Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tea Party Trouble

Here is my attempt at a political essay. I feel the media coverage of the Tea Party movement has been lacking depth and decided to try my hand at analyzing the movement.

If you need evidence that America is on the wrong track, look no further than the Tea Partiers. This is an indicator on two counts. First, the fact that a large group of Americans are dissatisfied enough to rise up in groupings and voice their grievances in various forums speaks to the trouble we are in. You could call this a credit that I give to the Tea Partiers—almost anyone can agree things are not going great in America. The second count is darker. In essence, the loudest mouthpiece of American dissatisfaction is the Tea Partiers, and they don't represent us well.

First off, perhaps out right dissent is not the best way to handle the kind of challenges America faces now. The spirit of cooperation emphasized by the Obama administration should be the spirit of the whole country. The only way to get out of the current mess is by working together. Obama's leadership in setting a tone of cooperation is outstanding, in fact, he even pushes it too far. One could argue that a major tactical error that Obama has made so far is using so much energy in vein just to show the right he is willing to cooperate. The unfortunate truth is that the right that he strives to hold his hand out to are not interested in working with him. They would rather refuse any cooperation just to make a point and wait it out until they have full power.

The Tea Partiers are a bizzaro version of the Hippies in this respect. The Hippies and 60's left worked hard on their agenda, and when it failed over and over, the Hippies began to 'drop out'. They gave up and followed their own track in a separatist sort of way. Eventually, this got tiresome and they dropped back in. The Tea Partiers also seem bent on 'dropping out' in their own way. To them, all Washington is rotten and they aren't interested in forming their own political party—they hate political parties. Oddly, many Tea Partiers are disinterested in a third party. Most probably think Ross Perot was a wacko, while they've taken his banner and infused it with a less logical, articulate and practical bend.

One thing Tea Partiers all hate is 'big government,' but that is how the country has always been run. They think it tramples personal freedoms, while in reality, for the most part, it allows them. Their main solution to big government is to move power to a more local level. While having power at the local level is healthy and efficient, moving things traditionally run at the federal level to state and local government wouldn't work. In fact, it would be a disaster, and it is at best innocent to think that localizing government is a solution to anything. So, in a way the Tea Partiers are pulling back, refusing to participate fully in government as it is, while failing to offer a single viable alternative idea. While rising up, they are also 'dropping out' in their own way.

While many Americans may cheer on or even join the Tea Partiers, a whole other segment of America is disgusted by them. Their mentality as a unit is like that of a spoiled child. A common Tea Party ailment is irony deprivation. Isn't it obvious that there is an irony to complaining about existing political parties while refusing to start your own? There is a certain irony also to aligning yourself with our founding fathers protesting the control of an imperialist government, while you are protesting your own government which you have representation in. A Tea Partier would probably refute that such representation exists for them and their views, but in reality that representation is just one vote away.

The term Tea Party can be mistaken for a double meaning—for being an allusion to their fondness of referencing the founding fathers and the Boston Tea Party, and as an official title—the designation of party. The truth is far from that. As mentioned before, many Tea Partiers are uninterested in creating a new political party. But even if that was the movement's main purpose, such a reality would be far off. The Tea 'Party' has little large scale organization, no official representatives and a great diversity of views. Most of them lean heavy to the right, while some insist that their disgust is equally spread between right and left. This is probably an image-serving lie, but even if it is not, it is a defeatist point of view. Obviously, one party is more responsible for our trouble than the other. I could name names, but I won't just yet. Sufficient to say, it is illogical to assume both parties share exactly equal fault.

Tea Partiers do agree on a few things. They don't like 'big government', they dislike taxes with every bone in their bodies, and most of all they hate the bailouts. In fact, their movement probably began with the bailouts. Perhaps these aren't the most original bullet points. Everyone dislikes taxes, most people want to keep government on a short leash, and no one liked the bailouts. This leads to another characteristic of the Tea Partiers—gross over-simplification of the issues. They tend to simplify things to a cartoon in times that call for exactitude. The most obvious example is bailouts. For those who oppose them, not on principal, but absolutely, put yourself in Obama's shoes. In theory he could have let Wall street, the banks and Detroit automakers fail, which they deserve. Perhaps America would be okay and we would climb out of our tough times quickly. Much more likely is a collapse on par or perhaps beyond the Great Depression. In short, it is not a gamble that any president, conservative or liberal, could take, Obama included. So to not merely complain about the fact that the bailouts had to be made, but instead blame Obama for issuing them is ignorant and not constructive. All parties, real or imagined, would have to avoid gambling with America's future.

The Tea Partier's timing is curious. Not so much because of the tough times we are in, but because of their reactionary nature. While it is understandable that people are speaking out now, because of the desperate feel of our times, politically, Tea Party timing raises questions. Don't like 'big government'? Where were you during the George W. Bush years? Don't like deficits? Where were you during the Bush years? Don't like taxes? Unless you are very well off Obama's tax burden is no worse than Bush's. In a larger sense, all the trouble that we are in now that inspired the Tea Partiers was caused by the Bush administration. While many negative trends have been evolving for a while, like deficit budgets, (Ronald Regan is their modern father) the often outright reckless governing of the Bush administration put us where we are today. It seems very odd that the Tea Partiers were silent until a new president took office. This could be a coincidence—that the times only got bad enough after Bush left to inspire protest—but it is clear from talking to Tea Partiers or just reading their signs, that they blame Obama and his policies even though he has only been in office a year. Certainly, Bush's inarticulate tone, looseness with the facts, and ideological perspective has more in common with the Partiers than Obama's intellectual tone, exactitude and pleas to work together. Still, it is clear that Obama is a very bright and ambitious man, which is what one would hope for in times of trouble and the Tea Party hatred of him is bizarre.

The Tea Partier's lack of organization not only keeps them from developing into a real party with an official platform, but it also, as a result, causes them to include aspects that diminish their credibility. You could call some of this the 'loony fringe,' groups most often from the very far right. These groups include people who believe Obama was not born in the U.S. and other conspiracies. Aside from tastelessly hard edge beliefs on small (or no?) government, taxes (or lack thereof) and anti-immigration, there is a lack of class to the movement. The anti Obama rhetoric goes from intense, to disrespectful, to borderline racist in a flash. Not only was this sort of opposition weak during the Bush years, but such tone would have been condemned as disrespectful and unpatriotic. Why is it okay now? An offensive fog of over simplification, lack of respect, racism, and lack of tolerance hangs over the movement. As of yet, no leader has emerged to try to clean the movement up—perhaps because the dirt is at the core.

While no leaders that are true Tea Partiers have emerged, who the movement attaches itself to as heroes is telling. Most odd, but perhaps least surprising, is Sarah Palin. Her overly simple rhetoric that is loose with facts and heavy on outrage, the victim complex, match with Tea Party tone. But these are surface features. Palin is fairly inexperienced politically and ultimately has little in the way of direction and ideas. Her gift for connecting with a certain segment of 'everyday Americans' is overshadowed by her frankly shocking lack of knowledge and political intellect. Even if her views were articulated and matched the Tea Partiers perfectly, she is a bad powerful representative of the movement. The fact that she quit as governor early and her extremely polarizing personality make her unelectable to national office. Her lack of smarts may also factor into this, but also makes her a dangerous mouthpiece. Will what she says be in the best interest of the Tea Party, or will she just sound off? Her puerile brand of bicker politics brings focus off of political issues which the Tea Partiers need to focus on and define. While she complains about Obama reading speeches from a teleprompter (which every president from our time has) the country continues to fall apart. In short, no single voice adopted by the movement seems to put the movement in a practical or positive light.

The media portrayal of the Tea Partiers is interesting. The coverage of the movement is everywhere, which helps fan the flames. On the other hand, their attitude toward the movement is patronizing. This may frustrate the Tea Partiers and their opposition alike. While the odd sensation that the media (though obsessed with them) do not take the Tea Partiers serious might paint them in an unkind light, it also lets them off the hook for their sins. In effect, while the Tea Partiers may not enjoy being taken lightly, the opposition might feel that the dangerous pitfalls of the movement go unreported and uncondemned. In addition to serving no side well, the media's attitude also leaves questions of our age unanswered. If the Tea Partiers are right on par with many Americans, the majority are confused by them. What do they stand for? Why protest the way things are being done only now? Why is their rhetoric so disrespectful? What ideas to fix things does this movement offer? While the answer to these questions may not satisfy most people, they must be asked, and the media's lack of willingness to look into these matters makes the movement seem inexplicable and even dark. If nothing else, the movement is a good litmus test for the times, and the media seems to feel that both going into depth about the moment and going out on a limb to criticize them is not worth the price.

All the questions that crop up when one looks into the Tea Party movement seem troubling. It is clear that while the movement may politically disagree with Obama, their idea that our problems now are his fault is factually wrong. It is not possible that all these problems could have been created in a year and change. This basic premise of the movement is an error—and the does not speak well of how informed the American people are. Is this because of extreme ignorance or extreme ideology, or some mix? Also clear is the fact that the media, while patronizing to the movement, bend over backwards to not offend that demographic—thus while rarely given full respect, the Tea Partiers are also rarely asked any tough questions that need to be asked. Both these are symptoms of a sick society. In reality, the only thing that can rescue America from the problems that inspired the Tea Partiers is to become more informed and less idealogical—to embrace the intellect and to cooperate toward common goals.

1 comment:

Author said...

Great to hear your thoughts on the Tea Party!

The media's coverage of them is baffling. It's a small faction of confused Americans who sincerely believe the USA is "theirs" in the nostalgic sense and that Obama somehow didn't rightfully win the election.

The reality couldn't be more different, the actual majority of folks dissatisfied with Obama and Democrats are dissatisfied with them for not implementing a progressive agenda (healthcare, ending war) more quickly and completely. Yet conservatives insist this is a "center-right" country and Obama is somehow a radical. In any other decade Obama would be considered a genuine Republican. Every single thing he's done so far qualifies him as a moderate Republican in the traditional sense.

I say let the Tea Partiers cannibalize the Republican Party, and push unelectable candidates at the country. Despite them being a hot mess of emotions, I think they'll tear the standards up enough to help everyone see a little more clear.

The funniest thing about it all is that they're creating an environment that allows Obama to be both a populist and a realist. He's calm, rational, focused, and actually willing to listen and to try. By contrast, the Tea Party and the Republicans are ignorant spit and venom. He'll never lose that fight. Underneath our collective crazy, Americans are still positive realists.