Defending the tea parties

Avatar

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

25 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    Here’s probably the bigger sin in the comment I made that kicked this all off: I was too dismissive of the GOP’s/conservatism’s ability to win non-white voters. As I said, people have been predicting a Hispanic migration to the GOP for ages and it never happens. Here’s why, I think: black and Hispanic voters tend to be more socially conservative and more fiscally liberal. The problem is that this is the opposite of the central message the GOP has been receiving from pundits, strategists and the media literally for decades. Thanks in large part to libertarian influence, but not only because of them, the major shift that has been sold to the Republicans has been to loosen up on social issues (give up on gay issues, sex issues, and extremism about drugs) but remain stalwart about low taxes, low spending. This seems like a recipe to at least make inroads in college graduates, for example.

    Unfortunately, this seems to be the opposite of what you want to do to attract the moderate liberal Catholic Hispanics who are going to become perhaps the single most important demographic in American politics. I wonder if the GOP might move in a more economically moderate direction while preserving social conservatism. It would alienate libertarians, but it’s really a numbers game, and as influential as libertarians are on the level of ideas, they don’t have the electoral muscle that non-white voters could potentially represent.

    Of course, step one would be to stop inviting Tom Tancredo to presidential primary debates.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      That would be one hell of a re-alignment eh? Social conservative minorities flock to the GOP and libertarians flock to the Dems? I dare say that’d be a sure fire sign of post-racial politics.Report

      • Avatar Freddie in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        Part of the reason that it seems so unlikely, I think, is that the Grover Norquist side– extremely animated by economic conservatism, essentially apathetic about social issues– carries so much water with the Republican party apparatus.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      I don’t think Tancredo waits for invitations to primaries, but the rest of this is spot on (if I’m reading you correctly). I think there’s a really good chance the next major realignment that will occur will be primarily on social grounds. Those are issues much more easily understood, much more deeply felt, and less likely to change with the ebb and flow of the economic cycle.

      Everyone has the tendency to believe “The Party should appeal to people like me if they want to win elections.*” They say this regardless of which party they’re talking about. The “people like me” when it comes to smart, educated, and articulate pundits is more in the socially-liberal/economically-conservative zone of the axis. I’ve long considered the notion that the public wants politicians that take these stands a myth. It’s one of those things that people like in theory and like to think that they believe, but when it comes to actual issues (Which programs to cut? Do we really have to put up with such rank immorality?), a different picture emerges.

      If I were an adviser for the GOP in the area of long-term viability, I would likely advise that they soften up some of their more incendiary language when it comes to social issues (concerned is better than outraged and outrage riles up some of the wrong people) but stand firm on the issues (until/unless they’re lost) and lighten up their stated economic platform (or, in a different way of looking at it, be more honest about the size of government we’re actually looking at that and redirect their energies to type of government).

      Of course, it’s really hard to do when the people aren’t really honest with themselves about what they want. And it’s hard to do when the people whose opinions matter most (both inside the party and outside of it) are saying something completely different. And it’s hard when more than one of the “social issues” at stake at the very least (and, ahem, really do more than) lend the appearance of being indifferent or actively hostile to non-whites, without whom social conservatism does lose much of its political opportunity.

      Ultimately, what I suspect will happen is that it will take multiple lost elections before the GOP starts really considering really retooling their coalition into something that will win. It’s one thing to say that hostility to Mexican immigrants (often coupled with a disregard for distinctions between them and their legally American offspring) is bad form… but politicians and partisans start caring when it becomes bad politics.

      Of course, for this to happen they have to lose multiple cycles. The Democrats seem to be doing their part to keep the GOP from changing anything but the window dressing.

      * – I used to fall into this trap myself. At some point I realized that many issues I feel strongly about (Down with the state lottery! Down with the death penalty! Up with Gay Marriage! Up with market-oriented solutions!) are political losers in combination with the general public.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Trumwill
        Ignored
        says:

        “and lighten up their stated economic platform (or, in a different way of looking at it, be more honest about the size of government we’re actually looking at that and redirect their energies to type of government)…”

        Any specifics on this one? Let’s note this was also George W Bush’s plan circa 1999 or so.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Koz
          Ignored
          says:

          I think that Bush circa 1999 was actually on the right track from a coalition standpoint (though I did not, and do not, like many of them from a policy standpoint). There were a number of problems with the implementation both inside and outside the administration and the timing turned out to be wrong. Bush himself clung to tax cuts in a way that didn’t square with the sort of thing that I am thinking of and he bit off more than he could chew with social security privatization. The bigger problem, though, was that the party was never really on board and when the going got tough they defaulted back to Reagan. They believe that’s the path back to power. They may be right in the short term (it’s positioning them as well as can be expected for 2010, all things considered) but I am inclined to believe that they’re wrong in the longer term.

          For this realignment to occur, it’s going to have to become obvious to the GOP that their coalition is broken. It’s been pointed out here on TLOOG that the party has an electoral coalition but not a governing one. Another cycle or two of disjointed GOP governance as we saw during the Bush administration and with demographics changing I think they’re going to be without both. If I were advising the GOP, I would want them to start laying the groundwork for the change before it occurs. But I think they need to see it for themselves. Or perhaps they’re right and I’m wrong and there really will be a renaissance of small government thought that will build enough endurance that they will not only be elected on the platform of shrinking government but will be able to deliver to the point that they won’t self-destruct all over again. I felt that was unlikely before the economic collapse, think it’s more unlikely now, and believe that the changing demographics make it very unlikely in the future. But I’m not the one that would be taking the risks that I would advise the GOP to, so it’s easy for me to be cavalier about it all.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      Freddie:

      Why don’t you also add the Rebups should give up on fighting illegal immigration?Report

  2. Avatar historystudent
    Ignored
    says:

    Interesting that you repeatedly write things like this: “So it’s easy to see the Tea Partiers as a bunch of knuckle-draggers spouting off racist slogans and thumping the nationalist war drum. But do they all? Does the entire movement act this way? Are those particularly bad folk we see on TV really representative of the entire movement? I doubt it.”

    I would suggest that you don’t really doubt it. That you reiterate similiar comments about the TP movement because you want want to impune it while seeming to hedge your bets. Could you give that some thought?Report

  3. Avatar Koz
    Ignored
    says:

    “It is wrong in the way that saying progressives are secretly all socialists bent on overthrowing the constitution is wrong. It is a gross generalization that serves no purpose except to make the dividing lines even more clear than they already are –….”

    I agree with this. The things the other team are doing are bad enough so that there’s no need to exaggerate them. I think the liberal agenda right now is better described as social democratic rather than socialist. But in defense of the Tea Partiers, there is really is no social democratic tradition here in America. So the word for the politics behind fringey, Leftist, collectivist economics is “socialist” here, even if it’s not really accurate.Report

  4. Avatar Ian M.
    Ignored
    says:

    “And yet, I also think that saying the entire movement is merely an expression of racism based on fear of losing privilege is false, and wrong, and an arrogant claim. ”
    I don’t think all conservatives are racist, it’s just the policies they advocate for tend to help wealthy, white people over everyone else. Socially conservative African American and Latino voters have noticed this over the years and vote their self interest. I’m assuming voters are rational choosers here.

    Privilege isn’t about the individual innocence of the privileged person, who is not “at fault” for being born white, male, and into an economically stable situation. Conservative racism isn’t about one person, or a small group of people, it’s about the movement as a whole and the people that it serves. I don’t think saying that American conservatism is about privilege and the maintenance of privilege is particularly controversial. Isn’t maintaining a competitive advantage what neoclassical economics tells us to do? Wouldn’t it be irrational for a bunch of wealthy white men to suggest and implement policies which diminish their earning power? Yes it is, so they don’t. Free market Capitalism is not nice or moral, it is efficient and ruthless. It is the system advocated by conservatives and that system has benefited white men a great deal in America.Report

  5. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    “How many of the self-styled defenders of the Tea Party movement…”

    Not sure if I am self-styled, or a defender, but…

    ” live where the Tea Partiers live?”

    I do, actually.

    “How many conservatives writing for The Atlantic or libertarians at Cato live in rural Texas or the Mississippi Delta?”

    I used to live and work in DC and did a lot of stuff at Cato. And I live where the Tea Partiers live. There was a huge rally down the street a while back. Another is planned. I live in Pennsyltucky, by the way. The place where John Murtha mused that we were mostly racist rednecks.

    ” When do you think the last time was that your average boho DC blogger had a real Tea Partier over to their home?”

    Today, actually.

    “How often does your average pomo conservative or libertarian go out for beers with a genuine Tea Partier?”

    In my case, about twice a week.

    So I guess my question is… so? Does this give me license to do something ED cannot? Am I allowed to say things without having to prove myself in these ways? Which political opinions does it open to me? Which does it close off?

    Am I permitted to “exploit” the Tea Partiers now? What does that even mean?

    More broadly, it seems to me that the Tea Parties will fizzle out. But maybe not. It’s a nascent movement of various movements, loosely connected, if at all. Someone might be able to harness it in a useful way, a la the various anti-war and progrssive movements that started going post-911. And which eventually became useful to various folks on the left. To what effect? Depends. Go to the comment section over at Yglesias some time. Some of them feel cheated. Then there are the pragmatists counseling patience. Etc.

    Note that this momentum, this progressive inertia, did not push someone like Kucinich or Nader into office. It all got co-opted into support for a reasonably centrist guy from Chicago. And the people pushing for single payer and an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and freedom for Mumia and all the other pet causes gor used. In quite cynical fashion. But that’s how it goes.

    So will the Tea Parties elect Ron Paul to the White House? Of course not. In the best case scenario, they will fall in line behind someone who pushed the right buttons at the right moment, like Paul Ryanm perhaps. And they will complain when he actually turns out to be… Paul Ryan.

    But again, I hope that the fact that I had beers with these people gives me the right to opine in this way.Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to Sam M
      Ignored
      says:

      The fact of the matter is, you don’t believe what you are saying here, which is that there is no functional difference between how the Tea Partiers define themselves– the Platonic Tea Partier– and, say, your Tea Party-supporting average Ivy League graduate editor at the Atlantic. And, of course, there is a difference. What’s more, it is the Tea Partiers who themselves define that difference, and who define it according to certain cultural cues of which we are all aware– education level, urban vs. rural environment, income level, religious belief, acceptance of homosexuality and other “alternative lifestyles,” and, implicitly, whiteness. (Whatever is true about Tea Party attitudes about race, they are overwhelmingly, incredibly, absurdly white.) You don’t have to take my word for it when I say that Matt Welch and Joe Q. TeaPartier live very different lives. And, again, this is not me creating divisions; this is me respecting the divisions that the Tea Partiers have themselves created.

      You know that there is a vast cultural difference between the people attending your average Tea Party and those writing for Reason magazine, and the fact that you can’t countenance that difference demonstrates again that your vision of your coalition, such as it exists, is a fantasy.Report

  6. Avatar mike farmer
    Ignored
    says:

    Where, exactly, do the tea partiers live?Report

  7. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    “The fact of the matter is, you don’t believe what you are saying here, which is that there is no functional difference between how the Tea Partiers define themselves– the Platonic Tea Partier– and, say, your Tea Party-supporting average Ivy League graduate editor at the Atlantic.”

    Who ever said that, at any time? Of course there is a difference. Just like there is a difference between the lunch-pail union guys and the people who write about unions for Mother Jones.

    Seriously. Who said there is no difference? Does a coalition, any colaition, consist of people who are exactly the same? Or does it consist of people with difference, even substantial difference, getting together for one reason or another, hoping to grab power, and fighting over who’s priorities should hold sway?

    Were all anti-war activists good members in standing in International ANSWER? Of course not. Are the people who lobby for the Sierra Club solid supporters or Earth First? Do they motor around in boats and interfere with whaling ships? Or do the lobbyists sit around drinking in U-Street enclaves and tip their hats to the activists while they try to make political hay out of things? And sell them up the river when they can get a good deal for doing so?Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to Sam M
      Ignored
      says:

      If that isn’t the most flagrant bit of goalpost moving I’ve ever read….

      It’s pretty simple, man– the Tea Parties have defined themselves by cultural difference. I pointed out, correctly, that a good deal of Tea Party anger is the result of a historically privileged demographic, rural white Christians, losing that privilege to the growing electoral power of Hispanic and urban voters. Erik proceeded to defend the Tea Partiers in a way that obscured that very self-definition through cultural difference, and suggested that I was being unfair in ascribing that cultural difference to them. I pointed out, correctly, that it isn’t I who have defined them through cultural constraints, but they themselves, and I pointed out, again correctly, that allowing them to do that is a prerequisite of respecting their right to define their own political platform.

      Then you jumped in and hoped to occlude that cultural self-definition by saying, yeah, I drink beer with them, and I’m from where they’re from. I point out that denying the cultural difference between you, Cato dude, and Category Tea Partier is foolish and a denial of reality, and then you say, disingenuously, hey, I never said we were all the same….

      Now, since you brought it up, yes, I can walk side by side with a member of IAMAW and a Black Panther and a trustafarian and a neo-Wobbly and a feminist soccer mom and a pastor of a black church and a member of Code Pink, and the reason I can is because the liberal coalition has made a belief in pluralism an absolute prerequisite for joining for decades. Yes, the multiculturalism that the right has mocked for ages gives our coalition strength, because we truly believe in tolerance, acceptance and a multiplicity of cultures working together.

      The Tea Parties, meanwhile? I’ll let you settle that question on your own; it’ll have to be between you and your own interior honesty. If I’m right, and the Tea Parties are explicitly about culturally distancing themselves from people who aren’t like them, well…. Then you’ve answered your own claims of inconsistency.

      Glenn Beck always says “They don’t surround us, we surround them.” I think I know who he’s referring to, and I think you all do, too.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Freddie
        Ignored
        says:

        “The Tea Parties, meanwhile? I’ll let you settle that question on your own; it’ll have to be between you and your own interior honesty. If I’m right, and the Tea Parties are explicitly about culturally distancing themselves from people who aren’t like them, well…. Then you’ve answered your own claims of inconsistency.”

        Distancing? I see them as pulling rank over the political establishment (ie, people “not like them”), which is supposed to represent and be accountable to the citizens at large.

        “Glenn Beck always says “They don’t surround us, we surround them.” I think I know who he’s referring to, and I think you all do, too.”

        Ok, I’ll bite: who?Report

  8. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    How is it moving the goalpost? You accused me of saying that Cato guy and local tea party guy are the same. That there are no differences. I will cut and paste it again here: “… what you are saying here, which is that there is no functional difference between how the Tea Partiers define themselves… and, say, your Tea Party-supporting average Ivy League graduate editor at the Atlantic.” I never said that. If you would like to point out where I said that, I would be interested to see you cut and paste it below.

    You say that the Tea Party people are the ones who define themselves culturally. After all, ED does not drink with them and live where they live. You say: “You know that there is a vast cultural difference between the people attending your average Tea Party and those writing for Reason magazine, and the fact that you can’t countenance that difference demonstrates again that your vision of your coalition, such as it exists, is a fantasy.”

    Who’s the one who can’t countenance that difference? Not me. Not the Tea Party guys I know. I understand this is inconvenient for your argument, but I graduated from an Ivy League school. I worked for Reason magazine. And last week the main Tea Party guy in my neck of the woods called me on the phone to talk about things. He lent me four cookbooks. We chatted about Marcellus Shale gas wells, and how there was once a plan to frak the wells with a nuclear bomb.

    Your understanding of the situation would seem to indicate that this interaction would be impossible. My reality tells me it is not.

    I don’t understand where you take my argument to mean that because I hang out with the guy, that we have no cultural differences. Of course there are cultural differences. But again, if you can find that portion of my argument, I will retract it. I do not think that there is no difference between me and the categorical Tea Party guy. There is a difference between me and him. I don’t know how to make my position on that more clear. And I don’t understand how pointing it out, contra your argument, amounts to moving the goalpost. You accused me of making an argument I never made. I objected.

    Are there cynical conservative opinion makers in DC taking advantage of these guys and claiming a false cultural allegiance to them? Of coure there are. But if you think that being on the Left means that your side is immune to that kind of cynicism… Wow. You’re nuts. Seriously. The guys from CAP get together on Friday nights with their buddies from the UAW and the NAACP? I know that inclusion is part of the game plan. But come on.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew
    Ignored
    says:

    And yet, I also think that saying the entire movement is merely an expression of racism based on fear of losing privilege is false, and wrong, and an arrogant claim.

    It would be those things, yes. And any serious commentators who continue to make these claims should reassess and retract, because the Tea Party movement has clearly cleaned up its act from the early very problematic impressions it indisputably gave to anyone watching its early incarnation. Do you are to cite any such serious commentators?

    That being said, again: Bill Maher? Bill Maher?? You know how Rush Limbaugh lies and claims he is an entertainer, not the leader of an actual movement in this country? Guess what: Bill Maher actually is an entertainer. I for one want BIll Maher to keep on saying the irresponsible, unfair shit on Friday nights that is on many people’s minds but that they don’t say because they do want to be responsible for their words. Do you not? Do you claim he doesn’t dish it out to all sides, even if not in perfectly equal slices? Has this blog seriously descended to whining about unfair treatment from Bill Maher? Violins. If you manage to make Bill Maher call you a racist, wow, that’s a tough fate. Violins.Report

  10. Avatar mike farmer
    Ignored
    says:

    “Now, since you brought it up, yes, I can walk side by side with a member of IAMAW and a Black Panther and a trustafarian and a neo-Wobbly and a feminist soccer mom and a pastor of a black church and a member of Code Pink, and the reason I can is because the liberal coalition has made a belief in pluralism an absolute prerequisite for joining for decades. Yes, the multiculturalism that the right has mocked for ages gives our coalition strength, because we truly believe in tolerance, acceptance and a multiplicity of cultures working together. ”

    You don’t live in reality, do you? I can’t begin to describe how superficial this coalition is when the pie’s divided. Trustafarian? Oh my. Have you ever met a real Black Panther? I’m sure you amused him.Report

  11. Avatar JJ
    Ignored
    says:

    Not sure if you will ever see this reply E.D. but I am curious about something. You said that:

    “So it’s easy to see the Tea Partiers as a bunch of knuckle-draggers spouting off racist slogans and thumping the nationalist war drum. But do they all? Does the entire movement act this way? Are those particularly bad folk we see on TV really representative of the entire movement? I doubt it. ”

    And this was in counter to Freddie’s assertion that he wasn’t addressing a mere caricature of the Tea Party movement but an accurate representation of what they themselves define the movement to be. Freddie cites as evidence videos of signs and interviews from Tea Party events in media, or web sites that they voice their opinions on etc.

    So my question to you, or anyone really, is how much evidence would it take for you to conclude that this is an accurate representation of the movement and simply not dismiss it in ‘One True Scotsman’ fashion? I mean if a KKK member came up to you and said that racism isn’t really what the ‘real’ KKK is all about you would be rightly skeptical because the evidence we have both current and historical point to clearly racist motives.

    Not that I am trying to equate the Tea Party to the KKK but do you get the point I am trying to make? I mean we can sit and say that Glenn Beck isn’t representative of the ‘real’ tea party, or Sarah Palin, or Michelle Bachmann, or that crazy guy with a dumb racist sign on TV and that is all a misrepresentation from some media induced hallucination. But what, if anything would it take to convince you of what the ‘real’ tea party represents? And whatever the Tea Party means to you personally, where do you get that representation now?Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *