What can be said that hasn’t already about the Tea Party Phenomenon? Perhaps phenomon isn’t the right word. The Parties have been, it appears, co-opted (or hi-jacked) by the larger conservative movement; perhaps out-Foxed, or perhaps merely filling in for a large, hyper-politicized electorate bored now that the election is over. One wonders if Obama had lost, and McCain had implemented similar policies in his first months (which, despite all the tough talk on Pork is fairly likely) whether the Tea Parties would have ever gathered steam. Certainly McCain was no darling of the Republican Party, and yet the Big Government years of George W Bush were met with muted critiques – if any – by the O’Reilly’s and Glenn Beck’s of the world. (Glenn Beck, to be fair, has grown increasingly mad-as-in-hatter over the last year or so, so one can hardly hold his less crazy self against his current ramblings, faux-tears, and inability to properly define fascism).
Now, Jack Gillis was on to something in his guest post the other day:
There are, I think, two sources for the spiritual unease fueling the Tea Party movement. First, those invested in the movement have come to terms (or are coming to terms) with the fact that the last election demonstrated that they are now in the social minority. After decades of gripping tightly to a self-conception founded on Richard Nixon’s idea of the “Silent Majority“–and to be fair, that self-concept was not without objective justification–the grass roots conservatives, after a period of cognitive dissonance in which they tried to convince themselves we were still a “center right nation,” is recognizing that the Silent Majority has become the Silent Minority.
And Silent Minorities don’t influence society if they remain silent. A Silent Majority can operate simply by living their lives and then consistently winning elections. That is, they can engage themselves only once every two or four years but nevertheless feel as if they control their own destinies. But a minority has to be noisy to have any hope at all of influencing the course of social development. So to claim, as some have and will, that the Tea Parties are “just noise” is to gloss over one of the most significant aspects of the movement. The fact that it’s “just noise” is the strongest indication yet that they now know that they have to make noise.
Noise-making is all fine and good, but one wonders at what point does just making noise become just plain silly. For instance, a lot of the talk in the Tea Parties focuses on the injustice of taxes. Now, it is entirely justified to be angry at the government (past and present) for the massive corporate bailouts, and it is only slightly ironic that much of the Tea Party movement has corporate backers, and that many in the movement will benefit either directly or indirectly from the bailout or the stimulus or both. People have a right to want capitalism to work as it ought to work – without bailouts, without booms and busts and the accompanying stimuli, etc. It is right to not want one’s tax dollars or one’s children and grandchildren’s tax dollars to go to lining the pockets of rich, corrupt businessmen.
However, the dissonance for me sets in when I think about what it means to protest taxes when one has recently supported a vastly expensive war (or two) that has cost trillions of dollars that can only be paid for by taxes. Similarly, many of the new Tea Party members are movement conservatives, and very much pro-defense. Well, again, I’m not sure how we fund one and a half trillion dollars of defense and defense/security related spending without paying taxes. Perhaps this is one reason the original, often anti-imperialist Tea Partiers made a bit more sense, or had a bit more credibility than our current crop.
I would like to see a return to local government and local business and that requires some crippling or metamorphosis of the federal government, but I don’t think that’s what drives most of these people. Right now they are just making noise because they don’t understand the game. They don’t understand that the new boss is essentially the same as the old boss. Some do, plenty don’t. Plenty are only too happy now to rail against socialism or fascism and tote about signs ridiculing our Commander in Chief. This isn’t the way to go about reducing the size and scope of the government. And in all honesty, lower taxes isn’t the answer either – it’s just a simple, easy talking-point cop-out. In a just society the rich do pay higher taxes. Such is the cost of social stability, which is what allows the rich to remain so in the face of the hungry mob. Keep the middle class strong and the poor well fed and you don’t ever have to worry about the guillotine.
So what can we do about this leviathan state we now live in?
First we need to kill the monster that is Defense, and give back the power of war-making to Congress. No other step will go so far in reducing the power and imperialist role of the executive. Cutting defense spending and cutting off the President’s ability to make war whilly-nilly will diminish the relevance of the federal government in our society in more ways than just foreign policy.
Second, shift attacks from solely focusing on the government and focus some of this rage on Big Business and its insidious private partnership with the government. Do this by buying locally and working with your town or community to create autonomy and growth within your own locale. Keep out the job-sucking, capital hoarding Big Boxes and go buy your stuff from a local vendor. Buy your food from a local farmer. Start a local currency.
Third, quit fighting local tax hikes to pay for public school and other local government functions; as soon as the local money goes, in comes the federal government to clean things up. Be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve autonomy, but don’t do it in such a manner that will cause harm to the poor or to our youth. Government services are still necessary – the point is to make them as locally controlled and funded as possible. Autonomy does not mean no government, it simply means replacing the huge cold federal state with one of our own making. Conservatives have become too hostile to any and all government and too friendly with Big Business. The one is as bad as the other in terms of our own local, communal autonomy.
This is the “futility” of protesting, in my mind: it does very little other than make noise. Real change is often grass-roots, true, but while a picket or a rally certainly do get people riled up, and generate lots of heat, they are also by their nature temporary and a little absurd. The friction that makes them is of a manufactured variety. A great deal more can be achieved in local town hall meetings, and by attempting to retake once again the community in which we live – to become involved in the politics and business of the world on a smaller scale, as unglamorous or quiet as that may be. Go have tea with your neighbors for goodness sakes.