Weak Tea

The Americans were boiling, reported the French press.

The Americans were boiling, reported the French press.

Now that tax day is past and our national teabagging is naught but a memory, I’d like to make a few shout-outs and observations to put the spectacle in perspective.

1) Andy “on the Road” Sellars citizenjournophotoblogged (portmanteau fail!) his impressions of the D.C. Tea Party, noting well the frustrating obliviousness of a vague and unfocused tax-related protest in the one District in the U.S. that actually lives under taxation without representation.   To my mind, for protests ostensibly orchestrated to revive the spirit of the American Revolution, the level of ignorance regarding any civic or historic context is pretty damning.

2) Contrariwise, Ross Douthat, one of those reassuringly sane conservatives and soon-to-be NYT columnist, has a great post up this morning comparing the Tea Parties to the antiwar protests of Bush’s first term. Conclusion Quote:

[H]ere we are in the sixth year of the Iraq War, and all those anti-war protests, their excesses and stupidities notwithstanding, look a lot more prescient in hindsight than they did (to me, at least) when they were going on. So if you’re inclined to sneer and giggle at the Tea Parties, keep in mind that just because a group of protesters looks ragged, resentful, and naive, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong to be alarmed.

Legitimate point.  And this whole Tea Party hubbub has, if nothing else, given me new perspective on how the anti-war movement of 2002 and 2003, which seemed vital and obvious to me at the time, appeared batty and paranoid to the majority of Americans who still trusted their president.

Of course, people were wrong to trust George W. Bush then, and I think that was a judgment call you could reasonably make by 2003, what with the transparently manufactured campaign to invade a country for ideological shits and giggles, and certainly by 2004, what with the subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law, and, uh, reports of fucking TORTURE.

Frankly, I’m kind of pissed that the powerless conservatives of 2009 are co-opting this Remember the Revolution theme, when the powerless liberals of 2002-2004 had actual, real, important grounds for suggesting the government had betrayed the nation’s deepest founding values, and really dropped the ball.  It’s mind-boggling how, for people living in the scary conservative mirror world, everything that was terrifying and disturbing about the Bush presidency is magically transferred and projected onto the Obama presidency.  The Tea Party types are the same sort who labeled Iraq War critics and protesters the “Blame America First” crowd, suggested criticism of Bush meant we didn’t support the troops and wanted America to fail, and raised the spectre of McCarthy with suspicions of a terrorist-loving fifth column.

That last strain of paranoia eventually found Barack Obama to be an enormous boon to its survival as a meme, spawning the Birther movement, for example. And now without a hint of irony, conservative spokespersons explicitly desire that our president fail and fan rebellious rhetoric, as the detritus of the GOP spews more and more bile at its own shadow. Tea without sympathy. Which brings us to:

3) Matt Yglesias riffs on the problem with conservative paranoia, making the vital point that a lot of the most virulent rhetoric “isn’t burbling from the grassroots up, it’s being driven [by] the very most prominent figures in conservative media and … a large number of members of congress.” He ends by saying this is incredibly irresponsible behavior, and he’s right. The governor of Texas, lobbing red meat at teabaggers yesterday, took an antebellum policy position regarding a state’s right to secede from the Union.  Sure that’s not gonna happen, although the South is always threatening to rise again, and if it did, considering the circumstances of the first Civil War, it would definitely happen during the term of the first black President, wouldn’t it?

My point is, while I appreciate Ross’ words of wisdom, the excesses and extremes of the conservative movement today are more dangerous and malignant than those of the Bush-era liberal movement, a judgment I make largely based on the sadistic policies, pathological denial, and general disregard for responsible governance embraced by the modern right-wing– the same traits that spurred liberal protest under Bush and offend the sensibilities of our New Democratic Majority today.  In the quote above, Ross describes the teabaggers as “naive,” which suggests a state of innocence and potential growth. But one cannot mature from a state of naivete by embracing ignorance.

There are important debates to be had about tax reform (I’m for a major simplification of the tax code), the government’s fiscal health, and our economic strategy.  I think the insights of conservative minds like Ross Douthat are vital to those debates.  There are great protests to be thrown using the trappings of the American Revolution to illumine how we have drifted from core principles, too. But the sights and sounds yesterday evoked no civic respect from me.  It was like watching a tectonic vent of cultural resentment, propelled proudly by its own irrationality. I wouldn’t validate that for all the tea in China.

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