the sort of platform that’s traditionally won races. Theirs isn’t a platform built of carefully considered positions and policies. Theirs is a platform built of one statement: “I’m mad as hell.” The thing they’re mad at seemingly changes with the wind. This can be chalked up to the simple explanation that we’re talking about people conditioned to the extremely short attention span of the sound byte. They are, in short, easily swayed, especially because the vetting process for the voices the average Tea Partier trusts does not consist of rigorous fact-checking, but constant purity checking. Things are right because a particular authority said them, not because they’re a part of objective reality. And those authorities know how to play it. They start with the sound byte. It’s usually something that’s sort of true, or at least buffed up to a fine sheen of truthiness. The sound byte is then supported with quotes taken out of context and assertions to the effect that “history teaches us [this].” If challenged, the authority (or, more likely, the person parroting the authority’s argument) will ignore challenges or outright assert that the person challenging them does not understand history, politics, or the meaning of specific loaded terms. This is often made far more frustrating by the fact that the person making those assertions is the one who doesn’t have a fucking clue what those words mean, but is only saying what someone else says they mean.[3] The rise of the Tea Party movement is, on some level, completely predictable. Its seemingly spectacular and precipitous implosion is just as predictable. Hell, I’m pretty sure that I called it back during the NY-23 election. I didn’t quite go the full monty and say the Tea Partiers would self-destruct, but in explaining how the they were going to pull the Republicans apart I also pretty much explained how they’d pull themselves apart. I suppose if I’d bothered taking them seriously I might have taken the next step, but I never saw the possibility of a National Tea Party. It just doesn’t make sense. Again, you have to have a perspective of the world that your average Tea Partier comes from. So you have to understand how they arrange their churches. They’re not usually parishioners at your basic Catholic or Presbyterian Church, where there’s an overall corporate structure. They go their local non-denominational, independent church where there is no oversight. Even being in a Southern Baptist or General Association of Regular Baptists church isn’t a sign that there’s oversight. Those organizations are closer to fraternal organizations or confederations than corporate structures. The people who attend, say, First Baptist Church of Bumfuck, Alabama are probably going to believe that the Catholics down the street aren’t real Christians and those Lutherans probably aren’t, either. Hell, there’s a reasonably good chance they’ll have questions about the Baptists in the church down the street. There’s a very insular mentality to the whole thing. And since these are the driving personality types behind the Tea Party movement, it’s not surprising to see that they are incapable of organizing at a national level. Now all we need to do is drum up a Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann lesbian sex scandal and somehow have Mike Huckabee and Glenn Bek[4] caught snorting coke off Bill O’Reilly’s ass during the ensuing investigation and we’re golden. Remember, it’s the leaders, stupid. That’s actually one of the things that the right simply does not understand about the left. Obama came on as a charismatic, articulate intellectual who instilled hope in his party and his followers. There was the brief “he can do no wrong” period, but by the time the ballots were counting the only people making the Obama = Jesus claims were people attempting to belittle the right and keep a sound byte alive for the purposes of derision. When it turned out Barack Obama didn’t walk on water and couldn’t create change just by snapping his fingers and sending his army of unicorn riding leprechauns forth to do his bidding the people who piled all their hopes and dreams of a post-Bush world of rainbows and lollipops grew disappointed. It happens. It is, in fact, the simplest thing in the fucking world to understand. It’s just that no one in the media seems to understand the implications. Charitably I’d say they’re…okay, I can’t figure out any way to say anything charitable about this. The media is either stupid or dishonest. Remember the last two years of the Bush presidency? Remember how the only people in the world with a lower approval rating the Gee Dubs himself were Dick Cheney and the Democratic majority Congress? Then what happened with the 2008 election? The Republicans lost ground EVERYWHERE. That strongly disliked Democratic Congress actually got bigger. And it wasn’t just because of the Presidential election coattails phenomenon. The majority of the country wanted the Republicans completely out of power. They wanted some of that hope and change stuff they were promised. Right now the Democrats are not delivering on their promises. It’s not all bad. They’re doing a few things. But they’re failing miserably on the big stuff. And don’t even get me started on the way Obama is perpetuating some of the most odious of the Bush policies in terms of things like state secrets. Look at the numbers. Between three-fifths and three-quarters of the country is in favor of some form of health care reform. They know the system is broken, it’s driving them to the poor house, and something has to be done. Yet wanting to bring about reform is being painted as “radical.” And so we get the dumbest fucking possible sound bytes. After the Massachusetts special election the media hype machine called it a “referendum on Obama’s Presidency.” And then several Democrats (Blue Dogs, all, as I recall) had the nerve to say that it meant the American people wanted Obama to move farther to the Right. Because Massachusetts voted for Scott Brown over Martha Coakley, who, as far as I can tell, was the least appealing candidate since…well, since at least that boring, personality-less weirdo who ran for the Tea Partiers in NY-23. Politics. We’re setting the bar real low… Let’s go back a bit historically. And I don’t mean, like, 1066 and all that. I mean “the last fifteen months.” People strongly disapproved of the Democratic Congress, then voted to make it bigger. Why were they disappointed? Because they wanted it to get something accomplished, grow a fucking spine, and stand up to Bush. Possibly not in that order. People are now disappointed with Congress and President Obama. I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s because they were expecting the Democrats to actually do that “grow a spine” and “get something accomplished” bit when all they had to stand up to was a Republican superminority in the Senate. Why is this so complicated? My theory is pretty simple: it’s because America is a politically stunted nation. The winner-take-all approach to the voting system encourages a stunted, two party system that was fine when the big debate was “states’ rights” or “federal power” but is real tough when there are about a million political issues to throw around. The Electoral College discourages focusing on the will of the people and instead encourages focusing on the will of specific people in strategic locations. This further cements the two-party system. The two party system, in turn, encourages binary thinking. If a voter doesn’t like the candidate of one party, their only real options (outside of just voting the party line) are to not vote, throw their vote away on someone who can’t win, or vote for the opposite party. This, in turn, encourages the dipshits on the news to declare things like, “The Massachusetts special election was a referendum on the Obama Presidency. Guess what? He’s a lame duck and no one loves him any more.” It doesn’t have to be that way. And you know who’s showing that it’s possible to change? The Tea Partiers. Yeah, you heard me. Look, they’re incoherent and often moronic. They don’t have any real political savvy. They don’t understand or care about policy. But they do wholeheartedly believe one thing: the Republican Party does not represent them and they don’t have to put up with just choosing between the Republicans and the Democrats. And this is the one place in politics where the zealot can make a huge difference. Because they don’t believe in compromise the politicians who want to stay in power have to figure out how to stop them or join them. So the Tea Partiers have managed to drag most of the major players in the Republican Party even farther in to the crazy conservative Christian camp. So the Overton Window has shifted a bit to the right. The news media has gone right along with it. The Democrats sure as shit have gone with it, too. That means that if Progressives want to continue to have a voice they need to do something crazy. They need to learn from the Tea Partiers. Sitting around hoping that this time the Democrats won’t fold to the craziest of the Right won’t do a damn thing. Progressives need to send a simple message: legislate according to the will of the people or you’ll be gone. But they need to go one step further than the Tea Partiers. They need to figure out how to put someone to the left of the local Democrat in to Congress. It probably won’t be hard, at least for people who can’t vote for Barney Frank or Dennis Kucinich. ------------------------------------ [1]And don’t even get me started on Sarah Palin… [2]I really, really want someone to explain to me the etymology of the concept of the “pointy-headed intellectual.” I would think that “pointy-headed” would imply “brainless.” [3]As evidenced by the fact that Barack Obama is somehow simultaneously a socialist, Communist, Nazi, Muslim terrorist. You can be one of those things. You can be some combination of parts of those things, but you cannot be all of those things at once. The two that are most easily conflated are socialist and Nazi, and not because someone noticed that the Nazis were actually the National Socialist Party. There’s a reason for the use of the word “Socialist” in there, and that’s because Nazism did contain parts of socialism. Basically, the idea of the state taking some control over the means of production and having a hand in the day-to-day welfare of its people is a really good first step in creating a totalitarian dictatorship. However, the key point of divergence is this: socialism, in theory, is about the workers taking control for the purposes of leveling the playing field and making things better for everyone. Fascism, in theory, is about the state taking control for the purposes, well, being in control and that whole boot stamping on face thing. So while Fascism and Communism may well look similar at their early stages, they are very, very different beasts. And the varieties of “socialism” from which they spring are very, very different. There is a reason Hitler and Stalin didn’t get along while Hitler and Mussolini did. Oh, and also, you can’t be a Muslim Communist. You sure as shit can’t be a Muslim Communist who goes to a friggin’ Christian church. Also, Barack Obama was born in the United States of America and is a citizen, just in case the words in this post attract the three or four Birthers out there who are capable of typing properly spelled words in to an internet search bar. [4] He put the “” in “oligarhy.” Sorry, just remembered saying that and it amused the hell out of me.

No comments: