May 10, 2010
Trying To Understand The Tea Party People: What White Folks Are Upset About Now (Prepare To Be Surprised)
By Evert Cilliers (aka Adam Ash)
Before I get down to telling you who and what the Tea Party movement is -- because nobody seems to know, least of all the people IN the movement -- allow me to lay a little philosophy on you.
All philosophies are about putting the world in a nutshell. "Class struggle." "The invisible hand." "Existence precedes essence."
Myself, I like nutshell statements. They help thin the thickets of reality. No human can face unmediated reality and not want to die from the onslaught. It takes a Beckett to be brave enough to look at our bleak world bleakly; the rest of us need our simplifying generalizations and consoling constructions to fool ourselves into getting on with going on.
Just to be semi-functional and make some sense of it all, we absolutely NEED to stuff the actual mess of the Real into neat boxes of the Construct.
We're so small, us humans: we use the only thing we have, our minds, to simplify the vastness around us; we think in order to fit the big everything out there into our little heads.
That's why something as rich and sprawling as language is wont to collapse into well-worn cliches. We can't think without banal summations, dumb generalizations, blind ideologies, the cutting down of the everything-around forest to a few simple stripped-down tree statements. "Jesus died for my sins." "The free market is the end of history." "Obama is a socialist." The very falseness of our thought constructs is what makes them useful; their effortlessly bogus effronteries allow us to continue on our not-so-merry way. It may be the reason why Zizek can review a movie without seeing it: he doesn't need the movie to interfere with what he thinks about it.
I've been trying to understand the Tea Party movement, and found it tough and confusing, a vexing bafflement. Tea Party people appear to have no core, no leader, no central anything to latch on to. No simple cliche to sum up the movement. Hence, impossible to think about or understand. Where's the Construct box to stuff them in? So I've invented a personal nutshell, which not only explains the Tea Party, but all American politics. Yep. I am here to verify, instruct, inform curiosity and carry report. Read on.
1. A USEFUL NUTSHELL ABOUT AMERICAN POLITICS
You see, calling the Tea Party phenomenon out as populist rage on the right is not enough for me. Nobody in all the articles I've read about the Tea Party people can tell me what they're for, only what they're against -- and they are against so many things, it's hard to tell who they are.
Their rage is one clue: it affirms that today's politics is driven by blind emotion. Not sweet reason.
Gone are the days of politics as compromise -- when political opponents Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill could sit down with cigars and Jameson's Irish Whisky and hash out a deal, and then exchange Irish stories afterwards. These days we're in Carl Schmitt territory. He defined politics as an existential battlefield: “Just as in the field of morals, the ultimate distinctions are good and evil; in esthetics, beautiful and ugly; in economics, profitable and unprofitable -- so the significantly political distinction is between friend and enemy."
Aha. There you go: politics is about having an enemy. I'll be damned. Nice nutshell, that. Much obliged, Carl. And while you're at it, blow me with a tea cosy.
It's definitely what the Tea Party Movement is about. Their enemies are legion: Obama, the government, our political parties, the bailed-out banks, taxes, government spending, the deficit, socialism, etc. Often their rhetoric makes them seem like victims of everything that is American these days.
But this is not simple enough for me. I was lost in a sea of enemies until I stumbled on my latest invention. For want of a better description, I will call it Evert's Nutshell About American Politics. It sums up the very nubbin of the fight between the two political enemies in the USA, which we know as the Democrats vs. the Republicans, conservatives vs. progressives, the left vs. the right.
What drives their anger? Who are their enemies?
Here's Evert's Nutshell, which hit me in a road-to-Damascus eureka moment:
Angry left-wingers mutter to themselves: "Rich people are ripping me off."
Angry right-wingers mutter to themselves: "Poor people are ripping me off."
With this nutshell in hand, I believe I can explain even the all-over-the-place Tea Party movement to you. I hazard to suggest we've hereby arrived at the basic fact of American Politics 101. In fact, I believe Evert's Nutshell best explains everything anybody ever wanted to know about American politics. Keep this nutshell in mind, and you'll understand everyone from Barack Obama to Jim De Mint to Michael Moore to Rush Limbaugh to Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher to your neighbor.
If you're in any position of power, like the folks I just mentioned, who believe they're too smart and powerful to be ripped off by anyone, the nutshell changes emphasis. It becomes this:
Power people on the left declare to themselves: "I must help the poor people -- and middle-class people -- who are being ripped off by rich people."
Power people on the right declare to themselves: "I must help the rich people -- and middle-class people -- who are being ripped off by poor people."
Some power people even believe a little in both statements, which is what makes a guy like Obama confusing, especially to the left.
Anyway, if you get this, you get today's American politics. All you need to know, really. So put your mind at rest. You may now cease from exploration. And sit back and listen for a while.
2. THE CONTEXT THAT GOT THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT GOING
Now let's clear up our thinking about the Tea Party movement. These folks popped up because of a perfect storm in our politics:
1. The financial meltdown which cost a lot of us our jobs and our homes and drove us all crazy.
2. The election of a black man as president, which is not the sort of thing we're used to, and which makes a lot of folks proud, and a lot of folks uncomfortable.
3. Fox News -- the news as outrage, with right-wing entertainers like Glenn Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity et al playing up to visceral fears and demonizing a whole slew of supposed enemies.
4. The rejection of the GOP and the conservative movement by the electorate, which drives them nuts: they believe non-real Americans have taken the country over from real ones: them. They've lost their country, they want it back. You might almost say the GOP is having an identity crisis: if this is America, who are we? If we are who we are, and America doesn't want us, where do we belong?
5. The rise of the Patriot Movement and other crazy fringe groups, whose paranoid rhetoric is now available to everyone worried about where the country is going. They've increased by 250% since the election of Obama. They range from Oath Keepers, gun-lovers, survivalists, militias and Turner Diaries freaks to potential Timothy McVeighs.
3. HOW DID THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT START?
The libertarian theme of the "tea party" protest was used by Ron Paul and his supporters at a fundraising event back during the 2008 presidential primaries, which they claim laid the foundation for the modern-day Tea Party movement. Now jump to January 19, 2009, when someone on FedUpUSA posted an invitation "to a Commemorative Tea Party" protest in Boston on February 1. On February 11, talk radio host and Fox Business Network personality Dave Ramsey appeared on Fox and Friends, waving tea bags and saying, "It's time for a Tea Party."
However, the dominant theme seen at some of the earliest anti-stimulus protests was “pork” rather than tea. Wave a pig's snout, not a tea bag. Don't dump tea; burn pork rinds.
The porcine term "porkulus" was coined by Rush Limbaugh on his January 27, 2009, broadcast in reference to the 2009 "stimulus" bill. It caught on bigtime. The stimulus bill became the Porkulus Bill, and was also called the Generational Theft Act, because of how it loads us up with debt that our kids will have to pay.
As for actual rallies, the FreedomWorks campaigns director Brendan Steinhauser says activist Mary Rakovich's February 10, 2009 protest in Fort Myers, Florida, was the "first protest of President Obama's administration that we know of. It was the first protest of what became the tea party movement." Others credit Keli Carender, a conservative single mom in Seattle who blogs as Liberty Belle. She was mighty upset about the Obama stimulus bill. So she blogged, organized and got local talkradio involved, and bingo! had a protest rally on February 15, 2009.
Word of the Seattle protest spread in the blogosphere, and others started their own rallies. Then Dem Senator Chuck Schumer got hit with pork rinds. He'd had the effrontery to opine that only “the chattering classes” were concerned about the “teeny, tiny” pork amendments in the bill, so local Kentucky radio host Leland Conway called on his listeners to send Schumer pork rinds. 1,500 bags poured into the station on February 16, and was shipped off to Schumer.
Well, I'll be a castrato in an indie rock band. And while you're at it, bonk me with a hickory doorknob.
At this point the movement might've been named the Pork Rind Revolt, but then came the moment that ignited the rage into its present Tea Party incarnation.
On February 19, CNBC business analyst Rick Santelli, surrounded by traders on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, had a few things to say about Obama's $275 billion bailout plan for irresponsible homeowners who signed impossible-to-afford mortgages and were now having trouble paying their mortgages:
"The government is promoting bad behavior ... I have an idea – you know, the new administration is big on computers and technology ... why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers mortgages or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road ...”
An unidentified trader on the floor near Santelli shouted out, "Hey Rick, that's a novel idea."
Co-anchor Kernan tried to humor Santelli, responding to the support from the traders by interjecting, "They're like putty in your hands."
"No they're not, Joe, they're not like putty in our hands. This is America." Santelli turned his back to the camera and dramatically asked the traders on the floor: "How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise your hand."
A large moan went up from the floor as none of the traders raised their hands.
Santelli turned back to the camera: "President Obama, are you listening? ... We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists who want to show up at Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing."
CNBC panelist Wilbur Ross interjected, "Rick, I congratulate you on your new incarnation as a revolutionary leader."
"Somebody needs one," Santelli responded. "I'll tell you what, if you read our founding fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson, what we're doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves."
This out-of-the-blue rant on a business program got duly YouTubed and seen by millions. It reminded people a lot of the character in the movie Network who says on TV, “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore,” encouraging others to open their windows and yell their anger out at the world.
So the Tea Party movement was born. Because people got upset that their money would be used to help delinquent mortgage payers keep their homes. Note that this Tea Party fury was directed at Main Street, not Wall Street.
Of course, there was more than a simple assist for the Tea Party movement from Fox News, who actively promoted these outraged folks, and whose TV personalities spoke at rallies, and whose bizarro talkshow host Glenn Beck is perhaps the leading intellectual mentor of the Tea Party movement. And much organizing happened via the many many local right-wing talk radio stations. The Tea Party movement is not all grassroots. There's a whole lot of Astroturfing going on. Especially from two organizations associated with the Koch family brothers David and Charles (the George Soroses of the right), who own the second richest privately owned company in America (annual revenue $100 billion), and who fund and work through Americans for Prosperity, which put a Tea Party Express bus on the road to drum up grassroots support all over the land, and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, which runs workshops to teach people how to protest the professional way -- all very grassroots, for sure.
Talk about grassroots: if you wanted to attend the first national convention of the Tea Party movement in Nashville in January this year, you had to fork over $558.95 for a ticket, and then you could hear Sarah Palin speak, who was getting $100,000 for her trouble.
Well, I'll be a tophat in a sea of Trilbys. And while you're at it, despoil me with a caviar spoon.
At those prices, one begins to wonder about the grassrootsiness of the Tea Party movement, and the suspicion grows that clever astroturf entrepreneurs are now figuring out how to harvest big money off the grassroots, who are fast being co-opted as the dupes of establishment right-wing and GOP organizations.
Then there's the Patriot Movement and its militias, who've grown exponentially since Obama's election and supply a good bit of angst from their “black helicopter” and “UN takeover” talk. They have websites like ResistNet.com (“Home of the Patriotic Resistance”) and Infowars.com (“Because there is a war on for your mind”) avidly read by Tea Partiers. They add to the Tea Party brew a pungent tang of the paranoid style of American politics described by Richard Hofstadter.
4. WHO ARE THEY?
Thanks to a CBS News/NY Times poll conducted in April 5 to 12 this year, we now have some revealing stats about the Tea Party peeps.
18% of Americans identify themselves as Tea Partiers. 4% have donated money or attended a rally. That's quite impressive.
They're older, richer, more male and better educated than regular folks, and only 1% of them are black.
75% are 45 years old or older. 29% are 65 plus. They are more likely to be men (59%) than women (41%).
They are better educated than most Americans: 37% are college graduates, compared to 25% of Americans overall. They have higher-than-average income: 56% make more than $50,000 per year. 20% make over $100,000, compared to 14% of the general public. 36% come from the South, far more than any other region. 39% are evangelical. 58% have guns. 75% of those who've given money or attended a rally get their news from Fox News.
In other words, Republicans?
Yeah, kind of. You might say they're the Republican wing of the Republican Party. 60% say they always or usually vote Republican. 54% identify as Republicans, 41% say they are independents, and 5% percent call themselves Democrats (compared to 31% of adults nationwide). 40% say we need a third party, 52% say we don't.
But hey, they're not hung up about social issues, only economic. 78% percent say economic issues are a bigger concern, while 14% point to social issues. So abortion and gay marriage aren't pet peeves.
Here's an interesting caveat: the activists in the Tea Party (defined as those who've been to a rally or donated money, and who make up 4% of our population and 20% of Tea Partiers) are actually not that hot on the Republican Party. 50% of them have an unfavorable view of the GOP, while 44% view the party favorably. But nearly three in four general Tea Party supporters describe themselves as conservative. 39% call themselves very conservative. In other words, the Tea Party movement veers towards the purest of the pure, the conservatives for whom the GOP is not conservative enough, the true-blue conservatives who don't like John McCain.
Perhaps expectedly, the Tea Partiers have a mighty high opinion of their own opinions: 84% say their views reflect the views of most Americans, while only 25% Americans overall say the Tea Party movement reflects their beliefs.
Well, I'll be Little Bo Peep in a porn video. And while you're at it, ream me with a monkey wrench.
In other words, the Tea Partiers are a somewhat arrogantly pumped-up bunch: they think they speak for all Americans. One wonders how to respond to such vanity of belief. It reminds me a little of what I dislike about neocons, free market fundamentalists, evangelists, the Taliban and Al Qaeda: that fervent belief that you're so right everybody else is wrong. All of them big bullies for their faith.
The other thing to know about the Tea Partiers is that many of them -- in fact most of the activists -- have NEVER been active in politics before. Newbies everyone. Many of them are retired, with time on their hands to become activist, and money to spend on their political activities. Because they're new to the scene, they're way more vulnerable to being bamboozled by Fox News, Americans for Prosperity and Patriot rhetoric than your normally informed voter, and to feel that they've had some road-to-Damascus moment of epiphany that now gives meaning to their lives. They're fallow ground for all the many right-wing proselytizers. The New York Times wrote about Pam Stout, a happily retired woman who'd worked in federal housing programs, helping people with the help of the government, and had never been active politically and never felt any animus against the government -- until her son lost his job and his house in the Great Recession, that is:
“Last April, she went to her first Tea Party rally, then to a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots. She did not know a soul, yet when they began electing board members, she stood up, swallowed hard, and nominated herself for president. 'I was like, ‘Did I really just do that?’ she recalled.
"Then she went even further.
"Worried about hyperinflation, social unrest or even martial law, she and her Tea Party members joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement.
“When Friends for Liberty held its first public event, Mrs. Stout listened as Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, brought 1,400 people to their feet with a speech about confronting a despotic federal government. Mrs. Stout said she felt as if she had been handed a road map to rebellion. Members of her family, she said, think she has disappeared down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. But Mrs. Stout said she has never felt so engaged.
"'I can’t go on being the shy, quiet me,' she said. 'I need to stand up.'
"The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.”
Well, I'll be a breast implant on a frog. And while you're at it, felch me with a food processor.
5. THEY HAVE NO LEADER
The Tea Party folks, although much helped, mentored and led-by-the-nose by established mainstream and crazy right-wing organizations, are themselves a little handicapped as a movement, because they don't have a leader or a main spokesperson. There are people in public life they admire, but they themselves haven't birthed any compelling Perot-like demagogue to rally them into something solid, like a third party, or a spokesperson who could scare the shit out of the Republicans and make the GOP cower to their demands the way Rush Limbaugh does. Mind you, as a movement they have the GOP in turmoil, with moderates like John McCain back-tracking heavily (the man now says he was never a "maverick").
66% of Tea Partiers have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin; 59% of Glenn Beck. It shows their newness makes them vulnerable to the nuts among us, which makes them a little nuts, too.
But nearly half of Tea Partiers don't think Sarah Palin would have the ability to be an effective president. So they're slightly smarter than Republicans, of whom 42% say she wouldn't be effective, while 48% say she would. (Among Americans as a whole, 66% doubt her ability.) 57% of Tea Partiers also think well of former Republican President George W. Bush. Only 35% think well of John McCain.
Asked to volunteer their most admired political figure generally, no single person stands out among Tea Party supporters. As many as 29% offered no one or said they aren't sure. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of all people leads the list of those mentioned, with 10%, followed by Sarah Palin with 9%, and former President George W. Bush and Mitt Romney at 5%. Funnily enough, Ron Paul doesn't come up, even though there's quite a libertarian streak among Tea Party people.
They're kind of rudderless, these tea party folks.
6. YES, THEY HAVE A LOT OF BIRTHERS AMONG THEM
Like any extra-conservative group, they suffer from the prevailing nuttification of conservatism. A great many nutters lurk in the brambles of their dark woods. No doubt these nutsoids embarrass the less nuttier ones. 30% of Tea Party supporters believe Mr. Obama was born in another country. Another 29% say they don't know.
20% of Americans overall believe the president was not born in the US. It seems the number of conservatives who constitute our far-right off-the-wall nutters always come to about a fifth of the American voting population. At least one in five Americans is a nut who believes something totally stupid -- like we're being regularly visited by UFOs, or that Obama is a Muslim.
7. WHAT THEY THINK OF OBAMA
92% of Tea Partiers say America is on the wrong track, compared to 59% of Americans overall.
88% disapprove of President Obama's performance on the job, compared to 40% of Americans overall. Only 7% approve of Obama's job performance, while 45% to 50% of Americans do.
Asked to volunteer what they don't like about Obama, the top answer, offered by 19% of Tea Party supporters, was that they just don't like him. This could be their way of saying they don't like him because he's black. 11% said they don't like him because he's turning the country toward socialism, 10% cited his healthcare reform, and 9% said he's dishonest. 77% describe Mr. Obama as "very liberal," compared to 31% of Americans overall. 56% say the president's policies favor the poor, compared to 27% of Americans overall.
64% believe that the president has increased taxes for most Americans, compared to 34% of the general public. Of course, Obama has cut taxes. But for the Tea Party folks, their fantasy agony abides. Obama himself confessed he was amused by the Tea Party protests on Tax Day, when instead of protesting, he expected them to say “thank you.”
While 58% of Americans say the president understands their needs and problems, just 24% of Tea Party supporters agree. Just 20% say the president shares the values of most Americans.
One other interesting stat: 24% of Tea Party supporters say it is sometimes justified to take violent action against the government, compared to 16% of Americans overall.
8. THEIR SUCCESSES AND PROSPECTS
Sometimes the hard time Democratic congress folks got from questioners in August last year at recess-report-backs to their communities is ascribed to the Tea Party movement, but those were folks organized, cued, trained and scripted by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks.
However, two real political outcomes have been rightly ascribed to Tea Party enthusiasm and mobilization already.
First, the Scott Brown upset in Massachusetts, when he took Ted Kennedy's safe Democratic seat away from the hapless Democratic campaigner Martha Coakley. His GQ good looks, his promise to kill the healthcare bill, his proletarian truck and his Tea Party support won him the day.
Second, in a NY 23 Congressional election, the Republican establishment candidate, the moderate Dierdre Scozzafava, was overtaken in the polls by the Tea Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, whose vociferous extra-conservative backers included Sarah Palin. Scozzafava left the race and endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens, who ironically won in this traditional GOP stronghold. Then there's Charlie Crist leaving the GOP to run as an independent to avoid being defeated by Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in a Florida primary for US senator.
So come the mid-terms in November, which will be the first great test for the Tea Party movement as a dinkum political force, they will either help the Republicans, or split them to help the Democrats. It's beginning to look like the fate of who rules the House will hinge upon the Tea Partiers. At this point they're way more hyped up about November than the Democrats and their progressive base, who are rather disenchanted with Obama.
9. SO WHAT DO THEY WANT?
What are the goals of the Tea Partiers? O dark dark dark. Let's all go into the dark. And here's where we need us the sudden shaft of sunlight.
45% of Tea Partiers say their main goal is to reduce the role of the Federal Government. Their other main goals are so low on their agenda, they hardly count. Only 9% say their main goal is to create jobs (58% of them believe America's best years are behind us when it comes to good jobs, compared to 45% Americans overall -- a pessimistic crowd). Only 7% say their goal is to elect Tea Party candidates. ONLY 6% TO LOWER TAXES (52% think their taxes are fair, 62% of Americans overall think so). So that's one GOP talking point that falls flat on their ears. For the Tea Party people, April 15 is not necessarily the cruelest day, even if it is one of their favorite protest days.
89% say the president has expanded the role of government too much and 92% believe President Obama's policies are moving the country toward socialism (52% of Americans overall share that belief: quite an astounding figure, probably thanks to this Republican talking point being repeated ad nauseam by Fox News).
So there you are. These folks want the government out of their lives.
This anti-government thing, popularized by Reagan in his “government isn't the solution, it's the problem” battle cry (what the right calls anti-statism) -- this animus against our government is very ancient, and continues a historic mistrust of power in Washington that dates right back to the Anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution because they thought it concentrated too much authority in the federal government. At least 20% of Americans can be relied upon to decry at any moment anything out of Washington as a threat to "our traditional liberties."
OK. Now why are these Tea Partiers specifically against the government?
Aha. Here's where it gets interesting, because this is where we get to the significant soil of the heart of the matter. We are going to have to purify their dialect, because all this fear-spiked guff about a government takeover is code for deeper and darker malarkey. They say more government means socialism, which they define as government ownership or control. But this socialism story -- total meaningless BS of course, because America is the last bastion of raw capitalism on earth -- is a mask for something they don't want to say out loud, and this is it:
The Tea Partiers don't like poor people. Or for that matter, black people.
Here be the shame of motives late revealed. Let me explain. And lay out the facts to prove my contention.
73% of Tea Partiers believe providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor, compared to 38% Americans overall. 56% say the president's policies favor the poor, compared to 27% of Americans overall. Only 17% of Tea Partiers think the federal government should spend money to create jobs even if it means increasing the deficit, compared to 50% Americans overall. As for raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year to provide health care for the uninsured, only 17% of Tea Party think it's OK, compared to 54% of Americans over all.
The Tea Party folks are against poor people, in other words.
How about black people?
Asked if too much has been made of the problems facing African-Americans, 52% said yes (only 28% of Americans overall agree). 25% believe the administration favors blacks over whites (compared to 7% of non-Tea Party whites).
So they're not too hot on black people either. But they dislike poor people far more than they dislike black people.
Their main goal of reducing the role of the federal government comes down to not helping poor people.
Well, I'll be a spelonker in the desert. And while you're at it, diddle me with a lava lamp.
10. THEIR INTELLECTUAL EDIFICE IS ALL ABOUT NOT HELPING THE POOR
The Tea Party movement even has a whole intellectual edifice built on this, in which they attack what they call the left-wing's “Cloward-Piven strategy.”
This phrase was coined by David Horowitzon his website Discoverthenetworks.org and taken up byTV and radio hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, as well as WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah, National Review editor Stanley Kurtz and The Obama Nation author Jerome Corsi. Horowitz calls it "the strategy of forcing political change through orchestrated crisis” (a kind of a right-wing version of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine).
It's named after the sociologists and antipoverty and voting rights activists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, who first elucidated their little left-wing thought experiment, that's caused so much intellectual theorizing on the right, in a May 2, 1966, article for The Nation called "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty."
The article was about causing a crisis in the welfare system -- if you follow the law and enroll masses of eligible recipients, the welfare bureaucracy won't be able to cope with the onslaught. This will spark a natural demand for more radical reforms, like a guaranteed minimum income, for example. Back then, when Cloward and Piven wrote their article, many movements like civil rights and welfare rights were sweeping the nation, and their article was but one thought experiment among a host of ideas floating around, to which the Democratic party became amenable as new constituencies popped up on the left, much like the Tea Party movement has popped up on the right today. The war on poverty was a staple in those days.
In Horowitz's words, the Cloward-Piven strategy "seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading the government bureaucracy with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into crisis and economic collapse." Right-wingers have the starve-the-beast strategy (cut taxes till government has no money left for any social programs) and left-wingers have the Cloward-Piven strategy.
These folks say it was the Cloward and Piven article that gave ACORN the great idea to start peddling subprime mortgages to poor minorities in the 1980s, in this way cunningly laying the foundation for a global economic meltdown nearly thirty years later.
Well, I'll be a toad in a snake's belly. And while you're at it, splooge me with a spatula.
Glenn Beck goes so far as to name Cloward and Piven as the two people who are "fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system."
And you thought it was those reckless risk-taking fat cats on Wall Street who screwed us.
These bastards, these Cloward and Piven SOBs, they also had the evil notion to register poor and minority voters through Project Vote and the Motor Voter Act as ACORN has done, thus eventually guaranteeing Obama's "fraudulent" victory.
What's more, this same Cloward-Piven strategy is behind the Obama administration's every move. Just look at the way they ram through economic stimulus, healthcare reform, and financial regulation.
These Tea Party intellectuals like to recall Rahm Emanuel's November 2008 statement that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
Glenn Beck has demonized Cloward and Piven on more than twenty of his shows. On his notorious blackboard he's scribbled "The Tree of Revolution." This bizarro analysis of politics taking place in some right-wing fantasy world, ropes together Che Guevara, the Service Employees International Union and ACORN's Wade Rathke to Community Organizer oracle Saul Alinsky, the Sierra Club's Carl Pope, Bill Ayers and Presidential chum Valerie Jarrett. In the center of the trunk, above SDS and Woodrow Wilson, just below Barack Obama (the top of the tree) Beck has chalked "Cloward & Piven."
Former George H.W. Bush White House budget analyst Jim Simpson is even wackier than Beck. He's written an 18,000-word, six-part screed demonizing the "Cloward-Piven strategy," available on the websites Americanthinker.com and Americandaughter.com. He ascribes every crisis in the universe to Cloward and Piven, and hooks them up to Obama, of course. Initiatives like healthcare reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, cap and trade, immigration reform, hate crimes legislation and public financing of elections are all children of Cloward and Piven, "a malevolent overarching strategy that has motivated many, if not all, of the most destructive radical leftist organizations in the United States since the 1960s."
ACORN is a major boogieman, "the new tip of the Cloward-Piven spear" since 1970. Using the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, ACORN enrolled masses of low-income people in subprime mortgages, and so they created the housing bubble that crashed our economy -- all to pave the way for bank nationalization and socialism via the bailout and the stimulus.
Well, I'll be Fermat's Theorem in a carrot cake. And while you're at it, sodomize me with the business end of a porcupine.
The nefarious left knew all along that subprime mortgages would cause the financial bubble and capsize our economy. The left was behind subprime lending not for the noble purpose of helping minorities to become homeowners, but to undermine capitalism from the inside. "The failure is deliberate," Simpson writes again and again. In italics.
And Obama's election is all because of ACORN, who went around registering felons, illegal aliens and dead citizens by the gazillions to vote through Project Vote and the Motor Voter Act, which Cloward and Piven championed and which Bill Clinton signed in 1993. Obama is there because of voter fraud committed by ACORN (America's premier fighting-for-the-poor organization).
Well, I'll be a broken condom on Frankenstein's nose. And while you're at it, fellate me with a whoopee cushion.
This Beck and Simpson bizarro-universe propaganda has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by Tea Party proselytizers. In October 2008 the Washington Times ran an op-ed by Robert Chandler called "The Cloward Piven Strategy," and Stanley Kurtz wrote about it in National ReviewOnline. Mark Levin, author of the bestseller Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, has discussed it on his radio program. Rush Limbaugh did on March 4. Beck interviewed Sarah Palin on January 13, and asked her if she believed what he'd been saying about Cloward and Piven. "I do believe it,” she said. “It has to be purposeful what they are doing. Otherwise I would say, Glenn, that there is no hope, that there are no solutions."
Intellectually (one uses the word advisedly), the Cloward-Piven strategy notion is a useful way to tie the various habitues of the Tea Party movement into one theoretical construct. It puts them all under one banner -- the Ayn Rand secular libertarians and fundamentalist Christian evangelicals, birthers, Birchers, racists, xenophobes, neocons, Ron Paulites, cold war warriors, Zionists, constitutionalists, militia-style survivalists, and plain old Republicans looking for a populist shot in their worn-out, lame-old-same-old, sagging cellulite-ridden derrieres. It's an easy way to demonize both the people who work for the Obama administration and the folks who try to increase the political power of poor people of color.
Neat: a so-called populist movement whose intellectual construct blames poor people for the world's problems.
Problem is, it works. ACORN is bankrupt. CEO Bertha Lewis says they are the victim of "a series of well-orchestrated, relentless, well-funded right-wing attacks."
So there you have the loony intellectual edifice of the Tea Party movement. Your basic conspiracy theory. The right-wing counterpart of the left-wing's beloved Trilateral Commission conspiracy.
Add to this the conspiracy theories of the Patriot Movement, our homegrown Al Qaeda-type fundamentalists, who believe our tyrannical government is on the verge of putting us all in internment camps, and you can see what nuttiness your regular Tea Party person is exposed to -- and eminently vulnerable into being spooked to believe.
Well, I'll be a rock-pushing Sisyphus with an Achilles heel under a sword of Damocles. And while you're at it, lube me with a metric ton of whale-blubber.
But let's give these deluded folks the benefit of the doubt. Let's look at some good reasons why it's OK to be suspicious of big government, and why you yourself should be suspicious, even if you're just a liberal and not an anarchist. (Interesting how Carlyle described classical liberalism: “anarchy plus a constable.” Now we call it libertarianism.)
11. TWO GOOD THINGS ABOUT WANTING LESS GOVERNMENT
The goal of shrinking government control has a very admirable side to it, if it means one of these two things:
1. The first is freedom. Most Americans naturally think that government encroaches on their freedom. The collective undermines the individual. A cornerstone American belief. Nothing wrong with that, considering some collectives the world has known. Mind you, on the other hand, the right institutions can actually promote freedom. There's no freedom without the rule of law, or without all the institutions that enforce it on us free individuals.
2. The second is self-reliance. If America is about the freedom of the individual, it's also about that individual taking her freedom in both hands and using it to stand on her own two feet. No relying on others. No handouts. No free lunches. People work hard for their money; they shouldn't be forced to just give it away to other people who are too flaky to be reliable.
Now I believe these are two great notions, and if the Democratic Party were to incorporate these two beliefs into their platform, they could win a host of votes away from the Republicans. Of course, this is hard to do in tough times like today, when the government has to step in to solve problems caused by private enterprise, in which individuals often use their freedom to rip off everyone else, like Wall Street is wont to do, and often stand on their own two feet by placing them on the necks of other people. But in good times the Democratic Party might as well incorporate these notions into its philosophy; they needn't be only Republican ideas. They are at heart solid American ideas. Inasmuch as the Tea Party people cling to these ideas, they're OK by me.
12. THE BAD THING ABOUT WANTING LESS GOVERNMENT
Where these ideas become a GOP notion, and get to be rather stinky, is when individual liberty is used as a tool to get out of our responsibility to others -- to the poor, to children, to the least among us. Republicans and Tea Party folks want to shirk this responsibility. They think there's something unfair about it. They call it the culture of dependency. They say it encourages the undeserving poor. People should help themselves. I don't work hard just to give my money away to poor folks who are poor because they're lazy.
Republicans don't believe we are our brother's and our sister's keepers. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and the devil take the hindmost. Every man for himself. Social Darwinism. I am John Galt. It's not that Republicans are greedier than Democrats: they're just more selfish. Unwilling to share. In fact, they think it's fair NOT to share, and UNFAIR to share. They have a MORALITY about not sharing.
Well, I'll be the token Jew at a Hamas rally. And while you're at it, fist me with an airbag.
In short, the Tea Partiers want government out of their lives because they think the government takes their money and gives it to undeserving poor people (many of whom are black, to boot). Here are some of the sentiments on their posters that give vent to this feeling:
Obama aka Robbin’ Hood wants to steal from those who work to give handouts to those who won’t.
Free Markets, Not Free Loaders.
I’m the 50 percent stuck paying for the other 50 percent.
Your Fair Share Is Not In My Pocket.
Said Richard Gilbert, a 72-year-old retired Air Force officer and teacher in South Carolina, polled by CBS News/NY Times: “I do believe we are responsible for the widow and the orphan, but I think there is a welfare class that lives for having children and receiving payment from the government for having those children.” It's the old Ronald Reagan “welfare queen” story all over again. It never went away.
So applying Evert's Nutshell, your Tea Partier mutters to himself: “Poor people are ripping me off. And hey, because many black people are poor, they're also ripping me off. And hey, we have a black president, and he's obviously there to help them rip me off.”
13. ANOTHER NUTSHELL FOR TEA PARTIERS: THEY BESPEAK THE ANGST OF THE PETITE BOURGEOISIE
Of course, there are a lot of right-wing code words to obscure this blunt sentiment. The cult of dependency is one. Statism is another. Government takeover is another. Socialism is another. And constitutionalism is a big another, because it sounds so noble. The Tea Party people's Contract from America, after naming three principles -- individual liberty, limited government and economic freedom -- names this as a first priority: Protect the Constitution: require each bill to identify the specific provision that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
As soon as someone brings up the Constitution, whether it's a Supreme Court judge or a Congress person or a local sheriff, you can be sure the bullshit is about to polish your stamen like pollen from a bee's butt.
Be aware. All these notions mean simply this: “Poor people are ripping me off.”
These are the traditional feelings of what the French call the petite bourgeoisie -- those folks caught between big capital and the working class, who fear being pushed down into the working class, and thusly, fear the working class more than they fear the big capital folks who are pushing them down. Yep, the Tea Party folks are the petite bourgeoisie. They see everything done to help the working class (unionization, universal healthcare) as a threat to their own privilege. It can make them a resentful, mean lot, who mutter to themselves: “Poor people are ripping me off.”
It makes them great fodder for demagogues on the right, and for Fox News, and for the Koch billionaires, and the Patriot Movement, and even nutters like the Birthers. And also, for the Republican Party, who are doing their utmost to get them to the polls this November, and will probably put up the most conservative candidates they can find in all the swing districts so as to attract Tea Party voters. (Fine by me -- the more the GOP gets pushed to the far right, the sooner their demise will come, and then they'll have to think of resurrecting themselves along some mildly sane lines.) Rubio running against Crist in Florida is a case in point. You can be sure the folks behind Rubio are of the “poor people are ripping me off” school, and suspicious of Crist because he approved of Obama's stimulus, that nefarious handout to the undeserving poor.
14. NOW THAT I FIGURED THEM OUT, WHAT A RELIEF
So that's my nutshell about the Tea Party movement, and until somebody supplies a better one, I'm sticking with it.
I must admit, it brings me great cerebral relief to nutshell this bunch. They've always bothered me, because I never knew who the hell they were, and I have a great regard for populism -- it's about the only way you get big change, because populism is a threat to the establishment, always a good thing to have. The establishment should in my opinion always be running scared, lest they forget to behave themselves. But nobody told me who these folks were, and it took lots of reading and my nutshell Damascus moment to pin them down to the point that I could actually venture to explain them to you.
The reason they've been so badly covered and explained is because it's easier to fit them into some pundit's preconceived notion than to actually go out there and report on them.
Which is what I've done in my own pundit-like way. I've got them firmly pigeon-holed in my own preconceived notion of the people who mutter to themselves: “Poor people are ripping me off.”
But I think it holds up, after studying all I could about these folks. I now sincerely feel that I understand them at long last -- which means I don't have to think about them anymore.
After all, like the poor, the petite bourgeoisie will always be with us.
Heck, I'm one of the petite bourgeoisie myself.
Except it doesn't make me fear the poor. I've been poor myself. More than anything, I'd like my taxes to help the poor instead of paying for war and Wall Street and abstinence education. I actually can't think of anything better to spend my taxes on than to help poor people, which means good American notions like Social Security and Medicare for all, and better public schools in poor urban areas, for example. You're not going to find me ranting along with Rick Santelli about not helping losers with their mortgages when our government was all too ready to first help the folks who sold and securitized those mortgages. If there's a government takeover, it's the takeover of the government by the rich folks on Wall Street, who were the biggest contributors to Obama's campaign, and whose flunkeys serve him in his cabinet. You won't find one Obama cabinet member representing or speaking for poor people. I know of only one who is a labor union person, and only one who ever worked with the poor, and that happens to be the president himself.
I'm inclined to mutter to myself: "Rich people are ripping me off." As far as I'm concerned, equal opportunity for rich and poor alike is as fundamental to the American project as liberty. I'm kind of 180 degrees on the other side of the Tea Party people on this. They put liberty above equality or fraternity. Which is why they are at heart selfish, and in their indifference and fear and hatred aimed at the poor, a gaggle of pompous bullies.
Putting it bluntly, the Tea Party folks, as wonderfully refreshing as their populism might be, represent a bunch we only know too well in our politics and in our lives: the selfish bullies. They're the same selfish bullies you could pick out in high school, for chrissake.
Sorry about that. Got carried away for a moment. Forgot that having stuffed the Tea Party people into my little Construct Box, I'm at peace now.
Now, I realize the comforting thing about putting anything in a nutshell is that it relieves you of the burden of further thought. Cogitation comes to a merciful end. But that's what I want. I'm now very happy for the Tea Party people to be totally forgotten by me, along with the ridiculous bell-bottoms I wore in the 60s and that chick who dumped me because I didn't like Celine Dion (funnily enough, in my dotage, I now kind of like Celine and even went out and bought the Susan Boyle album, a very Celine Dion-like purchase).
Forgotten till at least November this year, when these folks might cost the Democrats the House. It could happen, you asleep-at-the-wheel progressive types: in a recent April poll, 67% of Republicans say they're very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats -- a 31% enthusiasm gap that has EVERYTHING to do with the Tea Partiers.
Intrade, the smart betting outfit, now predicts that Democrats will lose seven seats in the Senate and 36 in the House. Republicans need 39 wins for a majority in the House. And ten to win the Senate. It could happen, people.
Well, I'll be a snail in a French chef's garden. And while you're at it, bugger me with bunker-busting bazooka.
A Republican takeover of the legislature because of the Tea Party movement! Quelle horreur! Quelle turd in a champagne bucket! In that event, my relief will be gone in a flash, like a patient euthanized upon a table. The Tea Partiers will enter my mind again, like some eructation of an unhealthy soul. UGH. They'll jump out of my Construct box and plonk themselves squarely in the Real. YECH. They'll be an actual force to reckon with, and God knows what'll happen when real power goes to their nutty heads. AARGH! They'll then become that weird thing I need for me to actually have any politics at all, as Carl Schmitt reminded us. The Tea Party people will then have to become GRR!!! my enemy.
Well, damn and forsooth and gadzooks ... I'll be a cardinal in a sweaty moshpit. And while you're at it, deep-throat me with a flannel shirt.
Let's hope that day never comes. We all need a little more shantih in America.
(Note: this text is dotted with paraphrasings of T.S Eliot lines. Kudos to whomever can ferret them out and name their number. You will surely fail this little test of the use of memory. HEH.)
Posted by Evert Cilliers at 12:28 AM | Permalink