Friday, February 26, 2010

Another exercise in inanity

I more or less agree with Lawyers, Guns and Money that the recent LAT column by Jim Spencer and Curtis Ellis was pretty vapid. Insofar as the authors describe some demographic data from a recent CNN poll regarding the Tea Party activists, they do okay - but then again, descriptions of that data have already been accomplished by this point. Then the authors go on to make some sweeping generalizations about the baby boomers. Personally, I'd rather stick to a simpler narrative: that what constitutes the Tea Party "movement" (insofar as "movement" is a relevant term in this context) is predominantly white, middle-aged to elderly males, who happen to lead relatively privileged lives. In other words, it's more of a reactionary "movement" aimed at preserving racial and class privilege. Superficially, Tea Party activists have borrowed from the old 1960s New Left and counterculture playbooks (and, just throwing this out there - the New Left and the countercultures such as the hippies really need to be treated as distinct entities, though I digress). Then again, that bit of knowledge tells us little that Richard Hofstadter hadn't already mentioned before about extreme right-wing groups in his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics:
It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy.* Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.
In other words, we've been here before. If nothing else, as I've already mentioned, and without making grand sweeping claims about whole generations, we have some actual data that debunks the myth that the Tea Parties are being attended by "just regular folks who happened to get a raw deal." That myth is little more than a marketing ploy to fool the rest of the American public into letting our era's Robber Barons continue to rip us all of in broad daylight. We can also lay to rest the notion that the Tea Parties are viable as a political movement over the long haul. I've mentioned elsewhere that vital social and political movements tend to be overwhelmingly composed of young adults, a group that is distinctly missing from Tea Party events. That's not to say that these predominantly privileged white middle-aged and elderly males can't make a lot of noise and serve as foot soldiers for this year's GOP political aspirations (the CNN poll duly notes that these activists tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican, including those who are avowed "independents"). On the contrary, they are doing precisely that. I've smelled a rat since the first of the Tea Parties surfaced early last year. There is nothing grassroots about the so-called "movement." If anything, it reminds me of the "spontaneous" protests to stop the Florida recount in the wake of the 2000 election night, and it somewhat reminds me of the relatively privileged "angry white males" I'd run into during my college days a couple decades ago who seemed content to listen to Rush Limbaugh in their dorm rooms. As someone turned off by white privilege to begin with, and who is certainly class conscious (the last few years near the poverty level have been quite the wake-up call, to say the least), I find little of value from all of the Tea Partiers' noise. To the extent that there is a coherent agenda for this bunch, it seems to consist of advocating more tax cuts for the rich, along with a stiff dose of racism and xenophobia - and beyond that blind hatred for Obama (whose policies certainly deserve harsh scrutiny, but, as far as all the birth certificate nonsense ad nauseum), what is there really? Color me unimpressed, and that is putting things diplomatically. Sadly, the Tea Partiers serve as a sideshow distraction from the real suffering that many working and formerly working Americans experience on a day-to-day basis.

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