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 theteaparty.net: “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.