Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tempest In A Tea Party

Rather than simply dismiss the burgeoning Tea Party Movement (like I have done on this blog), some people out there are actually trying to understand it. Fellow-blogger and eminently reasonable political philosopher, Anotherpanacea, recently helped out by trying to put a face on the Tea Party movement. AnPan's suggestion is that the "meaning" of the Tea Party is up for grabs, and his follow-up post is very helpful for learning something about those doing the grabbing. There's a less generous, but equally informative, treatment of the Tea Party up on the new blog The Contemporary Condition that challenges the suggestion that the Tea Party is "countercultural." One of the more interesting debates surrounding the Tea Party, from my vantage point anyway, is the Astroturf vs. Grassroots characterizations of it. Just a month ago, and just up the road from me (in Nashville), they held the National Tea Party Convention where Sarah Palin delivered the closing keynote address. I'll admit, I have no idea what is "authentically" representative of this movement, and the more I read and hear about it, the more convinced I am that no one really knows. Presumably, some master discourse or another will emerge... but for now, it appears to be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Unless, that is, sound and fury alone is what the Tea Party is meant to signify. This is my suspicion and my worry, and it would be in keeping with the Politics-of-"No" spirit that we've seen dominating the Right since Obama's election.


anotherpanacea said...

I've said this before, but the United States is built for two parties. It's an unavoidable consequence of the first-past-the-post election system. That means that, for the US to function correctly, the Democrats can't have a monopoly on sanity. It's not enough to have a strong majority party, with a pretty swell President and reasonably biddable majority in both houses of Congress: we need a partner (which is something Obama certainly understands) and the Republican party is largely debilitated by having been run by Cheney and Rove over the last decade. Maybe I'm grasping at straws, but I'm desperate for a reasonable minority party! That said, I'll settle for a non-authoritarian and non-militant minority party.... The Bush-era version of the unitary executive doctrine was really, really scary. :-/

steve said...

I don't understand the TeaParty movement. It's easier for me to make fun of them than it is to understand them, especially since they repeatedly fail to notice that their taxes haven't gone up and instead have (for most people) actually gone down. So I applaud your effort. But I too have wondered how they got so large since last spring when they were so small and so laughable. I tend to blame the media, because the media likes to talk about this stuff because they think it will sell airtime (like Jerry Springer or car crashes), and then that ends up legitimating it. But admittedly, it's also a bit too easy to blame the media and allows me to be a lazy thinker.

That said, it seemed to me that when the TeaParty movement started, it was very small -- their rallies just a hundred people here and there -- but the media acted like it was huge. In contrast, the anti-war rallies in 2003 and 2004 were enormous (the first was the largest march in D.C. history, even bigger than MLK's famous one) but got played down or were made to look smaller than they were. Similarly, a march in DC last week led by various labor unions and other health care movements (including Howard Dean) got hardly any media attention even though it seemed to me to be larger than the TeaParty rallies.

I agree with Anotherpanacea that the polarization of politics has been unproductive, though I'm not sure I agree with the necessity of a two-party system or the need to pander to the other party. Fortunately, I don't think people like Palin have as much influence on things as the media makes it seem. The bureaucracy and the vast, complex networks of civil society from professional associtions to lobbies along with monied interests and institutions at various levels (including university presidents) seem to have more effect on what actually gets passed in Congress. The Palin-TeaParty stuff is just hype that distracts us from actual legislation.

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