Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sympathy for the Tea Party people

The Tea Party rank and file have every right to be angry. The problem is that our problems are so much more complex than the tribal issues people faced for our first, oh, 50,000 years on Earth.

Our problems now are so complex that Tea Partiers can't understand how they've been shafted--and by who. Worse yet, they can't understand why they can't understand. It's a Catch-22.

The Democratic Party has cast itself as standing up for the little guy from the word go. But it has created a credibility gap with working-class whites through its incessant trolling for votes from special interest groups like Hispanics and public employee unions (and for campaign contributions from the latter as well). From a Tea Partiers' point of view the Democratic Party seems to have forgotten all those blue-collar whites who aren't public employee union members.

So the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins and whatnot--and those who fund them--have provided Tea Partiers with a simple, plausible narrative the average working stiff can follow.

Whereas the truth isn't. For example, try explaining to a working stiff the Byzantine financial instruments, offshore tax hiding, and "free marketing" that insources profits while outsourcing costs and liabilities to taxpayers. Their eyes will glaze over...then they'll get mad at you, since if they can't understand you it automatically means that you're an elite snob talking down to them. Few will agree to the alternative explanation, because (especially for the men) the real answer is emasculating.

Thus anti-intellectualism, which de Tocqueville observed early in our 19th century, makes our blue-collar folks especially susceptible to all the nouveau Elmer Gantries eager to prey on them.

And even when reasoned voices appear, the demagogues urge their followers to shout them down. We saw it happen time and again at the healthcare town hall meeting debacles.

Even in newsaper article comment threads like this you'll have to wade through dozens and dozens of ranting by semiliterates to get at the on-topic comments that actually show thought. That's their way of shouting down anyone reasonable, Republican or Democrat or Indie. It's how people who feel helpless individuall gain a sense of power--by joining a mob.

It's not the late stages of the Weimar Republic, but there's a whiff of that in the air.

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