The Tea Parties of earlier this week really bothered me. I found them silly but as I got involved in the comments section of my post, I found myself getting downright angry. It was more than mere silliness that had me annoyed.
Over the past 48 hours I’ve encountered two perspectives on the Tea Party and the populist rage that it represents. One view was moderate and came from a black journalist (I identify the race for reasons that will become evident later). The other view was extremist, almost embarrasingly so, and was expressed by a white actress/activist. Both perspectives helped me focus on why I have been so angry.
In the Washington Post, columnist Eugene Robinson wrote the following:
The cool, cerebral White House might logically conclude that Wednesday’s decidedly uncool, uncerebral “tea bag” protests were intellectually and politically incoherent, and therefore not worth a second thought. That would be a dangerous mistake. …
Some protesters were mad about measures they feared Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress might take to strengthen gun control laws. Some were mad about illegal immigration, some about abortion, some about gay marriage. At times, the protests ventured into fantasyland. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, caught up in the excitement of the day, prattled nonsensically about Texas’s onetime status as an independent country and how, purportedly, the state had reserved the right to secede. … The protests were all over the map and thus hard to take seriously. … But the polls also point to what looks like a reservoir of simmering discontent. …
A growing sense of us vs. them, of the little guy vs. the big guy, is out there waiting to be exploited by anyone clever enough to fashion a sophisticated populist critique of the Obama administration’s policies. I know it seems crazy to use words like “clever” and “sophisticated” in connection with today’s Republican Party, but stranger things have happened. via Eugene Robinson – Why President Obama Can’t Ignore ‘Tea Bag’ Protest Anger – washingtonpost.com.
Robinson makes the point that the protests lacked focus and inspired lunatic offshoot consequences like the insane ramblings of Texas Governor Rick Perry. He also points out that the amorphous us-against-them anti-government rage conspicuously lacked a leader who could give it focus. His primary point (a moderate one, in my view) is that Washington better not dismiss this phenomenon because the “right” person could light the fire to change this fizzle to sizzle.
But Robinson got me in touch with one aspect of my own rage. I like my protests to have a coherent theme. I like focus. In the past eight years, there was focus. We (liberals) did not like the war in Iraq — specific — we did not like wire tapping and violation of civil rights — specific — we did not like government incompetence evidenced by Katrina — specific. When we protested the topic was clear. What I see now and what frustrates me is that the Tea Party crowds want go grab anything and everything all at once and go nuts. Taxes, guns, abortion, gay rights, deficits. It’s a kind of protest that looks chaotic and out of control with no reason behind it, no specificity. It resembles mob protest. It’s scary. And then there is that one other thing which leads me to the ultra-liberal actress/activist.
I often get the nagging feeling that when folks are talking about everything at once, it is a way to avoid talking about the ONE thing that is really bothering them. I know that publishing the following interview between Keith Olberman and Janeane Garofalo will enrage my conservative readers. Janeane’s style of argument is condescending and represents everything conservatives HATE about liberals. But here it goes:
The video starts with a clip of a Pensacola Tea Party where the speaker is getting a warm reception until he points out Republicans’ role in our current mess. Once he goes down that road, he loses the crowd. Clearly they are not there to consider facts. They are there for catharsis. Enter Janeane Garofalo and her extremist liberal analysis. Oh no she didn’t!!! She did NOT just play the race card! Well, yes she did and in doing so she tapped into the other factor in my vitriolic reaction to the tea parties.
Where are the blacks in these Tea Party crowds? Don’t blacks stand as much or more to lose in this economic mess than white folks do? So you say, blacks aren’t there because they love Obama ‘cos he’s black. Well then, doesn’t that invite the flipside question?
I kinda picture the pathological liar character played by Jon Lovitz in the old days of SNL. “I am pissed off about ehhhh, taking my guns away and ehhhhh, deficits and ehhhhh taxes and ehhhh bailouts. Yeah, that’s the ticket.” When in fact, a good number of folks may not be able to articulate “Dammit, there’s a black guy in the White House! What the hell is THAT about?”
I don’t want to go there, believe me. When Obama got elected, I put myself on alert not to reach for the “you just don’t like him because he’s black” excuse. But all one needs to do is look at some of the signage at the protests to see that a good amount of the rage is focused on Obama, not on our current conditions. For example a sign that read “Americans are the Jews for Obama’s ovens.” Lots more like that one! If Obama were the alienating sort, I might understand his being a magnet for the rage. But Obama has spoken in consistently moderate and conciliatory tones. He has at every juncture tried to explain to the American people the reasons for his policies. He has communicated up the proverbial wazoo. When we combine that with the fact that much of what we’re doing (e.g. TARP) is similar or identical to the last months of the Bush administration one has to wonder where was all the protest under Bush? Why has this black man suddenly sparked all this populist angst? Particularly when the black man in question speaks in some of the most populist tones of ANY recent president.
So there you have it. This whole tea party thing has me by the throat because first, I am offended by the total anti-intellectual, ignorant tenor of the protest, unfocused without any intelligent leader to show the way and second, because I suspect that a good portion of the populist rage is fueled by that omni-present American tumor called racism.