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Thoughts on the Tea Party

2011.03.18

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

The Mad Hatter

The Tea Party has been a source of endless fascination for me.  I have been accused in the past of referring to its members as racists, ignoramuses, nincompoops, and other rhetorically offensive but descriptively satisfying appellations.

Pejoratives, however, seem to have fallen out of fashion in todays public discourse.  Rather, it would be more accurate to say that it is fashionable to behave publicly as if name-calling has fallen out of fashion, whilst still saying and doing pretty much whatever occurs to you whenever it occurs to you, and apologizing on the off-chance what you say is picked up by enough media outlets.  In any case, several acquaintances inform me with alarming regularity that my negative views of the Tea Party are wholly unfounded, so I thought I would take this opportunity to see if they are correct.  “They just stand for smaller government, less taxes, and freedom,” my mother says.  “What is wrong with that?”

.

The nominal ‘Tea Party’ seems to have begun as a response to Rick Santelli’s rant  on  19 February 2009 regarding the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan, the Obama Administration’s attempt to help nearly nine million American homeowners avoid foreclosure.  Apparently unmoved by the criminal and predatory practices which led to the mass foreclosures, Santelli suggested that traders gather the derivatives and dump them into the Chicago River on 1 July.  Sounding tangentially similar to another famous instance of throwing things into water, the term ‘Tea Party’ soon after firmly held a spot in the propagandistic lexicon of the right-wing.  (The term “propagandistic” in this context is not meant as an aspersion, rather the neutral, descriptive sense of “communication meant to persuade.”)

Linking themselves to the Boston Tea Party is really quite absurd, to my mind.  For starters, the 18th century direct action was a response against zero representation in government, not merely dissatisfactory representation, and the unfair monopoly of a product.  Nowadays, any talk of monopoly dissolution would be condemned as anti-business, anti-innovation.  But the Boston Tea Party has been co-opted by several anti-tax organizations in history, so its misuse not very unique to this particular group of people.

Tea Partiers recite endless platitudes about smaller government, deficit reduction, and constitutional supremacy–often citing former president Ronald Reagan in the process.  (More on Him later.)  But that is all they seem to do.  I’ve listened to the rhetoric of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and others, and it is depressingly apparent that they don’t actually have real-world plans for implementing these ideals.  Pithy aphorisms are all they have to offer.  In my interactions with actual members of the Tea Party, questions like “Name a way the Tea Party is going to reduce the deficit” are met with  blank stares.  The best response I have heard thus far goes something like, “Congress is much too wasteful.  Tea Partiers want  to eliminate pork spending, to get onto the right track.”

But this response is not particularly sophisticated or well-reasoned.  To begin with, one of the primary reasons we elect district representatives is so they go to Washington to lobby for their district.  This has always meant trying to attract federal dollars to local causes.  Historically, it is one of the main rubrics used to  evaluate a representative’s performance.  Combine that with the fact that “pork” or “earmarks” are routinely around 3% of the overall federal budget, and you see why I am unmoved and consider Tea Party attacks against these provisions superfluous at best.  “Ah!” a common retort begins, “But every little bit helps!”

Well, no, not really.  If you are in crippling, mountainous debt, would the first thing you do involve going to your toddler’s room and smashing her piggy bank?  I surely hope not.  Everyone feels bad enough about the situation, let your daughter keep her 48¢ savings, for crying out loud.

Similarly, if we are to resolve the debt crisis in America, we should look at where the most money is being spent before examining anywhere else.  In this country, it is defense spending (“defense” being somewhat of a misnomer at this time).  Yet I have heard not a single Tea Party member put significant defense cuts on the table.  I do hear much ado about American exceptionalism, though.  This triumphalism, the idea of America’s inherent greatness, ostensibly arising from the our country’s genetic makeup, seems to be tied to defense spending somehow.  That, and our Constitution.

The Tea Party treats the US Constitution as some kind of holy book; you’d almost think George Washington came upon the angel Moroni in the forests of the New World and received round, golden plates carved in reformed Egyptian.  Given this, I would have expected members of the Tea Party to be more familiar with the document.  For instance, there is absolutely no mention of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Osiris, or deities of any sort whatsoever in their (second) most hallowèd of texts–not that you’d know this listening to how Palin, Beck, and Bachmann talk.  The only significant point the document makes on this note is in its appendix of amendments–namely, the first one, which assures us that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase which is crystal clear unless, like Christine O’Donnell, you don’t understand it.  This is the amendment that Thomas Jefferson himself believed created a “wall of separation” between the church and the state.  Religion is not a prerequisite for morality.

So… the founders of our nation were not religious.  This is an instance where Tea Partiers and I do not merely have a difference of opinion.  I am right and they are wrong.  I have facts and they do not.  Invocations of “God” in their texts was a rhetorical device, is it was when Albert Einstein did it.  Many, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were openly contemptuous of it.  The Deism of others is well-documented, though I must admit that documentation is not enough to sway anyone who holds beliefs for no good reason.  There are numberless quotes available to show the secularism with which the majority of the Founding Fathers identified; here is a Franklin winner:

And it is a sad Observation, that when the People too late see their Error, yet the Clergy still persist in their Encomiums on the Hypocrite; and when he happens to die for the Good of his Country, without leaving behind him the Memory of one good Action, he shall be sure to have his Funeral Sermon stuff’d with Pious Expressions which he dropt at such a Time, and at such a Place, and on such an Occasion; than which nothing can be more prejudicial to the Interest of Religion, nor indeed to the Memory of the Person deceas’d. The Reason of this Blindness in the Clergy is, because they are honourably supported (as they ought to be) by their People, and see nor feel nothing of the Oppression which is obvious and burdensome to every one else.

The “Founding Fathers” has become the name of a group, instead of merely a descriptor of our country’s architects.  A somewhat elevated, revered group, like the Apostles, rather than a group of intelligent men doing the best they could at the time.

The Tea Party attributes wondrous, mystical properties to the Founding Fathers.  For example, if you are Michele Bachmann, you believe they worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery from the nascent country.  If you see nothing wrong with the previous sentence, I see everything wrong with you.

It also pains me to hear about democracy and citizens’ power in relation to the Founding Fathers.  Has any Tea Party member read the Constitution?  The FFs did not like the “common man.”  They were afraid of an ignorant and disinformed citizenry.  Why else do you think they didn’t want citizens to elect the Senate, the upper of the two legislative houses?  I refer you to Article I Section 3:  They gave the Senate the majority of legislative power and made sure common citizens could not vote for them.  James Madison wrote at length on a tyrannical majority.

But, much like the Bible, one doesn’t need to know much about the document to revere it as Holy.

I do wonder sometimes how people like Michele Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell reconcile the fact that the Constitution is immovable and perfect, yet they want to amend it more.  Michelle Bachmann wants to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a single man and a single woman.  Why does she want to do this?  Because marriage is not mentioned at all in any form in the Constitution.  You’d think cognitive dissonance would create some self-reflection in people such as these (but you’d be wrong).

(Sidebar: The Constitution also has no opinions whatsoever on immigration.  A good thing too, for us anyway; otherwise, none of us would be here, and the country would be a lush and rampant playground for Indians.  Also, Tea Partiers may wish to know that “no taxation without representation” is NOT a Constitutional idea–just ask Washington DC, whose citizens are taxed with no corresponding congressional representatives.  Too, we tax immigrants and convicts.  The phrase is pithy enough to go on a hastily made sign to display as Glenn Beck speaks, and it may maintain a presence in our discourse, but don’t mistake its origins.)

This is when the Tea Party movement, to me, begins stinking of rampant hypocrisy.  This faux-libertarian group professes dislike of government intervention in citizens’ lives–lower taxes, end regulations on businesses, end entitlements and aid.  But what happens when two dudes want to marry?  What happens when a woman wants an abortion?  What happens when a science teacher wants to teach the fact that is evolution via natural selection?  Oh, then government can interfere all it wants.  Screw you, fags.  Sorry, women who think you actually know your body better than the state.  Later, historical reality.  Here, the Tea Party shows its true hypocritical ideology: Hey, government, stay out of our lives, but when someone does something we don’t like, attack!

I’ll end with Ronald Reagan.  The Tea Party deifies Ronald Reagan just as it deifies the Founding Fathers.  (An interesting M. O., isn’t it?)  Of course, they are just as wrong about Reagan as they are about the FFs–so wrong in fact, I could write a whole book about how they distort and misinterpret the 40th President of the United States.  Luckily, one of Dutch’s sons has already done so, saving me the trouble.

Conclusions?

I’d say I’m safe in saying the Tea Party is empty, devoid of realistic viewpoints or workable plans of action.  They have grievances, to be sure, but they aren’t very good at articulating them, nor at identifying any specific solutions that may reasonably be implemented in the real world.  The “party” seems to be a bunch of angry people with no direction or self-awareness who are herded by the loudest voice espousing the craziest idea.  I sympathise with their sense of powerlessness, but there my sympathy stops.  Perhaps with a bit less volume and some greater self-reflection and idea refinement, they could engage in discourse with more sophisticated ideas, instead of being empty-headed mouthpieces for the empty-headed “leaders” filling their little heads with the regurgitated contents of Glenn Beck’s blackboard.

Substantive?  No.  Scary?  Yes.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. The Sound of Reason permalink
    2011.03.21 08:14

    g clark: I’ve responded to your comment in bold, in its body.

    I guess my only question would be: How many Tea Party events have you attended?
    I need to have attended a Tea Party event to have an opinion on its philosophy? How many Socialist Party events have you attended? Ku Klux Klan rallies?

    I’ve been to several and the glaring liberal claim of racism is absolutely ridiculous. It’s so far fetched and has nothing at all to do with what the Tea Party stands for — just more liberal straw grasping and tantrum throwing about something they’ve never even experienced, but want to denigrate.
    Even assuming that the blatantly and inarguably racist and offensive signs at Tea Party rallies are the infinitesimal minority, when people such as yourself say things like “Obama needs to stop calling himself black, because his mother is white” …well, if that’s not racism, then it’s at least ignorance of the highest order.

    And, yes, the Tea Party DOES have an Agenda… which encompasses the three core values of

    –Fiscal Responsibility
    –Limited Government
    –Free Markets

    A COMMITMENT TO AMERICA

    We the People of the United States of America, reclaiming our inalienable rights, demand that Congress bring an end to the out-of-control spending of our tax dollars and the intrusive growth of the Federal Government.

    To this end, we demand that Members of Congress do the following:

    1. Stop the massive spending that is bankrupting America. Start with no new bailouts. Roll back federal spending to 2007 levels and cap annual spending growth at the rate of inflation plus population growth.
    How about roll back federal spending to 2000 levels… You know, the last year of Clinton’s term when the budget was actually balanced? Or instead of “starting with no new bailouts,” i.e., future hypothetical money, why not start with money we are currently wasting? (Defense, etc…)

    2. Vote for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that also requires a 2/3 supermajority to raise taxes.
    How do you reconcile this with #10 below? Or Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution?

    3. Repeal or defund the government takeover of our health care. Start over with health care reform that is patient centered and reduces – not raises – our health care costs.
    The Obama/Pelosi plan does not raise health care costs, but if the Republicans go ahead with their plan to “defund certain parts” of the plan, they will end up just screwing over American citizens, more to prove a point than to actually help them with anything.

    4. Repeal the automatic tax increases scheduled for 2011. Vote against increased taxation, including energy taxes and value added taxes.
    The Tea Party’s major flaw in accounting logic: please explain to me again how cutting off revenue will balance a budget? Oh, and 1)Tax cuts are spending, and should be treated as such, 2)only cutting spending just isn’t enough at this point.

    5. Require “sunset” provisions for every spending program passed and every agency created by Congress.
    Would it not be best to consider these on a case-by-case basis? Where would the sunset provision be for, say, the Bush tax cuts. Those are spending, like it or not.

    6. Legislate limits on excessive agency rule making by requiring that Congress vote to approve all major new rules.
    I’m fine with this, though Congress will be able to do nothing else, really. What is meant by “major”?

    7. Demonstrate legislative transparency. Five days in advance of a vote, post online all bills, resolutions and conference reports. Require roll call votes on all measures that spend money.
    Posting bills online is fine, but don’t kid yourself that anyone is actually going to read them. Hell, many Congressmen don’t read many things they vote on, and that’s what we pay them for. And this may not be possible for all bills, if actions conflict with Article I, Sections 5.3 & 7.1 of the Constitution.

    8. Hold no votes in a “lame duck” session that would increase spending, taxes or regulation. This would include, for example, cap and trade, card check and immigration.
    This is merely a reaction to legislation enacted during the last lame duck session. Congressmen are still on the clock during a lame duck session, and should still work. Besides, something tells me that this point would be moot during the next Republican lame duck session.

    9. Abide by the principle that any law that does not apply to Congress or its staff does not apply to the American people.
    Hmmm… Does this work both ways? I mean, Congressmen get government-supplied health-care, after all…

    10. Provide specific citations from the Constitution for any legislation introduced.
    Interesting. Of course, this could backfire in some Tea Partiers’ faces, but if you’re suggesting that legislation include an opinion in the manner of Supreme Court opinions, that is interesting indeed. It also renders all further proposed Constitutional Amendments immediately void.

    Members of Congress must remember that they derive their just powers from and serve by consent of the governed.
    That’s why we vote. Sort of. Also, see my notes about the Senate in my original post.

    The premise of every law enacted by Congress must be that the American people know best how to conduct their own affairs.
    Now that is not a principle every Founding Father would have been on board with. …And what, specifically is meant by “affairs”? Does this mean we don’t need an FDA to ensure that food and pharmaceuticals are safe for the public? Does this mean we don’t need an FCC to levy fines when we see some Janet Jackson side-boob? We don’t need the government for marriage laws? Abortion laws?

    — End Commitment to America

    It’s just that simple. It’s a commitment to start fixing the insanity that has become the United States Congress.
    If it really were that simple, it would be that simple.

    Really mean spirited radical stuff, huh?
    Don’t retreat, baby. Reload.

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