07 March 2010

Vainglorious bastards

Two very worthwhile reads sizing up the Tea Party movements can be found at Americana and the New York Review of Books.

Trying to nail down a taxonomy of tea partiers is difficult because of the great potpourri of programs bandied about, ranging from Paulian escapists to local Republican parties hoping for a re-branding. There are upper-middle class suburbanites afraid for the first time that popular movements from below might reshuffle the tax burden (they have nothing to fear, of course, but the fear itself is helpful to someone.) And there are working-class people angry at the elite power structure who are looking to throw their weight behind anyone who will give them some answers.

This confusion is encapsulated by the media's response to it.
The tea party is an interesting movement because it is a combination of people that can be shit on without repercussion and powerful interests looking to exploit the movement for political gain. The media is in a sort of holding pattern, some coverage is hyper-critical and other hews to the standards of covering the powerful.
Case in point is this David Brooks column in the New York Times. Brooks, the quintessential establishment conservative, dismisses the Tea Partiers with a series of thrown-together superficial similarities between them and the New Left of the 1960s. Brooks not only re-assures the establishment that he is not on board, but also reminds everyone that Non-Serious people, regardless of their particular proclivity, are distinguished first and foremost by their Non-Seriousness and exist in a kind of solidarity likewise.

However, there is this:
I see the rank and file as working class people, generally. I don’t fault people for not having enough time to research the world because that time and energy is a luxury that many people cannot afford. I don’t fault them for being ignorant about that which has not, until recently, been relevant to their lives. They as much as tell you that they are angry, violent and afraid of the future, that is
I would sympathize with this if I felt it were descriptive of much of Tea Party Nation. But I'm not sure it is. Here is Jonathon Rabun at the Tea Party Nation in Nashville.
Few of us would see much change from the $1,500–$2,000 we'd spent on travel to Nashville, the $558.95 convention fee with service charge, a room at the hotel, and a couple of drinks at the hotel bars, where a glass of the cheapest wine or whisky cost $12. Seen as a group, we were, I thought, a shade too prosperous, too amiably chatty and mild-mannered, to pass as the voice of the enraged grassroots.

I asked one woman whether she'd been part of "9/12," as tea partiers call the great taxpayer march on Washington, D.C., last September. No, she'd missed it, she said, and "felt really guilty" about doing so, but she and her husband had been on vacation.

"Where did you go?"

"We spent a week in Amalfi, then we toured Tuscany, then we spent a week in Rome."

I can believe that many of these people really did have a "political awakening" of sorts leading them to tea-partydom, but it was not likely born out of a lack of leisure time to consume political news, but instead--as I hinted above--from a realization that sudden upheavals and class unrest could be in serious jeopardy for the first time in their lives. Tea partying served as a kind of pre-emptive strike; using the standard right-populist framework of mimicking a working-class, salt-of-the-earth ethos.