Thursday, December 17, 2009
Once upon a time, a large number of people were unhappy with the direction the country was going in. They felt alienated, underrepresented by their government, and abused by those in power. Now, a whole lot of people feel that way pretty much all the time and don't do anything about it and just head off to their shift at Taco Bell, but these people I'm talking about could afford to take some time and let everyone know how they felt about The Issues. They expressed how they felt by wearing bizarre outfits, waving handmade signs that were sometimes clever, sometimes purposely offensive, and occasionally occupying buildings and refusing to leave. This, surprisingly, did not result in great social change. By the time the protestors organized themselves into a fully viable political movement, most of the country was sick of them and their presidential candidate got destroyed in the general election, despite a whole lot of hoopla about a “new era of politics.”
I'm talking, of course, about the 60s. American politics were moving to the right back then, with the rise of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and their teams of media manipulators, many of whom are still on the political scene, or working behind it. (Karl Rove and Roger Ailes both got their start working for Nixon.) The protestors—the Yippies, the SDS, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers—did not get what they were fighting for. Racial inequality, capitalism, and corporate greed went on unabated, as did the Vietnam War. The demonstrators succeeded mainly in getting laid and breaking the Democratic Party into tiny pieces from 1968-72, which of course led to a series of depressing (if you were a leftist) defeats. You can make the case that the extremism on display actually hurt the protestors' cause.
Discussion question: is the same scenario developing, but on the right side of the aisle?
Like the 60s radicals, the “Tea Party” protestors are dissatisfied with both political parties, although they lean more towards one side than the other. Tea Partiers' officially stated claims (lowering taxes and defeating the health care bill) are less important than vague feelings of anger towards the status quo, just as vague anti-capitalist anger and utopian ideals were more important to 60s radicals than the ending of the Vietnam War. Just like the protestor groups of old, the Tea Partiers are made up of several different groups, each with slightly different aims, and just as in the 60s, these groups squabble amongst themselves over arguments that make no sense to outsiders. Just like the Black Panthers threatened violence, so do some Tea Partiers threaten violence. And as that Congressional election in upstate New York last month shows, the Tea Partiers are just as willing to spit in the Republicans' eye as the Yippies were willing to spit in the Democrats'.
Right now, the Tea Party movement is popular. Democratic incumbents are going to lose some elections next year. But it's normal for midterm elections to go somewhat badly for the party that just got put into power. And right now, the Tea Party is hip and new, so people like it, just like everyone liked Tamagotchis when I was in fifth grade. The elections are a long ways away, especially the 2012 contests, and whoever emerges as the Tea Party's favorite candidate (Sarah Palin, maybe, or this guy) might be too extreme for a majority of the country, just like George McGovern was too extreme back in 1972.
The Tea Party movement sucks for three wholly separate reasons: firstly, it makes liberals froth at the mouth and become completely incoherent (like in this column) much as I imagine conservatives lost their minds over hippies. Secondly, from a conservative point of view, they might end up becoming extremists and refusing to accept useful compromises, thus losing elections for the party they're closest two. Finally, they don't use drugs, get laid, or create interesting music—they're like hippies without the fun. Blech.
(Most of the history in this post is stolen from Nixonland, a book that, in a just world, would be more widely read than Atlas Shrugged.) .