A political movement, with populist roots, that expresses dismay and resentment towards high taxes, high levels of deficit spending, accumulating national debt, and grasping increases of Federal power over the economy is a good thing. It can provide fuel and foundation for significant, principled, and effective political action. And it can be a force for the creation of good policy and making America a better place.
The “tea party” movement is not that movement. Glenn Beck’s teary-eyed rants are not that call to action.
It could have been, which is more the pity. But with stuff like this going on at the “tea party” movements, it’s going to be very difficult for the movement to regain whatever credibility it started out with. The linked video begins with the scheduled speaker and group leader announcing that 1) Barack Obama’s presidency represents the culmination and last step in a fifty-year long effort by the international communist conspiracy to take over the United States, 2) he urges all of the “tea party” attendees to not send their children to college, and 3) he holds himself out as an example of a principled Amercan by not paying any taxes at all. And then at just shy of five minutes into the video, there is this colloquy:
Off-Camera Woman: [Shouts] Burn the books!
[Scattered applause, possibly not for her]
Off-Camera Man: I don’t think you were serious about that, were you?
Woman: I am too.
Man: “Burn the books?”
Woman: The ones in college, those, those brainwashing books.
Man: [laughs nervously] “Brainwashing books?”
Man: Which ones are those?
Woman: Like, the evolution crap, and… [pause] Yeah!
Now, the voices are off camera, and the quality of those voices is noticeably better than the quality of the audio pickup for the speaker leading the discussion. What’s more, characterizing conservatives as book-burners plays very closely into left-wing stereotypes about what conservatives really are, and that is for the most part a maliciously untrue characterization.
So my B.S. meter is getting some medium-range readings here, because it’s plausible in my mind that the voice-overs are actually dubs put in to subvert the message that the “tea party” organizer is trying to spread. Or that she was there and actually said these things, but was fulfilling the role of agent provocateur.
But on the other hand, sadly, I must admit that there are some genuinely crazy types out there. And this “tea party” thing is accreting Kool-Aid drinkers at an alarming rate. Honorary movement leder Glenn Beck is drawing what appear to be non-sarcastic concerns about his mental health based on his on-camera conduct like pretending to set someone on fire in the studio to make a point. And there are some people out there who think that censorship (although they often call it something else) has a place in our society, people who tend to do things like try to get Harry Potter books pulled out of public libraries because they are offended by the notion of witchcraft.
For those who oppose the social, foreign-policy, and/or economic goals of the President, not controlling this sort of thing is going to prove very, very counterproductive.