Thursday, February 18, 2010

The party's over ...

Don't look now, but it appears that the so-called tea-party movement has jumped the shark.

Now, that may disappoint many of you who were hoping for some kind of revolution that would get America back to "what it used to be." Despite all its hype and even getting former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to speak at its convention earlier this month -- or perhaps even because of it, depending on your perspective -- it's become clear to me that the movement is going virtually no further than it is now.

The reason is simple: Since last April 15, its supporters have been trying to manufacture outrage that most people just don't and never will feel. Even in a land where suspicion of authority (let alone government) has always been part of the culture, it still takes a lot to get people fired up about such matters because they believe it doesn't affect them all that much.

Those of you in Pennsylvania may remember some hijinks that took place about three years ago courtesy of our state legislature, which pushed through a midnight pay-raise -- if I remember correctly, specifically a padding of its members' expense accounts -- for itself and the commonwealth's judges. The result of that action, which turned out to be illegal anyway, was serious bipartisan rebuke; the person who led the charge locally was a usually mild-mannered columnist who leans Democratic. While I don't know how the rest of the state reacted, eventually the editorial boards of both my newspaper and our GOP-leaning competition condemned the maneuver and a number of legislators who voted for it actually lost their seats as a result. (One is actually on trial as I write on unrelated corruption charges.)

Not helping matters, however, are violent acts against the government. Of course, Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Federal building in Oklahoma City, and considering that the Federal budget was being discussed then his timing was terrible. Let's also remember the Texas man who just this week flew his plane into a building in Austin that housed the local office of the Internal Revenue Service. When you do things like that, rational discussion and possible engagement and adjustment simply become impossible.

That's the biggest problem with the "tea-party" movement -- there's no unifying theme other than "oppressive government," which is based on only the opinion of a few people who, frankly, lean toward extremism anyway. I'm not saying that tea-party supporters are preternally given to violence; however, much of their rhetoric can and probably should be interpreted as such -- as Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy recently wrote, "Waving monkey dolls with nooses around their necks at tea party rallies, having signs with Obama's face in the sights of a sniper rifle and chanting, 'Kill him,' has nothing to do with reducing the size of government." And, ironically, with all their talk about "freedom," they appear to be enslaved to an irrational ideology.


Don said...

Unfortunately, I don't think I would be writing the Teabaggers' obituary quite yet. While I think you make some good points, I don't think the level of anger, frustration, and desire to throw the bums out of Washington has played itself out yet. Mostly that's because I don't think this recession is close to being over. The credit crisis has not completely wound down yet; therefore, we're likely to see many more foreclosures, including commercial properties. Unemployment is unlikely to improve significantly for a long time.

Therefore, it won't be long before the outrage you speak of will not have to be manufactured. It will generate itself. I think all the conditions for continued scapegoating and fingerpointing, are still with us and will remain with us for at least a few more years.

True, the Tea Party movement is disorganized and lacks leadership. But they're quite ready to listen to any demagogue that might come around and promise to "fix" things by dealing with the scapegoats--immigrants, "liberals," you name it.

An old Chinese curse says, "May you live in interesting times." I think we're there.

BlueDeacon said...

Don -- Here's why I don't think that's correct. Much of that outrage during the Clinton years was fostered by conservative media; however, they were eventually exposed as fraudulent, so they has no choice but to become more aggressive. As for unemployment -- the real bellwether issue here -- I'm actually looking for it to drop precipitously in 2011; if that happens, no one in his right mind will run against Obama.