Tagged: conservatism

Tea Party redux

The year of reading tea leaves VII: violent tea

01 October 2010

It could be that the USA is in the midst of conservative days of rage that recall the period of uncivil unrest that occurred in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Those Tea Partysans who are unable to contain their disappointment over a legislative defeat appear willing to cross over the line from a peaceful remonstration of grievances into violent opposition. Even “Pro-Life” conservatives have turned on other Pro-Life politicians who are now deemed “baby killers” because they wrangled an executive order banning the use of federal funds for abortion from a pro-choice President (and in the screwy logic of the contemporary conservative base of the Republican party, what would otherwise be treated as a victory is viewed as a defeat or, worse, as a traitorous surrender). The overlapping membership of the remnants of 1990s militias and the newly-minted extremists within the Tea Party camp could lead to the formation of groups analogous to the Weathermen/Weather Underground. Whereas the Weather Underground’s theory of the legitimate use of political violence was fueled by Marxist-Leninist theory, copious quantities of pot, LSD, and polymorphous perversion, today’s incipient Rogue Underground is driven by apocalyptic visions of death panels and hidden Muslim agents, Hitler and the Anti-Christ — all embodied in the Affordable Health Care for America Act — and fueled by a collective memory of rage that was stoked when the Branch Davidians were consumed in the cleansing fires of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s secular purgatorium. Similar to the Weather Underground, which possessed a photogenic and charismatic frontperson in Bernardine Dohrn, a conservative Rogue Underground can already claim a candidate with similar qualities as the attractive face of its armed resistance.


It would be interesting to know whether, and how deeply, the FBI has infiltrated the Tea Party organizations.


Lacking moderate voices among their membership, the Republican party has only one option as long as it is out of power: total, absolute, non-cooperation. That is understandable, even rational. However, the way in which it pursues non-cooperation is curious, especially the use of slogans and distortions of reality that only invigorate the less emotionally stable segments of its political base. Republicans only paint themselves into a corner. It’s been said many times before: if Republican legislators insists on describing the Affordable Health Care for America Act as a threat to American democracy and values, as a government takeover, and as socialist, then there’s no way these legislators can contribute positively to such a piece of legislation, and the rhetoric will be impelled further into loon land. And the loons will come out to play.


Also curious is the way the once staid, emotionally controlled presentation of the Republican Party has morphed into an uninhibited expression of feelings and a political style that exhibits the characteristics of a new form of secondary narcissism. In The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch described the shift in the type of patient who presented him/herself for psychoanalytic treatment: “Psychoanalysis, a therapy that grew out of experience with severely repressed and morally rigid individuals who needed to come to terms with a rigorous inner ‘censor,’ today finds itself confronted more and more often with a ‘chaotic and impulse-ridden character.’ It must deal with patients who ‘act out’ their conflicts instead of repressing or sublimating them.” Today’s Republican politician, no less than the Tea Partysan that is her de facto mirror-image, now presents similar characteristics. The Republican politician reacts impulsively to disappointments, and “acts out” against the agency (whichever one is found to be handy at any given moment: “liberals,” Obama, ACORN, unions, Pelosi, “Hollywood,” “illegal immigrants,” the “mainstream media,” etc.) that is perceived to be the source of disappointment through the use of disparaging language that reaches for the worst metaphors of political degradation. The emocons of today are no longer able to sublimate frustrations and anger, and their rage boils over on the floor of the House (“baby killer”), in town hall meetings, at Tea Partysan gatherings, and on voice mail left for members of Congress (“I hope you bleed … (get) cancer and die”). None of this is new, of course: paranoid style rage against the changing political cultural circumstances is older than McCarthyism, the clinic bombings, and Tim McVeigh. What is new is the open embrace of a discourse of victimhood, of victimization, from the conservative milieu. The fear of victimization is the emotional anchor of conservative politics today, a sense of victimization conservatives enable through their refusal to participate in the political process like responsible legislators and citizens.


Individuals identifiable with the Tea Party-Patriot tendency now feel entitled to attack governmental authority using symbolic and physical violence (if necessary). This new violence entitlement, often claimed in the name of Jesus, the Second Amendment, or Ayn Rand, has, unfortunately, been given comfort by mainline Republicans (who should know better) and by rogue conservatives (who don’t know any better).

Cultural decline

Some cultures don’t survive the onslaught of historical change, apart from museum displays.

I’m persuaded there’s a “liberal” predisposition in most of the major US institutions (to describe it as “left-wing” is hyperbolic though). What I’m not persuaded about is that this is bad thing. The problem of persuasion for conservatives (a truly deep and serious problem) is the fact that the Enlightenment Genie can’t be jammed back into the lamp of history and the displacement of a “conservative” cultural tradition by a “liberal” one is not reversed by elections, talk radio, or Federalist Society position papers. Imagined cultural atrocities such as the “War on Christmas,” the abject horror of Spongebob’s “gay pants,” and other media gimmicks are purely defensive measures. They are mostly effective in lining the pockets of the cultural entrepreneurs — from Palin to Limbaugh to the self-publishing network of self-defining “intellectuals” — who benefit from such atrocities and horrors. After all, Michelle Malkin is more easily marketed than Hans-Georg Gadamer or Harvey Mansfield.

In the marketplace of ideas, there are winners and losers. The stronger arguments drive out the weaker ones (at least according to Oliver Wendell Holmes). Culture is not democratic.