Defending the tea parties, ctd.

A reader writes:

Erik, as someone who lives in the Mighty Whitey Elite NY-DC Corridor, but who comes from Tea Party America, and who has lots of friends and relatives highly sympathetic to the Tea Party movement, I want to say that I think you and Freddie are both right, though your point in defense of the Tea Partiers is a more difficult one for people who live in your (our) social and professional milieu to grasp.

Like Freddie, and I think also like you, I don’t have much time for the Tea Partiers. Their protests are incoherent. Whether they realize it or not, they are setting themselves up as tools of the Republican Party (I’m a registered Republican, by the way, though a deeply disaffected one). In conversations with these people, I am impressed, and not in a good way, by how totally unrealistic they are about the problems facing our country, and the possible solutions. They think Sarah Palin is untouchable, and when you actually try to talk to them about what she stands for, they can’t do it. "Palin good, anti-Palins bad!" is the response I get. They hate "Washington" (and who could blame them for that?), and they hate "big government," but as far as I can tell, their rage is inchoate — which is to say, ultimately pointless, though it can do a lot of damage before it plays itself out. As a conservative who thinks the GOP is pathetic and bereft of ideas, I find the Tea Party movement frightening, when it’s not silly. Strange that a movement can be both ridiculous and unnerving, but that’s how I see them. I think Freddie is right to point out that there’s a lot of bad, crazy stuff going on with those people. To me, the worst thing I’ve seen and heard from them is flat-out racist commentary about President Obama.

But when I read or hear people like Freddie portray these people as nothing more than whiny babies who have lost their "privilege" and who can’t deal with it, I instantly sympathize with them, for reasons you’ve articulated. Look, I know these people. I grew up with them. I am related to them. For all their flaws, I can say confidently that they are in most respects the backbone of this country. They live their own lives, work hard, treat people fairly, and expect to be treated fairly in return. They’re patriotic and proud of what they have, which is too often not a hell of a lot (you don’t see many upper middle class or wealthy people identifying with this movement). It’s easy for people like Freddie to hate on them, not only because some of them make it easy with bigoted statements, but also because they are The Other, and are pleased to identify themselves in opposition to people like Freddie. We are constantly admonished by the media to be understanding and accepting of "diversity" among the various peoples of America, but these white working class and middle class people are the only ones it’s okay to define only by their flaws. I’ve struggled with the same thing many educated Southerners of the post-civil rights generation have: how is it that people who can be so good, so deeply kind and selfless and brave, can be so completely blind and ugly on the question of race? That is, thank God, less of an issue today than it was 20 years ago; times change, and so do people. But the fact is, there are few people, or peoples, who are all good or all bad, and learning to see the people I come from in Tea Party America as fundamentally good despite their (often nasty) biases has been for me a moral education. If you were stranded on the side of the road in rural Alabama, your best friend is likely to be a redneck churchgoing Tea Partier who would come out in the middle of the night to rescue you, and either put you up for the evening or buy you a hotel room. It might not make sense, but I’ve seen this kind of thing happen a thousand times.

The tragedy of these people — hell, my people — is that they don’t grasp how the Republican Party and Fox News exploit them. Did they benefit from the depredations of Wall Street? Hell no! The Republicans and the Democrats both allowed that to happen. In my view, the Republicans have made an art of appeasing the Tea Party types (before they were called that), while really pushing hard for the interests of Wall Street. And the Democrats, despite their pretenses otherwise, consider these white people to be an embarrassment at best, but more often than not a menace. Who is really for them? Nobody, not really. No wonder they’re angry, and confused. I dearly wish they had real leadership, and weren’t taken in by that clown Glenn Beck, that cynic Dick Armey, and that nitwit Sarah Palin. Their grievances are real, and legitimate. But, as Freddie understands, they have chosen whom they’ve chosen, and however sympathetic I am to their plight, I cannot entirely blame people for scorning them for the way they have chosen to express those grievances.

It’s a real mess. In my state’s Republican primary this year, I’ll probably have to choose between a party hack or a Tea Party loon. I don’t know how I’ll vote, if I vote at all. Choices on the Democratic side seem as bad or worse. We’re in a bad fix in this country.

I agree with pretty much all of this.  I still think that the tea party members are more diverse than we give them credit for, and not all of them are as Utopian in their vision of a small-government America as the most vocal ones, but I still see no political home there, any more than in the GOP (let alone the Democrats). 

I’m just going to go start my own political non-movement.  Let’s call it Beat Conservatism.  We’ll all be bums and rail against the centralization of power, against war, against modernity and all that jazz.  We won’t be pissed off all the time, we’ll write poetry.  We won’t rally or make signs or go on TV or run candidates – we’ll just embrace our ineffectualness.  The great irony of true conservatism, if I may call it that, is that at its heart is a distrust of power.  So to really embrace it you must give it up, let go of power, let go of political ambition.  Become political pacifists.  Embrace the culture and not the war.  That’s what my non-movement will be about.  (P.S. if anyone has any literature or references on the end-days of Jack Kerouac I’d appreciate  hearing about it.  He was a life-long Republican, and toward the end of his life re-embraced Catholicism.  Quite a fascinating, but terribly sad man and story.)

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67 thoughts on “Defending the tea parties, ctd.

  1. Here’s the thing: they aren’t actually privileged. Aren’t/weren’t. They have, like most of us, been hoodwinked. They are angry because they believe they have been privileged, because the moneyed class has traded certain cultural goods to them in exchange for their electoral support of the moneyed class’s preferred economic platform– a platform that, from my perspective, disadvantages them.

    Lest anyone worry, of course, there are similar economic/social deals on the left. They’re different, and from my perspective, more beneficial to all, but that’s just to say that I have the politics I have. Politics is the mechanism with which the powerful trade minor goods to the powerless in exchange for maintaining the division of powerful and powerless. On the left and on the right.

    Why do I not bring up the fact that the Tea Partiers are reacting to a loss of perceived privilege rather than a loss of actual privilege? One, because the extent to which any non-moneyed demographic is actual privileged doesn’t exceed the accumulation of these minor social goods that the moneyed deign to trade us in exchange for the perpetuation of their privilege, so on the level in which any non-moneyed group can be privileged, white rural Christians have been. And I think that’s self-evident in our political process; has a politician been born who hasn’t taken pains to appeal to the class I’m identifying? That group has a special political valence in our system that seems to me to exceed their demographic size.

    Secondly, this fuller reading is potentially even more insulting to the Tea Partiers than the less fully explained, and I don’t mean to insult them any more than they deserve by how they have self-defined. And, indeed, when I engage in electoral politics, and when I hope that, for example, the Democrats will use the wheels of political power to deliver tangible goods to those who need them, I am engaging in the same act of self-deception that the Tea Partiers are. That’s not to be a hunger artist. You can make genuine positive change on the level of this horse trading. What you can’t get is a genuine structural change that dramatically threatens the stratification of who has power and who doesn’t.

    The third reason I don’t bring it up is that when I do people call me a Marxist, and that’s a sure way to get yourself written out of the conversation.

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        • I will spell it out for you:

          My point is that differentiating the political parties on the basis you do is invalid. There is some variation according to economic strata in the composition of the political parties, but that is all. (At one time the Republican Party had a strong advantage among the most affluent decile. It does no longer). Subcultural affiliations is the most vigorous predictor of party affiliation, not class.

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    • “Politics is the mechanism with which the powerful trade minor goods to the powerless in exchange for maintaining the division of powerful and powerless. On the left and on the right.”

      I’d add that this is because the alternative – the way to generate “a genuine structural change that dramatically threatens the stratification of who has power and who doesn’t” – is littered with corpses. Civil war, coups d’etat, foreign attack, fully active, ready-to-die resistance. These are all politics as well of course, but are rarely worth the cost. So, I’m personally terrified of the Tea Partiers realizing this is what it will take.

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    • “Here’s the thing: they aren’t actually privileged. Aren’t/weren’t. They have, like most of us, been hoodwinked. They are angry because they believe they have been privileged, because the moneyed class has traded certain cultural goods to them in exchange for their electoral support…”

      Wow. And liberals wonder how the Tea Party recruits…

      I don’t think these people ever thought they were ‘privelaged’. They had certain desires they hoped the GOP would take care of. If anything what they are experiencing now is more akin to frustration, not some immature jealousy over their perceived loss of power. They aren’t mad they lost their sympathetic ear in the Whitehouse, they are mad that while they had one nothing much got accomplished.

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      • they are mad that while they had one nothing much got accomplished.

        This is instructive, because Mike is here recognizing the material conditions that I’m talking about, yet is sure that it is insulting and condescending that I say so. That’s part of the problem with mainstream politics: it is considered worse to recognize real problems if doing so sounds insulting than to perpetuate the real problems in the first place.

        Mike and I don’t disagree, in other words, but he has a self-conception that he feels empowers him to make comments that he doesn’t think I have the standing to make. Which is exactly– exactly— the cultural branding that I have been yammering on about.

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        • I think you are wrong there Freddie. You’re claiming they were ‘hoodwinked’ with the silent implication being that they were stupid enough to fall for such a now-obvious ploy. I simply believe they were disappointed by a party that they put their faith into.

          Have you ever noticed how certain liberals always think everyone else is ripe for manipulation but that they themselves are too brilliant to be deceived?

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          • If you’ll take just a second, you’ll see that I have included myself in the political appropriation by the moneyed class. Repeatedly.

            Have you ever noticed how Mike and Jaybird have poor reading comprehension when debating with me, because they are incapable of arguing on the level of ideas? Don’t obsess, Jay, honey, it confirms all the nasty things I say about you.

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            • Careful Freddie – you can’t claim ‘Resident Asshole’ status anymore. You’ll have to put yourself down for ‘Guest Asshole’ and there are already plenty of applicants for the job…

              So, if I ‘comprehend’ what you are saying, you are self-identifying yourself as one of the easily-duped individuals (i.e. morons) that the moneyed class took advantage of. If that is the case, are you then suggesting we should all read your writings with the same level of interest we would give a less-malleable person?

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              • Again, you’re not reading carefully. I’m not putting myself into some narrow category of dupes. I’m saying that participation in electoral politics by those of us who don’t, and very likely won’t, belong to the empowered overclass is inherently a kind of self-deception. You keep wanting to make this a matter of me sneering at some Other because you think that it will empower your complaints against me, because, again, you think that the greatest sin in all of God’s creation is to appear to be condescending to a certain protected class of people. But, as I keep pointing out, I’m not condescending to them, nor am I imagining some functional difference between myself and them.

                This is what I keep saying: what you mistake for disrespect is at least a proto-respect. Other people might kiss the Tea Partiers asses and fall all over themselves to talk about how they respect their anger and know that they have valid beefs and on and on…. But as much as they are claiming to be demonstrating respect, they are actually heaping on the most corrosive, ugliest form of disrespect there is, which is to refuse to treat people as individuals with the right to self-define. My derision for them is so much better than someone who falls all over himself to respect them while disagreeing with their politics and policies, because I extend to them the respect of listening to them, taking them as they want to be taken, and taking their cultural positioning seriously.

                I don’t need to be Resident Asshole or Guest Asshole, none of that matters to me. What I am is honest. I am no phony. Jaybird never gets that, or never allows himself to get it. You argue on such a level of sensitivity towards the perception that you might possibly be being looked down on that I doubt you get to the point of getting it at all. But really, it’s better this way. You can call me asshole, but I take you as you are. That’s rare.

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                • Freddie, I have *NEVER* thought you were a phony.

                  My problem with you is that your framing any given discussion as a moral argument (and, sure, it probably is) always puts yourself on the side of the Angels who *CARE* and the people who oppose are people who don’t *CARE* as much as you do. You want the world to be a better place! They’re fighting against you! Don’t they understand what’s at stake???

                  You do this instead of assuming that they are coming from a position of good will with different moral premises.

                  It’s not enough that two people disagree for reasons that are worth discussing… it is always framed as you are doing the GOOD, MORAL, RIGHT THING!!! And those other people are “actually heaping on the most corrosive, ugliest form of disrespect there is” to pick a recent example.

                  You remind me of the folks at Focus on the Family.

                  And, please!, understand me when I say this:
                  I don’t think that the folks at Focus on the Family are phony.

                  They’re some of the most sincere people in the world.

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                • Believe me Freddie – when I say ‘asshole’ I am taking you as you are.

                  It’s very easy to be a jerk and then add in, “Just keepin’ it real brother!” It’s much harder to see human beings as complicated and capable of being good people and yet having political positions that you consider morally indefensible.

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            • Yeah, I have noticed that! It’s like he’s deliberately evil. I have no idea how someone as good and noble and close to perfect as you could possibly put up with people like that.

              Don’t let the wreckers get you down, Freddie! We’re all behind you! Once everybody finally cares as much as you do, imagine how good the world will finally be!!!

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    • “Here’s the thing: they aren’t actually privileged. Aren’t/weren’t.”

      I imagine if you said that to a Rwandan, or even some of my Ghanaian relations, you’d be laughed at.

      People can be privileged and still have problems, but in a relative sense, both historically and globally, to be American is to be privileged.

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  2. I think that it’s “possible” the TPers are more, perhaps much more, than you see. I may be wrong, you may be right. However, they have gotten your attention and I would think that an astute political observer, political thinker, as Freddie would not be pretty constantly (at least, lately) spilling bytes over their political naivete, because of a bunch of red-necked ofay hicks.
    I am curious. If you’re offended by the “Marxist” definition which one should be used…progressive?

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    • Who knows? Progressive is often a weak-kneed euphemism, and sorry to anyone who feels differently. I can’t define myself consistently outside of the ebb and flow of my ideas. That’s pretension, of course– the oldest bit of self-promotion in the book is to say, “you can’t define me, man!” I suppose in the end it’s a matter both for other people to settle and other people to care about.

      Also, again, I don’t think they’re politically naive to any degree that isn’t true of all of us. What I do think is that all of the politicians who have constantly told them that they are a special political class (the heart of America, etc.) have done them a disservice, because they have come to believe that rhetoric– and naturally so, considering how often it has been drummed into their heads. But politicians are fickle, and they chase the money first and the votes second, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in fifty years they were treating the urban Hispanic demographic with the same fake reverence that they now treat the rural white demographic.

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      • We went over this on the previous thread, but I have a hard time figuring this out:

        “What I do think is that all of the politicians who have constantly told them that they are a special political class (the heart of America, etc.)”

        And you see CONSERVATIVES as the main culprits in this game? Honestly? Last I checked, the people getting hit the very hardest with the “you are the heart of America” schtick, and getting very little in return for it, were the union members.

        You argued in that previous posts that it was more possible for liberal elites to pal around with the liberal rank and file because, well, liberals are just so darn inclusive. I am simply shocked that you see any difference whatsoever between Republicans and Democrats in this regard.

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  3. Anyone who says they’re all this or that is so unserious as not to even merit response. On the other hand, anyone who hears the statement, “The racism and cultural resentment they allow oxygen in their movement reflects poorly on them to the point that we can dismiss them” as “They’re all racist and/or motivated only by cultural resentment” is distorting a potentially valid criticism for easy dismissal in their own way.

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    • ““They’re all racist and/or motivated only by cultural resentment” is distorting a potentially valid criticism for easy dismissal in their own way.”

      IMO, the “validity” of such criticism works at a different level than you’re supposing. That is to say some of the characterizations might be accurate but mean different things than you want to imply.

      In particular, I do see the TP’s as motivated by loss of power, but it’s not a matter of asserting social superiority to racial minorities. At least as it relates to the Demo political establishment, it’s the fact that the Congressional leadership, the President and the liberal intelligentsia are trying to do things that exceed their electoral mandate, and they’re persevering in these attempts long after it’s been apparent that they are being rejected by the citizens as a whole.

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    • I agree with this Michael, but I also wonder about the dangers of the sentiment expressed in, “The racism and cultural resentment they allow oxygen in their movement reflects poorly on them to the point that we can dismiss them”

      Should we simply only work with people that are 100% above board? What about families with racist grandmothers? Allied countries that are inherently sexist?

      Isn’t – to some degree – the call on a peoples whom you aren’t disposed to agree with to disavow their more unsavory members as a price of being taken seriously, asking for a sacrifice?

      Not to excuse racism or racists but it strikes me as an unreliably subjective standard. I remember the 2008 primary season, when every other week it was fauxrageous statement, followed by disavowal, followed by throwing someone under the bus. It might be satisfying but there’s something very unforgiving, very craven about the whole process that just rubs me the wrong way.

      Indeed, I think it wiser to distinguish claims from those making them, if only because one may be more legitimate than the other, though related they may be.

      Michael, is it somehow insufficient to note that the racism and cultural resentment they allow reflects poorly on them but that their concerns should be evaluated on their own merit, as lacking or supported as they may be?

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      • I wasn’t asserting that quote, merely distinguishing it from rank generalization a la “They are all racists.” I don’t dismiss the austere-but-coherent economic critique offered by the thoughtful people in the Tea Parties, nor do I dismiss their potential political impact. That was actually the main impulse behind this last comment, actually — to say I do respect those who are in it for the principled political critique. But those who can only dismiss them because of what they have seen are not engaging in generalization, but rather judgement. No one has to pay the Tea Parties any more mind than they are inclined to, but no one is at the same time justified in smearing them all for what some have done. But one can dismiss out of hand having any regard for them as a political force because of the failure to prevent certain messages from being sent from within their number. But I personally don’t.

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  4. Here is the thing that always strikes when talking about the tp’s, “For all their flaws, I can say confidently that they are in most respects the backbone of this country. They live their own lives, work hard, treat people fairly, and expect to be treated fairly in return. They’re patriotic and proud of what they have,”.

    I don’t disagree with that, but it is part of the deification of rural, white conservatives that has somehow become part of our culture. Chris Mathews is full of this. They love their peons to white conservative working class people as the true heart of America. Well you know what, all sorts of people love this country, work hard and have built this country. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century did a bunch of building. Inner city blacks who think Jeremiah Wright makes sense have been working and building this country. Liberals own businesses and work and love this country. There is no political label that has a lock on loving America, working or building it. Yet the tp’s or other generic white conservatives are somehow placed on some sort of pedestal by the Palins, Russert’s and Mathew’s, etc of the world.

    When I listen to tper’s I get this sense that they are often just as full of their own sense of wonderfulness and I can’t help but think a bit that is attributed to their whiteness and the belief that white people are more American then others.

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  5. I can’t tell what exactly it is Freddie, E.D. Kain and the reader are disagreeing about at this point. Everyone seems to agree the Tea Partiers have legitimate grievances and that they’re being used by the Powers That Be who have no intention of genuinely addressing those grievances. As Freddie points out, it’s a problem on the left as well.

    I don’t read many rightwing blogs, but do people on the right have similar reactions when, for example, union members are out rallying and campaigning for certain Democrats? I can see people shaking their head and sighing, but the way this kind of stuff just eats away at guys like Freddie is really interesting to me. I’ve felt the same way before, so I’m familiar with the feelings, I’m just not sure I understand where they come from.

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  6. Living in Kentucky I am surrounded by (and related to) lots of people like those described in the reader’s note above. It’s an interesting contradiction to examine many of these people and what draws them to feel the way they do. I have relatives, like those described above, who make racist jokes and remarks yet have black friends they would stop a bullet for. They are grumpy old men who complain about the government daily and yet most served with pride in the military. They seem bitter about a lot of government proposals aimed at helping people yet they themselves are some of the most generous souls you will ever meet.

    I’m not a Tea Party sympathizer by a long shot, but much of that is directed at their leadership. The folks in the movement are complicated and for many this is their first real involvement in politics. Given the climate in mainstream politics, should we really be surprised they chose a bizare alternate route? What is being offered by the mainstream that should have swayed them over to more ‘level-headed’ politics?

    My inclination is to say that these folks will eventually be re-absorbed into more traditional conservative and libertarian circles…but in the meantime, I can say without question that most attempts I have read to dissect and understand the movement have been woefully bad.

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  7. One interesting thing that has been consistent along all these posts is that someone or other will say, “Freddie is why the Tea Parties have so many people!” or “you’re doing the job for the recruiters” or some such. See Mike from the Big Stick above. What’s interesting is that if this is true, it confirms exactly the most damning criticism of the Tea Party phenomenon, which is that it has no coherent positive political agenda and is instead motivated entirely by resentment of liberals. Julian Sanchez describes this as the facet of movement conservatism that is animated more than anything by the fear that somewhere, someone in Manhattan is making fun of you.

    Me, I think that’s simplistic, but that’s the implicit argument of those who say that opinions like mine are what drives the Tea Parties.

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        • Some of the the things Jaybird writes are a little too impressionistic, which tends to emphasize the emotional response over substantive agreement or disagreement. I think that’s something of a shame because I’d like us to get to the bottom of what (in this case) the disagreement actually is, at which time there’s plenty of opportunity for emotional response.

          “There’s no policy position that liberals could take which could be good for the country, so that conservatives oppose what is good for the country out of pure resentment? Not even theoretically?”

          Theoretically yes, but it’s important to emphasize the liberalism is a comprehensive big-ticket failure for my entire adult lifetime (and yours too I’m guessing). Whatever resentment there is of liberals has to do with their malfeasance in the political-cultural arena. When and if liberals leave the political-cultural arena to play table soccer, there won’t be any more resentment. That last part sounds flip but is actually very very important and shouldn’t be minimized.

          As this relates to health care in particular, let me quote from Ezra Klein yesterday,

          “At best, what you can say today is demonstrating is that there’s a sharp contrast in the philosophies on display: Democrats believe the federal government is capable of writing and implementing legislation that will take a big step forward on a hard problem.”

          For our side, we have substantial doubts that this can be done in general. We are more doubtful that it can be done by the current Demo political establishment and liberal intelligentsia. And we are stone-cold certain that it hasn’t been done yet in any of the iterations the various parts of the Demo establishment have floated in the 10 months or so this has been the lead item on the political agenda.

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        • “Not in the least? There’s no policy position that liberals could take which could be good for the country”

          There are plenty of policy positions liberals could take which could be good for the country, as long as they are different from the ones they’ve taken so far. See, there’s hope.

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          • I have no normative beliefs about what conservative beliefs should hold. I’m merely saying I have refrained from giving my descriptive take on what it does hold (or more what it doesn’t, since the point is there’s a big, empty doughnut hole right in the middle of it where its content should be, precisely for the reason you give). I can’t speak for what kind of conservatism it is that those who differ with this assessment — which you and I both share — may be trying to devise, or what to call it.

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            • I use the following sweeping generalizations.

              The tendency to say “what has worked in the past? Let’s do that!” (or, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”) is the conservative tendency.

              The tendency to say “the sky is the limit when it comes to stuff that works even better than the stuff that only barely got by in the past!” is the progressive tendency.

              The counter-arguments to both are familiar to you.

              “How dare you say that it worked in the past! CHILDREN DIED!!! How dare you say that it ain’t broke! CHILDREN ARE DYING!!!”

              “Every time you say “the sky’s the limit”, we end up with at least as many Apollo 1s and as many Apollo 13s and Lord knows how many Challengers while Apollo 11s are desperately few and far between.”

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  8. This is the last thing I personally am going to say about TPs. This discussion has all been anchored around the elevation of the question of the negative things about them — realities, perceptions, etc. For all I’ve had to say about that (the point of which in my view was to push back against Erik’s push-back against the negative narratives, not because some push-back against them wasn’t appropriate, but because I thought there was a considerable amount of distortion and inflation of it), at the same time I am entirely aware that many of thise who consider themselves aligned with the tea Parties are possessed of a really thorough, uncompromising-not-to-say-severe critique of the economic and political path we are on as country, and if there is one ting i repect it is the holding of deep, thoroughgoing critiques of society, even though by and large I consider them them mostly interesting and ineffectual except when they’re dangerous. But I always respect their holders as long as they don’t do something else to lose my respect. And so I do indeed have great respect for many of the Tea Partiers I have heard giving their views in interviews, etc. By no means do i believe they are all racists, which is why I think making the distinction between saying “The racism in their midst drastically undermines my respect for their movement, though not for the best principles it stands for or the individuals holding them who are the furthest things from racists,” and saying, “They’re all racists” or “the movement is all about racism” is of such paramount importance. I do break with those who say that, though I have to continue to say that the citation demonstrating just who has said that and how in these posts has been sorely. But the problem of association in my view remains a profound one for the principled individuals involved in the movement. These principled souls could be just as principled in a new, better movement that has no place for racist expression within it, or indeed as principled individual political actors in society. To my way of looking, i don’t find it likely that those who have found a home under the banner of the Tea Parties who continue to assert the prerogative to hold to racist lines will be separated from this powerful American historical name which they, as well as many very principled people have hewed to in a very smart political move. In my view, the principled who remain under the banner will see that the principles themselves are what make the movement a potentially viable force in politics going forward, not the catchy name drenched in American symbolism. Perhaps they will choose to stay and attempt to force those rallying to this particular name-banner who are wedded to profoundly anti-enlightened view away from it. My hunch, though, is that those people feel they have found a home, and that will be a losing battle. I can only therefore expect that the brightest among those in the movement motivated by principle will conclude that they must prioritize principle over label and reorganize their movement around a new set of names and slogans. Certainly they can retain the principles of the Contract From America (though that, as well, I’d suggest would benefit from a rebranding). But in any case i believe the wise ones will come to know that if there is to be a viable entity committed to the principles on which the Tea Parties were founded, they’ll have to commit to the principles themselves, not the particular edifice or name that was the initial incarnation of that entity.

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  9. Once upon a time, say in the ’50s and ’60s, a man with a high-school education only could support his family in a middle-class lifestyle on his salary alone. It appears that every since that (somewhat mythological) golden age the American middle class is running ever faster only to be falling farther behind. Schools suck, wives have to work, there is no loyalty from employers to employees, wages are flat for everyone except the top quintile since the ’70s, etc.

    Now, both parties argue that free trade is good for the country. But as I learned from PaulK, what the models actually show is that the winners from free trade do well enough as to be able to compensate the losers for their loss and still be better off. The really neat trick, though, is that the winners from free trade haven’t even bothered to pay off the losers. They just take more of the gains from trade, and chalk up the economic destruction of their fellow citizens to the price of capitalism.

    People should be enraged. The political class of this country, D & R, have failed to serve the economic interests of the large mass of the electorate for 30 years. At least the R party demonstrates some interest about the social concerns of their constituents — a hyper-sexualized culture, high divorce rates, high rates of births out-of-wedlock. (of course, a good liberal like myself would argue that the responsive of the R leadership — demonizing gays, minorities and liberals — is unfair and counterproductive, but that’s besides the point.)

    So where do we go from here? The idea that we should fundamentally re-examine the functioning of our economic system — from the tax code to trade agreements to banking regulation — seems to be a non-starter even in this recession. Corporate interests are powerful in the R party; bankers are huge contributors to the Ds. Could the Tea Party transform into a true economic populist party? Given the powerful financial interests opposed to such an idea, it seems unlikely. Will the existence of a rising middle class in China and India finally prop up worldwide wages? How much longer will that take?

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    • To your first paragraph Francis you should consider; in the 1950’s and 1960’s most of the rest of the planet was either completely undeveloper or had been reduced to smoking rubble. The US was like the one major industrial country that had emerged unscathed. You may want to consider that that era was the abberation and the ending of that time may be a return to the norm.

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    • “Once upon a time, say in the ’50s and ’60s, a man with a high-school education only could support his family in a middle-class lifestyle on his salary alone.”

      I don’t think this is true, unless you use a very strict definition of education that only includes college. For instance, my dad “only has a high school education” in the modern way of thinking. But… he was an engineer in the Army for three years, running heavy equipment. After getting out of Korea, he decided not to go to work in a steel mill and, instead, kept up his training and became a mechanic. First as a guy changing tires and doing body work, through a series of other jobs, until he was highly skilled at running a lathe and made a career as an automotive machinist.

      Does he have “a high school education”? As I recall, he had very harsh words for people who never learned to do a damn thing, but still expected to make as much money as he did in the shop.

      In factories, the best-paid people have always been toold and die makers, die setters, machinists, etc. It takes at least as long to do that as it does to get a degree in Womens Studies from Stanford.

      Why does one count as “education” and the other doesn’t?

      The fact of the matter is, even in the 50s, if you didn’t get some skills, you didn;t make a good living.

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  10. “For all their flaws, I can say confidently that they are in most respects the backbone of this country.”

    Sounds like a nicer iteration of the “real Americans” idea. Why would we not consider people working at factories or refineries in our large cities part of our backbone? Would teachers count as part of our backbone? If so, why only when they live in a non-coastal state?

    Steve

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  11. Very interesting, not to mention philosophical discussion here. People I’ve spoken with declare themselves conservative and say they mean they stand for less government control over their lives, yet these same people want government to intrude on many aspects of other people’s lives – they don’t mind the erosion of freedoms in the Patriot Act, they want Roe v Wade overturned, they want a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they want religion taught as science in public schools. I’ve asked the question “what do you conserve or want to be conserved?” Basically, it seems, they want their own personal freedoms and values conserved – at a government level – but without personal financial impact – and if it negatively impacts anyone else, then those people can just go live somewhere else. The Tea Party organization has tapped into this conservative ideology because it’s an easy, highly emotional target for political machinations. Some of their people are indeed sore losers. Some are racist. Some are just plain tired of working so hard and never getting ahead. All of them are angry, and that will be their ultimate downfall. It’s easy – and cowardly – to simply take a negative stand and to embrace victimhood. It’s just bullying to flex one’s muscles through mocking and name-calling. I’m not saying there aren’t real grievances that should be addressed – but just naming them and blaming someone else for them is hardly revolutionary to politics. A true movement needs more than bumper sticker slogans that fan the flames of a mob’s anger. The Tea Party, and I would say, the Conservatives, need a visionary with not just ideas, but also thorough understanding of the issues and the depth of knowledge of all the related areas. They need to know – and to show – what they are FOR and how to go about achieving such goals without resorting to scornful, negative remarks about what they are against and what they wouldn’t do. Anyone with half a brain can play armchair politics, but a true leader – of which there a painfully few, and, it seems, especially on the right – will embrace the need to display the knowledge and education and understanding it will take to set this country and all its citizens on the path to a productive future.

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    • You’ve touched on what eventually wore out my patience with the tea partiers. I was on the email lists of a handful of these groups and took them seriously. But there was a point in which I got sick of hearing, “Ohmygod! The government wants to do something about a problem! We’ve got to stop them!” Especially since it was never clear what they wanted to do about said problem, or if they even acknowledged the existence of the problem. My favorite moment was when a tea partier tried to explain to me that the recession was entirely caused by the stimulus spending.

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  12. “Anyone with half a brain can play armchair politics, but a true leader – of which there a painfully few, and, it seems, especially on the right – will embrace the need to display the knowledge and education and understanding it will take to set this country and all its citizens on the path to a productive future.”

    Can you identify these painfully few leaders and explain what they propose to set this country on the path to a productive future? Then we might have something to discuss other than the lack of answers among the tea partiers — lead the way with substance.

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    • No, Mike, this discussion is about the Tea Party movement and you’re trying to change the subject. Katie is dead-on about the moral bankruptcy of the movement. If the “Tea Parties” want to be taken seriously, they have to propose some sort of identifable political agenda they’d implement if given power. (Note: “Obama is a gay-married Kenyan Muslim usurper” is not an agenda.)

      Otherwise, we’ll just keep mocking their incoherence, their incompetence, their intolerance — and, ultimately, their impotence.

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      • Travis,

        “If the “Tea Parties” want to be taken seriously, they have to propose some sort of identifable political agenda they’d implement if given power.”

        Uh, Travis, the Tea Partiers are not trying to gain power. It’s not a real party, you see. They want those in power to stop wasteful spending, because they know they’re going to be taxed to high heaven to pay for it all. And, despite your mocking, they will be taken seriously when professional politicians begin losing power. This is what happens when politicians abuse power. Keep on mocking them, though, if it makes you feel better.

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        • “The Tea Partiers are not trying to gain power… They want those in power to stop wasteful spending.”

          You just contradicted yourself. Taking you at your word, the Tea Partiers are trying to stop wasteful spending. If they accomplish that goal, they have exercised political power. Whether it’s through their being elected, or by convincing those already elected to support their positions, is irrelevant.

          As for the argument itself, the phrase “wasteful spending” is trite and meaningless. What spending is wasteful and should be cut? Which programs should be shut down? Oh, you don’t know, or aren’t willing to say? Then you’re a bullshit artist tossing out sound bites.

          The Tea Partiers are also apparently OK with the 800-pound gorilla in the room — foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which constitute a trillion-dollar waste.

          So according to the Tea Partiers, we can afford to bomb Middle Eastern countries into oblivion and then contract with Halliburton to rebuild them (repeat several times) but we can’t afford to provide the poor with food stamps.

          That’s what I mean by incoherent and incompetent.

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          • “As for the argument itself, the phrase “wasteful spending” is trite and meaningless. What spending is wasteful and should be cut? Which programs should be shut down? Oh, you don’t know, or aren’t willing to say? Then you’re a bullshit artist tossing out sound bites.”

            Dang, this took a personal twist, eh? Of course the public has the power of influence, but not political power to write legislation — so in respect to influence, yes, the tea party is excercising power, but unless they become a real political party, they won’t have that kind of power to set policies.

            If I was in control, I would cut the Dept of Ed, the dept of energy, then cut medicare and medicaide and food stamps after a five year transition period to private charity organizations. I would close all overseas military bases. I would go through every program and every dept and cut every unnecessary employee, and end every program which could be transferred to the private sector. And, that’s just a start.

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  13. Let’s consider this the first installment of the official FAQ for beat conservatism.

    What does it mean to be against modernity? are you just against the status quo or are you arguing a return to a pre-modern lifestyle like medieval england or ancient sumeria? Usually when I see a conservative rail against modernity or use the term post-modern he seems to be saying “how dare they attempt to be rational and objective about christianity”. Is that what you mean or do I need a better sample size than the writers over at Post-Modern Conservative?

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  14. “What does it mean to be against modernity?”

    Indeed. What does this mean? All the problems we face today are recycled, just new forms of the new and old forms of the old. Nuclear weapons, no doubt, are more worrisome than flaming arrows, but in terms of domination and freedom, there’s little new under the sun. Perhaps it boils down to cultural changes in modernity. If only culture were our most serious concern — we could debate in virtual town squares as minions, unfit for such intellectual activity, do the dirty work — but, alas, the grand human dilemmas still face us, no less pertinent in modern America as in ancient Greece.

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