As for Our Confederacy of Louts …

After roughly a month of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and week or so of OccupyMinnesota, there is one thing we can conclude with certainty. And that is that the Tea Party movement truly has nothing … whatsoever … to do with correcting economic malfeasance. Judging by the reactions of Tea Party Express spokes people and the stable/ward of GOP candidates cravenly pandering to the Republican party’s new core, the Tea Party movement has fully acknowledged that the “populist” Tea Party movement is exactly what we always assumed it was — namely, the conservative fringe’s latest manifestation of the Culture Wars with no focused, much less any sincere interest in attacking or addressing the root causes of American middle class frustration.

Frankly, I’m astonished it took until September of 2011, three entire years after the Great Derivatives Meltdown of September 2008 to see people in the streets demanding legal action against Wall Street, which of course is shorthand for the calculated, heavily-lobbied, institutional system wherein middle class assets are legally looted by those with full and unimpeded access to political power. Given the spectacular nature of the collapse, with very little confusion over the “who”, “why” and “how”, I would have expected riots on Wall Street in the spring of ’09. But no. Instead, the Tea Party, ostensibly outraged over taxpayer bail-outs of too big to fail giant banks (and the possibility of bail outs of other homeowners) bought in — wholly and utterly — to the counter theory sold by establishment Republican politicians and media leaders that the Crash of ’08 was the consequence of liberal meddling with free markets (the Barney Frank/Fannie Mae canard) and pandering to no-goods (most of them minorities) who had no business owning property.

Here’s Bryan Shroyer of “The motivation between Occupy Wall Street and the motivation from the tea party are completely different. From their signs, speeches, and websites, they want to continue this push of America down this road of increased government involvement and increased socialism. The tea party is simply a collection of patriots from across the nation who want to get our country back to its capitalist roots.”

And this from the Tea Party Patriots website: ” ‘For two years now, tea partiers have stood firmly on principle and helped shape the political debate in this country. They believe in time-honored American values, principles and systems including the freedom to innovate and employ people to implement and distribute one’s ideas to the public. They believe freedom from government allows entrepreneurs to try new things, see what works and discard what doesn’t. By contrast, those occupying Wall Street and other cities, when they are intelligible, want less of what made America great and more of what is damaging to America: a bigger, more powerful government to come in and take care of them so they don’t have to work like the rest of us who pay our bills.”

And this from Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express via a piece in The Guardian: “Kremer, who lives in Atlanta Georgia but spends much of her time travelling across America with the Tea Party Express battle bus, accepts that there is a shared anger at the core of both phenomenon: disapproval of the way the banks were allowed to get away with it after the 2008 financial melt-down. But she thinks the OWS organisers are going after the wrong target. ‘This isn’t Wall Street’s fault. It’s Washington’s fault – and that’s where they should focus their efforts’.

She is also scathing about the loose political aims of the protesters. ‘You’ve got to be realistic in your demands and efficient in how you set about achieving them. Holding rallies doesn’t do anything other than attract people to the movement. “The question is what do you do then? How do direct all that support and energy towards action, towards influencing legislation’?

Or .. opposing legislation … in the case of Tea Party leaders and politicians, as they continue to obstruct and dilute any form of serious financial regulation and oversight.

It strikes me as a monumental waste of time trying to figure out how anyone, much less someone capable enough to lead a national protest movement looks at the Crash of ’08 and absolves the giant banks, hedge funds and AIG from complicity, and instead focuses the full force of their fury on … a guy who wasn’t even in office at the time. But then the allure of a sinecure and status — underwritten by personalities integral to Wall St. function — always has away of re-directing antipathies.

The real question that continues to fascinate me is this: What is the best tactical response to what I prefer to call our Confederacy of Louts? This latest outbreak, the Tea Party, is more virulent than the John Birchers of the 1960s and the mega-church evangelicals of the late ’90s. Their demographics (largely white, aged, dis-enfranchised) and underlying antipathies are nearly identical. But today’s “movement” is a far more serious threat to middle-class retrenchment than ever before. Left unchallenged they have the clear and present potential to deliver the fate of the American middle class into the hands of our corrupt system of mega-finance and political cronyism for decades to come.

The Merriam Webster definition of “lout” is “an awkward, brutish person”. And for my purposes here, that’s close. But in terms of rhetoric the messaging, while brutish is often slick and compelling. “Awkward” in terms of factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, to be sure. But “compelling” in terms of eliciting the intended response. Which usually involves an appeal to the more loutish aspects of human nature. By example, I give you most any cities’ most popular morning drive radio show: A carnival of loutishness banking a small fortune for a one of a handful of major media conglomerates by routinely pilloring anything too “nuancy”, sensitive to minority interests, and “liberal”. Then you move on to the usual suspects of
political talk radio, FoxNews and on and on.

“Loutish” pretty well describes it, and liberals don’t do “loutish” very well. They/we don’t have much of a stomach for aggressive, middle-class, middle-brow messaging. It all seems so … boorish.

In Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt’s classic essay, “On Bullshit”, he makes the point that out-right liars, because they respect the truth enough not to speak it, are actually less dangerous than bullshitters, who may or may not speak the truth but really don’t care one way or another, since their only intention is to, in effect, close the sale. I don’t doubt for a second that there are some diabolically clever minds pushing and nudging and encouraging the Tea Party movement. They would be the liars. The face of it though, the crowd allegedly inspired to action by the Wall St. meltdown of ’08 and now throwing up a protective cordon around our “entrepreneurs” and “job creators” is, we can now say with complete certainty, a portrait of vaporous, loutish bullshit. It is raw say-anything know nothing-ism in pursuit of personal gain (media personalities, Sarah Palin, etc.) and settling age-old social grudges against … well, uppity minorities and “elites” however they define them.

The point being the liberal counter message — which now has a viable vehicle in the Occupy Wall St. demonstrations — has to convince the middle class, in middle class language and imagery, that the refortification of the middle class is its primary concern, and that the Republican party of 2011 is the Tea Party and the Tea Party is nothing but a collection of credulous chumps, loutish bullshitters, playing foot soldiers for the same forces that corrupted our financial and gridlocked our political systems.

We’ve lived through The Attack of the Louts. It’s way past time to attack back.

36 thoughts on “As for Our Confederacy of Louts …

  1. PM. says:

    On the question of what the tea party and OWS have in common, i think this is a pretty good analysis:

    All of the media coverage emphasizes the anti government aspects of the tea party, and the media similarly emphasizes the anti-business aspects of the OWS protestors.

    the real problem is the confluence of the two–the use of government by business to protect business and insulate it (business) from the consequences of its actions. the fact that neither (tea party nor OWS) can see this and make the jump to realize their commonalities suggests the role of the media in divide and conquer.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    I find this striking about American media coverage of protests:

    Media coverage of foreign protests almost always seems to characterize protesters as brave, heroic, selfless champions of democracy and freedom. Almost naively non-cynical and non-questioning.

    But media coverage of domestic protests often seems to characterize protesters as fringey, malcontented, cacophonous, and flakey Negative Nellies. Much more cynical.

    1. Joe: The basic “bias” of American media, within America as you suggest, is that of negativity. If you’re worried about calling it wrong, i.e. getting on the wrong side of a developing trend, it’s far easier to project jaded skepticism than assert virtue in what you’re observing. Deniability and protection-via-group think is a big part of the press game.

  3. Erik says:

    Implicitly, the point of today’s exercise is to contrast the OWS and the Tea Party people in a way that asserts the Tea Partiers as inferior, and then pat yourself on the back for being ideologically aligned with OWS.

    While the positive attributes of OWS are not really defined, the points in this critique would seem to be:

    • who’s dumber (an old favorite)
    • who’s loutier (beyond who might be politically retrograde, this is the old civility comparison)
    • who’s chumpier (as an aside, you got to be pretty stupid to assert Democrat voters don’t get taken for chumps. IE, you’d not be following the news like a good news follower and then connecting the dots)

    On its face, there’s no criteria in which the OWS people compare favorably. There’s no assertion of their superiority that can be supported by evidence or rhetoric.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I struggle with the logic path that I hear from the Tea Party. To my ears, their logic sounds like this: Government didn’t do enough to stop financial industry leaders from screwing consumers. Therefore, let’s get government out the way and allow the financial industry leaders do their thing.

      I very sincerely believe that’s not sound logic. The logical response to ineffective government rules and oversight would seem to be to make government rules and oversight more effective, not to leave the financial industry leaders who created the last mess home alone.

      Questioning that logic path doesn’t make me a self-congratulating elitist looking down his nose at anyone. It simply means I question that logic. Nothing more, nothing less.

      1. Erik says:

        I struggle with the logic of the OWS’ Joe. If you have universal debt forgiveness and outlaw credit reporting, you defacto end lending and borrowing. If you have complete open borders, you are ending the role of state almost altogether on one hand while asking it to take over numerous other responsibilities on the other.

        These people are morons.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        If the majority of the OWSers were advocating “universal debt forgiveness and outlaw credit reporting,” I’d struggle with the logic too. But that’s not what I’ve heard from them.

      1. Erik says:

        Right click for copy. I know you were trying to grab a Youtube link. Can’t wait, we’re all dying in anticipation.

      2. Festus says:

        glad to see you still know things that aren’t true.

        (Just testing to see if image tags allowed, since you were curious…)

      3. Erik says:

        Likewise, it’s good to find you will respond to interpersonal communication and are not some Aspergers dork who thinks world is awed by the posting of a link to an “ironic” youtube video.

  4. What OWS gets right: They’re mad as hell, there are important things to be mad about, and their choice of targets makes sense. What they haven’t gotten to (yet?): What, exactly, to do about it, and how to make the movement sustainable.

    What the Tea Party gets right: They’re mad as hell, there are important things to be mad about, and that it takes more than one or two events to create momentum … it takes an organization. What they get wrong: Their “facts,” their “logic” (these have to be in quotes), and their choice of targets.

    Seems like an easy choice to me.

    1. It astonishes me that to date I read of no one — no one — in the Tea Party movement seeing anything at all in common with the OWS protests. Nothing that would lead them to acknowledge as much publicly and lend support. And why? Because it’s really just the Culture War all over again.

  5. PM. says:

    Interesting that the tea party is currently seen by the public in a negative light, while there is sympathy for OWS

  6. The right has been saying for decades that “government has to work like a business.” Do they mean like a totalitarian state? Top down? A command structure? Our society is democratic, not autocratic. We should point that out. What works for a corporation would kill that. Is killing that, at least on one side of the political spectrum.

    Also, government needs to operate differently than business in response to economic cycles. Government needs to rein in exuberance during booms, or we get inflation. It needs to deficit spend during recessions because business is afraid to and unable to. Business would be wrong to stick its neck out in a recessionary cycle, but government can and must. The infrastructure projects are cheaper during a recession, and the financing of debt is cheaper during a recession. Plus the workers hired spend money and don’t need unemployment payments. They build, they spend, they juice the recovery. When tax revenues recover the debt is paid down, as Truman paid down a much bigger debt after WWII, the way Clinton did in the 90s––with the help of higher but not punishing tax rates on the very rich. (How many rich people fled the country during the Truman and Eisenhower years?)

    I think the reason Republicans oppose what Obama is proposing is because this is exactly the bum economy they want. Their clients are doing extra fine right now. People are standing on corners offering to work for food. But that isn’t how a society treats its citizens, not a decent society. Republicans need to be called out on this.

    Economists and TV pundits who urge austerity during a recession need to be reminded about Herbert Hoover. Austerity didn’t work for Hoover from 1930-33, and it didn’t work for FDR when he tried it in 1937.

    It is the job of government to NOT ACT LIKE A BUSINESS. To counter the excesses and contractions of the business cycle. To be unbusinesslike in other ways, too, because government isn’t a business. It does what business can’t do, or won’t do, or can’t do as well.

    Our government is democratic and inclusive. Public schools teach ALL children not just the paying customers and the so-called “winners.” Business tends to be narrow, selfish, short sighted, greedy, panicky, dictatorial and cruel. But it can also be efficient, bold, creative, public spirited, brave and inclusive––but only if we, in society, demand that. Our government is US demanding that. When government is weak and doesn’t act or can’t act during a crisis, or is in the control of business interests, we are at the mercy of the wolves. That is the Republican model right now. It didn’t used to be.

    I would love to read some quotes from Dwight Eisenhower at the current Republican field.

    Pasquino, a devout Eisenhower radical.

    1. Erik says:

      Um, no… that would be the left that wants an authoritarian, top down state.

      “Government should act like a business” is certainly something of a Republican trope. But note a couple of things:

      I don’t think a Republican candidate has expressed this sentiment in 25 years. It’s passé, it doesn’t describe the current context. So it’s a strawman as far as your usage.

      And, it doesn’t mean Government should “turn a profit”. As a sentiment, it’s just a desire for efficiency or a desire for some embrace of cost / benefit analysis.

      1. PM. says:


        First, both Romney and Cain are stressing their pedigree as businessmen as the central quality of their respective candidacies, so I think that you have to acknowledge that they are proposing to make government more businesslike. So, no straw men here.

        Second, if running the government more like a business, or having the President act more like a CEO is what they are advocating (and it is indeed a Republican trope), it most certainly follows that they are indeed advocating more centralized and powerful government, more authoritarian and less democratic governance structures, etc. All of those are indeed characteristics of business, and are also responsible for the generally higher efficiencies of business operations as opposed to government operations.

        If you are interested, i could give you multiple references for books on this topic.

      2. Erik says:

        They are stressing their business credentials to claim a superior ability to manage and coax the private economy. They are not saying the government should provide services like a business, which is the way this phrase was used not so long ago.

        You’re not the only one who’s well read PM. But go ahead, try and find a book I haven’t read. What’s your highest level of education?

      3. PM. says:

        Except that you don’t get elected President of the Private Sector….so maybe you can do a little jawboning, but all of that managing stuff is out.

        I’ve listened to both, and it seems pretty clear to me that they are consistent with that republican trope you mentioned.

    2. Nicely said, Pasquino. i suspect Ike would have been warning about thew Financial Industrial Complex, wherein we trade away manufacturing products with value ripple through multiple sectors of the economy for a casino economy calculated by few, understood by few and lavishly rewarding only a few.

  7. Newt says:

    Let’s see… Through loosened Fannie-Freddie requirements, the Dems foist millions of unworthy homebuyers into home ownership, then guarantee the loans on behalf of taxpayers, then Wall Street creates specualitive investment vehicles that collapse alongside homeowners’ defaults. Then Obama and his Dem Congress cover all the failed toxic assets.

    Geography and economics not being their strong suit, the Flea Party WS occupiers congregate in the wrong city, making incoherent protests about the wrong people.

    God help us.

    1. Erik says:

      Here, I would not go so far as to argue against BL’s critique of the Wall Street casino. It’s a very cynical game in which a lot of paper is traded for the benefit of a very few. But Barney Frank/Fannie Mae is not a canard.

    1. PM. says:

      “This bold claim, however, is not substantiated by persuasive analysis or by any hard evidence in the book. The GSEs did generate large losses, but their bad investments in housing loans followed rather than led the crisis; most of those investments involved purchases or guarantees made well after the subprime and housing bubbles had been expanded by private loans and were almost about to burst.”

    1. Erik says:

      Speaking of Aspergers dorks…

      Dude, I just want to tell you, this thing where you blog in the persona of a dog? That’s brilliant. Can you do that thing where you blog as a dog impersonating Sigmund Freud? Gold. Comedy gold.

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