There have been some interesting articles on the tea baggers lately. One of the most interesting is Mark Lilla's in The New York Review of Books: "The Tea Party Jacobins":
A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.
Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.
I can't so easily dismiss everything that these "Jacobins" have to say, though. Among my concerns are indeed:
- The increasing power of the government.
- The increasing budget of the government.
- The increasing deficit of the government.
- The apparent erosion of civil rights.
No doubt your average tea bagger would define these concerns a bit differently than I do. But there's a bit of common ground there. And I'd say most progressives share these concerns. It's been a regular refrain in the progressive blogosphere for years.
But the tea baggers come with baggage — offensive, hateful baggage that I simply can't endorse, or even stomach:
- The anti-immigrant cant that smacks of racism and xenophobia and fear.
- The anti-gay rage that burns with homophobia and fear.
- The anti-women's health attitudes that crackle with misogyny and chauvinism and fear.
- The hysterical, amped up propagandizing, with liberal use of "fascist" and "socialist," often in the same sentence that drips with fear.
- And the utter stupidity that wails about fantasy nightmares like "the government taking over Medicare" (which, for you who were left behind, is a government program).
So where's the party for those of us who are fiscally on the conservative side and socially on the live-and-let-live side? Obviously the Republicans have been on a government-regulating-private-lives bent for decades now, so they're out. And the Democrats … well … when they aren't selling out to right-wing interests, they're coming up with big projects like this was 1965.
I feel like I've had no party my entire voting life. The Republicans have been hyenas barking at everyone to get in line, and the Democrats have been gazelles, running away, always striving for style points.
In the olden days, there was a real debate between Democrats and Republicans. It seems like it was more principled, more about ideas than about strutting around, claiming to be "the real Americans." And there certainly was less brazen selling out to lobbyists.
There was a time when Republicans were led by people like Barry Goldwater, who had what today would be considered "radical" ideas about small government: that "the government should stay out of people's private lives," and that included homosexuality and abortion. He even supported gays in the military.
It's a wonder the tea baggers aren't burning him in effigy.
Imagine a Goldwater kind of Republican Party opposing the Democrats. I wouldn't agree with them on a lot of things, but at least it's philosophically consistent, and would be a good counterbalance to the Democrats. As it is, I find myself rooting for the Dems not so much because I support what they're doing up and down the line — far from it — but rather because I find the Republican opposition so unprincipled, so spiteful, so unpatriotic and so incredibly stupid that it doesn't just turn me off, it frightens me.
It's almost like George W. Bush was a restraining influence, and now the wingnuts are really cutting loose.
No, if you're a fiscal moderate with leave-people-alone views on private life, like I am, you know that, when it comes down to it, we have no party to represent us. We just support the party that works against us the least. Resigned. Disgusted. Seeing the appeal of embracing cynical distance from it all, because actually doing something sensible seems so out of reach of our government these days.
And meanwhile the tea baggers mock us with their lurid, tragi-comic mockery of what this country really needs.
So now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to wrap up this little rant, pour myself a drink, and watch some TV like a good citizen.