Tag Archives: Tea Party

The Tea Party’s perverse leftist fantasy

The left has spilled pages of ink and innumerable pixels wondering why the middle class votes against its interests, debating the effect of the Democratic Leadership Council, and which candidate would be the best presidential contender in 2016 (one of us is guilty ofsuch indulgences). Lefties have harangued Barack Obama, even suggesting that Richard Nixon was more liberal. By doing this, the left has has succumbed to right-wing ideas about social change – that it comes from great men, rather than collective action.

Throughout history, we can find examples of this mythos. FDR, the liberal hero, was not a Nietzschean overman, he was confined by his circumstances. Economics professor Richard Wolff argues that he could only raise marginal tax rates to 90 percent, create a vast array of make-work programs and push through a universal pension because capitalists were so terrified of a mobilized left.

Similar outside pressures also account for the widespread myth that Nixon was a leftist. As Erik Loomis noted discussing Nixon’s environmental record, “Richard Nixon was however a very shrewd politician operating in the time of the postwar liberal consensus.” That is, no matter how conservative Nixon was, he simply could not veto the bills before him without either being overridden or digging deep into his limited cache of political capital. In the same way, no matter how much Obama may want to pass universal health care or gun regulations, he cannot. The central lie of the DLC was not neoliberalism, but the idea that the presidency mattered. By shifting the focus to an almost sacrosanct view of the presidency, the left has forgotten about movement building to fawn on “progressive heroes.”

Consider the press around Bill de Blasio, the newly elected progressive mayor of New York City. For the most part, it has succumbed to the “great man” narrative, and many New Yorkers wait with baited breath for him to single-handedly obviate income inequality. But de Blasio’s success was not his alone, and his governance will not be either. As Harold Meyerson documents, it was the Working Families Party, which spent decades building a progressive infrastructure in and around the city that de Blasio needed to win and it is WFP defense attorneys, city council members and public advocates that will make his time as Mayor successful.

 

If a Democratic president sits in the Oval Office it may well be due to the tireless efforts of organizations like National Employment Law Project, Demos, Project Vote, Common Cause and others that register voters, build coalitions and sue states just to get them to comply with laws on the books.

The best palliative for this great-man obsession is “The Lego Movie.” In the movie, the “Master Builders,” await a prophesied “special” to destroy Lord Business. When they finally meet the special, Emmet, they find him entirely banal. Eventually, they realize there is no savior, and that they must use their own talents and abilities, contribute what they can to create an emancipatory movement. Such is the debacle of the left. Our hero, long prophesied, has come, and though he is extraordinarily capable, there is simply no way that he can single-handedly end all wars, pass immigration reform, save Social Security, stop the rising oceans and slash rising inequality.

In “The Lego Movie,” the opposition was not only wrong about who would bring change — they were wrong about how change would come about. The Master Builders thought they were going to use their existing institutions and infrastructure. Although they did not use manuals, they still loathed to deviate from the prepared plan. It is Emmet’s insight that the plan is fatally flawed – there is no need for a vanguard party, but rather a mass collective action. His insight is scorned by the council who expected to simply storm Lord Businesses’s offices again, even after Metalbeard’s failed assault. For us as for them, the existing institutions and infrastructures are only part of the equation. Sheldon Adelson votes, like you and me, but he also spent more than the residents of 12 states combined on the 2012 election cycle. In their recent study, Larry Bartels find that the wealthy are not only more engaged in terms of voting, they are also more likely to vote, donate money to campaigns, attend rallies and meet with or call candidates. The left cannot continue storming the Presidency and expecting change.

The right learned the lesson of 1930s and began a mobilization of their own, one which has become so powerful it is almost unseating them from power. The Tea Party is, in nearly every way, a leftist movement. It is based on a perversely egalitarian sentiment, a “makers and takers” narrative, and leftist mobilization. Many may be surprised to learn that the Republican primary candidate who raised the largest percentage of his money from large donors was the most moderate: Jon Huntsman. Like the communists and socialists of the post-depression years, the Tea Party has obliterated the paradigm, pushing change from outside the political system.

“The Lego Movie” is in stark contrast to other “leftist” movies, like “Elysium,” that rely on “great men” to save humanity. “The Lego Movie” is not meant to be communist propaganda, but rather aims to obliterate the “hero narrative” that Joseph Campbell identified in “Hero With a Thousand Faces.” In “The Lego Movie,” Emmet is not “the special.” In fact, the the prophecy predicting such a figure was made up by Emmet’s mentor Vitruvius. But Emmet’s adventure over the course of the film still mirrors the Hero’s Journey narrative laid out by Campbell. However, somewhat contrary to Campbell’s outline, Emmet’s journey doesn’t change him. Instead, his journey changes those around him: his allies the Master Builders and the people of Bricksburg.

Christopher Vogler’s book “The Writers Journey” adapts Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the craft of writing. In it, he discusses the various kinds of heroes seen in storytelling. Emmet fits into the category of “Catalyst Hero”: “A certain class of Hero is an exception to the rule that the Hero is usually the character who undergoes the most change. These are catalyst Heroes, central figures who may act heroically, but who do not change much themselves because their main function is to bring about transformation in others.” Emmet’s journey teaches the Master Builders and the greater Bricksburg population that everyone is special and should use their personal talents to work together.

In this story, the hero is not unwilling, but impotent; he is not called, but rather stumbles upon his fate; and he does not grow, but rather those around him do. This is a far more realistic description of the reality of Obama’s presidency the salvific narrative that surrounded his election in 2008. His failures remind us that it is not “Great men” who act as a force for social change, but rather great movements. Norberto Bobbio recognized that the central feature of the left was the belief in human equality. As Rousseau said, “the destruction of equality was attended by the most terrible disorders.” In  a brilliant bit, British comedian Robert Newman diagnoses the problem on the left,

When I first started getting involved with Radical-Direct-action-Non-hierarchical-Eco-autonomous-grassroots organisations, I didn’t understand the concept of no leaders. I thought I did; but I didn’t. And I’d go upto the nearest alpha male or alpha female and say, “Here’s what you should do – Why don’t you do this – It’d be great if you all did this – And when are you going to do this?” And they’d give you this look, that I never understood…

What this look meant was, “Yes, good Idea, why don’t you do it yourself? You print the leaflets, I’ll distribute them; you call a meeting, I’ll attend; you organize an action, we’ll come along”.

And from that moment, I realized that, my whole philosophical outlook changed. And from then on, instead of suggesting things other people could do, I stopped suggesting things altogether, in case they expected me to do them…

Such a problem won’t be found in “The Lego Movie,” where characters are exhorted to “start building” with whatever they have on hand. The left needs more middle class donors, giving not just to political campaigns, but unions and think-tanks. The left needs more writers, artists, policy analysts, historians and scientists. The truth, the one that no pundit will ever write publicly, is that it doesn’t matter whether the Democratic nominee is Warren or Clinton, what matters is whether there is a mobilized worker’s movement, student demonstrations and new and refreshed leftist thinking. McGovern didn’t end Vietnam; hippies did. We, the people, did.

Originally published on Salon. 

The GOP and Tea Party Are Heading for a Split

The conventional wisdom right now is that, although there appears to be a rift in the Republican party, it’s not going to break-up. The Slatepitchy proposition is that Republicans disagree about “tactics not goals.” To quote Jonathan Chait,

Mainstream Republicans and the tea party have fallen out almost entirely over political tactics. Tea partiers and conventional Republicans alike want to abolish Obamacare, cut taxes, eliminate Dodd-Frank, stop any regulation of carbon emissions, and impose cuts to social programs for the poor.

Matthew Yglesias writes in Slate essentially the same thing as Bernstein in Salon, “The tensions between Ted Cruz and John Boehner and Peter King and Mitch McConnell and whomever are all about tactics.”

But this overstates the case: the Tea Party is a nationalistic fringe right-wing party and will inevitably have to split with the GOP.

I realize the World Net Daily is a crazy website, but I think this op-ed by Joseph Farrah summarizes my argument here, and provides definitive proof that the Tea Party and GOP are never, ever, ever getting back together:

There are groups and individuals who would like to constrict the tea-party movement to fiscal issues.

That would be a huge mistake.

It’s not just about government spending, even though it was government spending that precipitated the unprecedented, spontaneous, grass-roots uprising.

More precisely, it’s about the law of the land and the will of the people.

It’s about a nation whose government has lost its moorings.

Remember the list of policies that Yglesias and Chait think the Tea Party and Moderate Republicans agree on? Maybe they should consult TeaParty.org where these fifteen non-negotiables are dilineated:

1. Illegal aliens are here illegally.

2. Pro-domestic employment is indispensable.

3. A strong military is essential.

4. Special interests must be eliminated.

5. Gun ownership is sacred.

6. Government must be downsized.

7. The national budget must be balanced.

8. Deficit spending must end.

9. Bailout and stimulus plans are illegal.

10. Reducing personal income taxes is a must.

11. Reducing business income taxes is mandatory.

12. Political offices must be available to average citizens.

13. Intrusive government must be stopped.

14. English as our core language is required.

15. Traditional family values are encouraged.

Those goals aren’t at all in line with the policies pushed forward by the GOP. They are not the goals of a major political party, but rather a fringe nationalistic movement. In fact, similar nationalist movements are cropping up all over Europe, fueled by the influx of immigration, especially of Muslims.  Such movements are not historically unique either.

We can see a similar movement in Britain in the 1960s. when Britain’s Conservative Party faced the same struggle the GOP face today. In 1964, Peter Griffiths, a Tory, won a seat with the slogan: “If you want a n*gger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” In 1966, when the moderate Conservative party lost, A.K. Chesterton (winner of the creepiest lips award), along with John Tyndall decided that they would be better off splitting off from the Tories and forming their own National Front, which later evolved into the BNP.

The Conservatives worked to create a more center-right party and worked, haltingly, to rid itself of racist past and towards a more centrist agenda. In contrast, the BNP is pro-life, pro-capital punishment,  a strictly anti-immigration pose, reject any government spending that doesn’t serve British interests, teach the British heritage in schools, support stand your ground laws and believe all races are equal, but they just shouldn’t mingle. Sound familiar? Try to see if you can tell the difference between a Tea Party manifesto and the BNP manifesto.

Viewed in the light or the BNP, the Tea Party’s odd desire to maintain farm subsidies while cutting aid to the poor makes sense: any government program which supports the “other” is bad. Programs to support middle-class (read: white) farmers or homeowners are fine, supporting the poor hispanic and black population is terrible. The goal isn’t to shrink government, it’s to cleanse government. This also helps explain the Tea Party fascination with birtherism, strange theories about neo-colonialism, and they are absolutely terrified of the U.N.

The Tea Party has all of the hallmarks of a nationalist xenophobic (dare I say Fascist) movement:  89% white, 58% keep a gun in their house, a faction believe that violence  against the government is justified, most believe America is a country in decline, they are anti-immigrant, authoritarian, opposed to social progress, anti-gay and anti-abortion. overwhelmingly support the death penalty, really dislike Muslims, very much dislike immigrants (to the point of militarizing the border) and they’re really, really racist. Obviously, the Tea Party is not a single cohesive group, but it’s clear that the anti-immigrant wing holds major influence in the coalition of crazy. Sinclair Lewis summed up the situation a century ago, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

While the “Tea Party” sentiment has existed for a long time in the Republican party, but it has remained dormant, largely placated by the race-baiting language of Republican candidates. Reagan promised to cut benefits for the welfare queens (black women) and imprison crack addicts (black men). The recent rise of the Tea Party was ignited by three things:

1. The failure of the George Bush Presidency

The Republican has courted racial votes for a long-time, but recently has failed to deliver what they desire. George Bush’s push for immigration reform, his pivot toward India and China, embrace of compassionate conservatism and focus towards nation-building abroad all frustrated the nationalist right.

2. The election of Barack Obama

The election of Obama and his re-election provided both racial animus (s is it any wonder that the enemy of the Tea Party is not a liberal, but rather an immigrant black Muslim), but also the hopelessness of trusting the establishment. The reason for the National Front splitting with the Tories is disturbingly prescient: A.K. Chesterton was convinced that a purer party would  more successfully compete in national elections.

3. The destruction of the Middle Class

The middle class got screwed in 2008, and they saw their government support the wealthiest and the poorest and leave the middle-class out in the cold. If you look at the economic policies of the Tea Party, it’s broadly similar to that of the BNP – government support isn’t inherently bad, it’s bad if it goes to support immigrants, poor or blacks. Thus, the bailout of banks was not bad but the bailout of poor homeowners (who were, in the Conservative narrative, because of the Community Reinvestment Act were primarily minority) ignited the anger and fear.

If America was a parliamentary democracy (as it should be), the current split would have happened a long time ago. We would have four parties: a nationalistic “Tea Party,” a center-right “Rockefeller Republican” party, a center-left “New Democratic” party and a green party. Instead, we have two parties that . On the left, the green party has been so terrified of the right it grasped for the Clintons,  and Kerrys (and the center-lefties sat through McGovern and Dukakis). The right has had to grapple with something far more difficult. Middle-class and working-class nationalists have watched Republican presidents work towards immigration reform (to win the votes of Hispanics), send jobs overseas, work tirelessly to export American ideas to the Middle East and give up the fight on social issues. Now, they also have something else none of the other far-right movements in America have had, the mobilization capacity to shut down the government. The GOP has tried to placate the Tea Party while also bringing the party into the 21st century. How long will it be until the Tea Party decides, like A.K. Chesterton, that they’d be better off on their own? How far will the GOP go to win over the votes of disenchanted Southerners, afraid of the increase of secularism, the infiltration of foreign peoples and races into their society and the decline of the white middle class? To quote the Gospel of Mark, “A house is divided against itself cannot stand.”