Posts Tagged ‘Tea Party Movement’

It used to make me crazy that votes cast by uninformed citizens carried as much weight as those cast by folks who at least cared enough to learn something about the candidates and issues on the ballot.  It seemed unfair that a person with no historical reference, someone who couldn’t be bothered to read – or even watch – the news had every bit as much influence in the voting booth as someone who could name one of his state’s senators, knew that the Gettysburg Address was not part of the Constitution and was pretty darned sure we did not fight North Vietnam during World War Two.

There oughta be a voting test, I thought.  Kinda like a DMV driving test—a short, maybe 10-question exam, that would separate the civic numbskulls from the not-numbskulls. Score 7 out of 10, and you get your ballot.  Simple.

But there was a problem. Who would design the test? The temptation to skew the test toward one ideological direction or other is too great to leave the job to some overzealous or corruptible employee of the Registrar of Voters.  In other words, we would have to select the proper test by public referendum—putting us right back where we started. Damn. Democracy is messy.

Eventually, I realized that it really didn’t matter anyway. All the votes based on criteria, like “Hey, this candidate has the same first name as my second cousin” and “Wow, this proposition’s number is my wife’s lucky lotto number!” would cancel each other out, leaving the more reasoned votes to battle for the direction of our glorious democracy.

Or so I thought.

Rebels Without a Clue

How was I to know that fear, anger, a wrecked economy and a rightwing TV network would one day marshal those once unconcerned voters into a potent “throw the bums out” voting bloc called “The Tea Party?”

Though it appears the Tea Party-ers’ new passion for politics has not compelled them to become any more informed than they were before joining the movement, don’t worry; Fox News tells them everything they need to know in short, easy-to-parrot catchphrases. So, instead of directing their anger toward the poodle politicians who continue to sell Americans’ health and standard of living to the highest corporate bidders, they blame Obama, a president who has at least shown some inclination–timid though it may be–to rein in the robber-barons of the insurance, energy, healthcare and banking industries.

Chumped

As the Tea Party screams about socialism and Big Government’s intrusion into the private sector, guess who sits back in their $15,000 ostrich leather recliners, gleefully rubbing their hands together like Snidely Whiplash, salivating in anticipation of the next Tea Party victory—the board members of the very corporations whose gambling, outsourcing and greed created the Great American Mess in the first place; that’s who. Bravely marching on, waving their “Obama is a Communist Nazi” signs, the Tea Party-ers have no idea that they’re actually being led down a Stars and Stripes-festooned chute to a fiscal slaughtering pen.

It’s not that Tea Party candidates or members are any smarter or dumber than your average extremist, war-happy, nativist, homophobic, rightwing Republican. It’s just that I would have hoped a sweet, home-grown candidate like the Tea Party’s newest champion, Christine O’Donnell, might at least see economic matters a bit differently than Establishment Republicans, whose ideas of personal adversity run toward catastrophes like late limo drivers and overcooked chateau briand.

Unlike the upper-crust Republicans who populate Capitol Hill, O’Donnell is a working gal who, like so many Americans, has personally felt the sharp pain of financial insolvency. You’d think that at some point while trying to dig herself out of  IRS liens and threatened home foreclosures, Ms. O’Donnell would have noticed how dramatically the deck has been stacked against working Americans by large  corporations and their handmaidens in Congress. That in her darkest moment of despair she would have been struck by a blinding flash of understanding that a gambled-away economy, stagnant wages, unaffordable healthcare and a disappearing middle class are not the results of over-sized government, but of corporate avarice and power run amok; that Big Government isn’t the problem…Owned Government is.

The Loopy Bunch

“Throw the bums out,” has been the rallying cry of a disgruntled electorate since the founding of our democracy. Members of the Tea Party movement, however, have added  their own unique codicil: “Throw the bums out and replace them with people who are as clueless as we are.”

Case in point: Tea Party favorite and Republican nominee for the New York gubernatorial race, Carl Paladino.  Sure, he’s unbalanced and looks like he could spontaneously combust at any moment, but he also appears to be unbelievably stupid. Did he not see the cameras and lights when he threatened to “take out” New York Post reporter Fredric Dicker? Did he not realize that he would come off looking like a temperamental maître d’ doing a really bad Goodfellas routine? And of all the news organizations on the planet to go after, which does Paladino choose? Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post–trumpet of the Rabid Right, and friend to Paladino’s campaign…until Paladino went thug on them, that is.

In Kentucky there’s the Tea Party-approved,  tousle-haired Rand Paul, publicly voicing his opposition to both the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, while O’Donnell’s past dabblings in witchcraft, and rejection of evolution and masturbation continue to provide insight into the early development of a Tea Party great.

Good lord, I wouldn’t trust these people to park my car!

The Tea Party movement could be a blessing, though. It is already causing wide-spread panic throughout the Republican Party, which is always a good thing. GOP leaders are now forced to answer two difficult questions,  “Do we sign on with these loons and risk losing the few sane people we have left, or do we ignore them and pray that their amazing facility for self-destruction quickly slides them back under the rock?” The first strategy would surely strike terror in the hearts of many Independents, driving them back to the Democrats; but strategy #2 might cause the Crazed Right to stay home on election day — an interesting dilemma.

The Tea Party movement also serves as a kind of national bellwether. If my countrymen are crazy enough to put that crew into Congress, where their votes could actually influence what goes on in my country and my life, I’ll know that it’s time to move to Greenland.


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Hey Chuck –

Both of your recent forwards read like companion pieces. The New Yorker column shows us how nuts we’ve become, and the Houston Chronicle piece suggests a way—albeit a dangerous way– to sort us all out (I mean, Palin could win, then we’d all have to move to a commune in Norway).

Both are terrific reads.  The Surowiecki piece is terrifyingly accurate, though I think he’s a bit too forgiving of our countrymen.  “The anger is understandable,” he says, but what I find hard to understand is Americans’ refusal to invest even the least bit of intellectual effort to go past the soundbites and slogans to get a better fix on what’s really going on.  I can’t remember who said this, but his perfect answer to “I’m not really into politics ” was, “Oh yeah?  Well, politics is really into you, my friend.”

No wonder we don’t make sense; we don’t have any.  There is a long list of things pundits tend to blame for “The Dumbing Down of America”–TV, bad schools, busy schedules, blah, blah–but the real culprit here is a populace that is content to have reduced its political outlook to three categories: “Things That Save me Money,”  “Things That Piss Me Off” and “Things I Don’t Understand”–with the third category being the dominant influence on the first two. That’s why Tea Party types can call Obama a Nazi and a communist, and not get laughed out of the room.

However, there was an encouraging turn in the mid-2000s (for a discouragingly short period) when people became politicized during Bush’s reign.  He had scared the hell out of them. They began to look up terms like “fascism” and “unitary executive.” Friends who had never had a political thought in their lives began emailing me with their takes on the latest outrages of Bush and crew.  Sadly, many of these political tyros had zero grounding in modern American or world history so they were easy pickings for lunatic, politics-as-entertainment theories, like Bush planned 9/11, etc.  Their enthusiasm continued all the way up to Obama’s election, but then sort of petered out when, I suppose, the next season of American Idol began.  But other political novitiates really began to do their homework, making a real effort to wade through the crap to find out what was actually going on.  I still get email from them–sensible, thoughtful stuff.

There has always been a trace of anti-intellectualism flowing through our American veins, which I suppose began during our revolution against the sesquipedalian, be-wigged, English elite.  But, today, dumb seems to have grown into a movement, or at least an important part of what Surowiecki calls “the new populism.”

Though education does require effort, it is also naturally rewarding.  Evolution has hardwired us to fill our brains with new stuff– unless something gets in the way, like defeatism, hopelessness and good, old apathy.  A documentary called “The American Ruling Class”  suggests much of that hopelessness and defeatism felt by so many “average American Joes” is the result of a concerted effort by the American oligarchy to regain control of the nation from the grassroots movements of the 60s.  I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but so many of this film’s premises–from the successful corporate attack on organized labor in the private sector, to the continuing, destructive status of corporations-as-citizens are convincing enough to make me believe that a lot of the mess we find ourselves wallowing in is no accident.

I better go before this letter gets long.

Too late,

RB