Tea Party Animals

Time and again we get variations on one of two themes: Indignation about things that are demonstrably not true, or open and defiant disbelief at things that demonstrably are true.
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In 2004, you'll recall, I jumped up and down and railed about how "stupid" people were who couldn't see George W. Bush for the lying, snickering warmonger and enabler of cronyism and incompetence he so obviously, obviously was. Then, in 2008, who could forget the sight of me jumping up and down and decrying the "stupidity" of people unable to see Sarah Palin for the lying, ignorant grifter-demagogue she so obviously was (and is)?

It was all jolly good fun, and semi-aerobically beneficial to my cardio-pulmonary systems, what with the jumping and the yelling.

Now I have, as a public service, subjected myself to this --that nice young man from New Left Media interviewing Tea Party demonstrators at the Washington Monument this past Tax Day. And, again, I find myself jumping up and down and railing about the sheer, radiant, diamond-hard stupidity of the people on display.

True, it's easy to interview anyone and, through the magic of perfidious editing, make them look ill-informed and inarticulate. But I don't think that's what on view here. I think what's on view here is world-class, A-game stupid.

When asked, "What are your concerns with the present administration?" a woman answers, "Uh...socialist agenda. Tyranny." This is the conversation of a Speak & Spell.

"They're trying to get control of the country, so that they can run every business and every person in this country, and tell them what they can do and when they can do it," says a sweet, no-nonsense, all-nonsense-all-the-time old lady. "We're senior citizens, and now they're telling us that we can't even get medical care, 'cause they're gonna give us a pill." Idn at cute? The way believes every crackpot word of it, bless her heart?

Time and again we get variations on one of two themes: Indignation about things that are demonstrably not true, or open and defiant disbelief at things that demonstrably are true.
"Do you know that President Obama is considering banning fishing in America?" one woman provokingly asks, and the interviewer deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for resisting the temptation to answer, "No, but if you hum a few bars I can fake it." (Or, better: "Know it? I wrote it!")

As a group of my email friends ask each other every day without hope of an answer: What is wrong with people?

Plus, what's with the costumes? Revolutionary War costumes. Captain America costumes. Betsy Ross costumes. Guys--who, it is safe to say, would with zest and enthusiasm beat up any hippie wearing the American flag as, e.g., a vest--wearing the American flag as a bandanna or a jacket.

And yet therein may lie the answer. Or, at any rate, therein lies my newest and most exciting, if wrong, theory:

The Tea Party gatherings of today are like rock concerts used to be in the Sixties. Back then, we congregated by the thousands, not only to listen to music, but to be with each other, to obtain validation from strangers that our vague perception ("adulthood as it has been represented to us is fucked up") was correct. People came in costumes and cheered loudly for idiotic nonsense ("What's going down with, like, the government, man, is a serious bummer and we have got to get it together").

Actually, though, this analogy isn't quite accurate. Because in the Sixties, a gathering of, say, ten thousand people would include many who really did have an informed political analysis, and could present a cogent argument for it. You could disagree with it, but it had some rigor and heft.

I don't detect any of that at the Tea Parties or in their pronouncements. "Obama is a socialist" is not an analysis, it's a playground taunt. "Taxed Enough Already" would at least constitute a political position, if it were not made risible by the wrongheaded misconceptions of the people who advance it. "No More Bailouts" is an appealing idea, but first I want to hear what its proponents think would have happened if the major financial institutions in this country had been allowed to go bankrupt. And then, how they would have dealt with it.

Which brings us to "I Want My Country Back." Most readers are too young to remember the similar "I want my Maypo!," (the slogan, on tv and radio commercials, for a brand of maple-flavored oatmeal), so let's just say that this isn't a political position. It's a Country-Western sob story combining self-pity and the most desperate kind of nostalgia.

(And which country would that be? The one under Bush? The one of unjustified war, rampant lies, secret torture, domestic spying, tax cuts for the rich, government-by-crony, and utter economic stagnation for the middle class? You got it. Shall I wrap it or will you eat it here?)

In the end, though, perhaps it doesn't matter what they say. It doesn't matter to us, because it's impossible to take it seriously. And obviously they don't really care what they say, either.

What they care about is expressing their emotions. They're mad, they're frustrated, they're anxious or frightened or depressed. And they're entitled to be. The world most of them voted for (twice) when Bush ran for office, has collapsed. Americans are still getting killed in countries full of ingrate tribal nutbars and religious fanatics, unemployment is over ten percent, and the same rich scumbags who caused this disaster are giving each other millions in (how's this for a galling word) "bonuses." Then they tune into Rush or Beck or Fox News, demagogues whose sole aim is to convert their listeners' anger, indignation, and fear into cash.

At one point in that New Left Media video, the inimitable Victoria Jackson chants, three times, "There's a communist...living...in the White House!" Then she cries, "What are we gonna do about it!?" and, as one, the fervent crowd roars, "KWHMNR-lkhewropb...!"

They don't know what to do about it. (Among other things, they don't know what a Communist is.) But it doesn't matter. Anger is, or at least feels, empowering. And so they're outside, surrounded by people just as pissed off and inarticulate as they, and it makes them feel patriotic--which is to say, noble, brave, and important.

Just don't ask them anything.

Cross-posted at What HE Said

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