Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tea Parties

From earlier this week, liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald lays out an interesting analysis of the tea party movement, (certainly one of the most honest takes I've seen from the left), as part of a larger piece about the confusion over some of Glenn Beck's recent statements about preferring Obama to John McCain.

Far more interesting than Beck himself is the increasingly futile effort to classify the protest movement to which he has connected himself. Here, too, confusion reigns. In part, this is due to the fact that these "tea party" and "9/12" protests are composed of factions with wildly divergent views about most everything. From paleoconservatives to Ron-Paul-libertarians to LaRouchians to Confederacy-loving, race-driven Southerners to Christianist social conservatives to single-issue fanatics (abortion, guns, gays) to standard Limbaugh-following, Bush-loving Republicans, these protests are an incoherent mishmash without any cohesive view other than: "Barack Obama is bad." There are unquestionably some highly noxious elements in these groups, but they are far from homogeneous. Many of these people despised the Bush-led GOP and many of them loved it.

Add to all of that the fact that this anti-Obama sentiment is being exploited by run-of-the-mill GOP operatives who have no objective other than to undermine Democrats and return the Republicans to power -- manifestly not the goal of many of the protesters -- and it's impossible to define what this movement is or what is driving it. In many ways, its leadership (both organizationally and in the media) is fundamentally at odds with the participants. How can people who cheered on the Bush/Cheney administration and who want to re-install GOP leaders in power (i.e., Fox News, Limbaugh, the right-wing blogosphere, GOP House members) possibly make common cause in any coherent way with those who are in favor of limited federal government power, reduced debt, privacy, and Constitutional protections -- all the things on which the GOP relentlessly waged war for years? In one important sense, the "tea party" movement is similar to the Obama campaign for "change": it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they're part of the same movement.

That last part is just utterly brilliant, although many tea partiers would probably reject the idea. Opposition to the Obama agenda, like support for "change," is the easy part. But what do the tea partiers want in terms of actual policy? The idea that the line between socialism and freedom is where we are right now in the policy debate is pure fantasy, so again, the question is, what does the tea partiers ideal government look like? I suspect that Greenwald is right, that you wouldn't get any consistent, specific answers.


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