Real Populism vs. Corporate PR
There is one not so obvious or immediately noticeable difference between the Occupy Wall Street protests and your average Tea Party protest. Sure, the crowds seem to be younger, signs featuring Obama as Hitler are entirely absent, and there aren’t many people who are dressed like Uncle Sam sneezed stars and stripes all over them. There are no guns or demands to see the president’s birth certificate. But the less obvious difference is in buses. While the Tea Party protests always feature big buses covered with flags and eagles, buses at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are used to haul the protesters to jail.
I bring this up because teapartiers like to pretend they’re running their own show. That their protests are grassroots and their organizations are of their own construction. But those buses carting them around from protest to protest didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Someone paid for them, someone gave them their ultra-patriotic paint jobs, someone’s buying all the gas. All that takes funding and, as much as the ‘baggers like to pretend they’re an independent movement, they’re all bought and paid for — and then moved from square to square like pawns on a chessboard.
On the other hand, Greg Sargent has this to say about the Wall Street protests:
…If there’s one thing that’s growing clearer by the hour, it’s that this is an entirely organic effort, one that’s about nobody but the protestors themselves. In this sense, we’re seeing a replay of the Wisconsin protests. Those ended up falling just short of what activists had hoped to achieve, but their months-long showing was still important — it demonstrated that left wing populism is still alive and well and sent an important message about the mood of the country. The key was that it grew organically with little to no involvement from Beltway Dems and the White House.
If anything, Occupy Wall Street’s lack of outside encouragement from bigfoot Dems has been a strength, rather than a weakness. As major progressive groups debate how they can contribute to strengthening the movement — and how to give it specific direction and a specific agenda — the need to preserve its grassroots nature will remain paramount. Who knows where this will end up, but for now, this is another reminder that the Tea Party isn’t the only voice of popular discontentment over the economy. We don’t necessarily live in Tea Party Nation, after all.
In fact, Lee Fang at ThinkProgress makes an excellent case that the Occupy Wall Street protesters have more in common with the original Boston Tea Partiers than the Tea Party “movement” ever will. “In the late 18th century, the British government became deeply entwined with the interests of the East India Trading Company, a massive conglomerate that counted British aristocracy as shareholders,” he writes. “Americans, upset with a government that used the colonies to enrich the East India Trading Company, donned Native American costumes and boarded the ships belonging to the company and destroyed the company’s tea. In the last two weeks, as protesters have gathered from New York to Los Angeles to protest corporate domination over American politics, a true Tea Party movement may be brewing.”
And if the Wisconsin protests are any indication, the Democratic Party may wind up being dragged to the left by this. Right now, the party is bogged down in a hopeless quagmire of centrism and compromise — with the left doing all the compromising. If the Tea Party dragged the nation rightward toward craziness, an actual populist movement may drag it leftward back toward sanity.
But what of the supposedly unfocused nature of Occupy Wall Street — the lack of a unifying message? I’ll answer that question with a question; what was the unifying message of the early Tea Party protests? Was it “Show me the birth certificate,” “Don’t take my guns,” “Let’s all hate Muslims/gays/abortion,” “Get your big government hands off my Medicare,” “We’re against communism,” or “Obama is Hitler?” It wasn’t until later that pundits and politicians divined “they’re against government spending” out of all that mishmash — and then because it served their interests. The very absolute core message of the Tea Party was — and remains — “We don’t like Democrats and we’re unhappy Obama won.”
Occupy Wall Street’s core message is “corporations are screwing us and we don’t like it.” No Koch brother’s going to paint up a bunch of buses to help deliver that complaint. Occupy Wall Street is all homegrown and, as we said here in Wisconsin during the labor protests, this is what democracy looks like.
Tea Party events are what corporate sponsorship looks like.
Recalls are the Beginning, Not the End
At local blog Dane101, Steve Hanson writes what may be a near-perfect metaphor for the Wisconsin recall elections today.
The Tea Party Express has been touring the state for the last few days to mixed response. The first stop of the tour was in Hudson on Friday afternoon. Before their arrival a group of protesters was in place in the parking lot in the riverfront park. Activist Coni Gehler arrived with a Harsdorf’s Special Interests arrow, which she pointed at the bus as people arrived. At first nobody was certain that there actually were any travelers on the bus, since they sat in it for quite a while after arrival, but they slowly trickled out, and eventually about a dozen participants came out. A certain amount of mirth came from the fact that the bus proudly proclaimed that their next bus tour was going to take place in “August and Setpember of 2011.” There were quite a few schoolteachers in the audience, and cries of “spell check” rang out in the crowd. Never piss off school teachers.
An out-of-state group gets local chumps to tour around in a corporate-owned bus. Angry teachers. The facts-be-damned nature of the tea party. And yes, the TPE’s bus really does have a prominent misspelling on its fancy corporate paint job. The teabagger protester with the misspelled sign is a stereotype for a reason.
This was the stop where Tea Party Nation chief moron Judson Philips claimed that liberals “endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people” during the 20th century. A desperate and ridiculous lie, representative of a desperate and ridiculous right. These people are nearly as angry as they are terrified.
The language at the stop was warlike and disturbing. “This is ground zero,” Vince Schmuki of the Ozaukee Patriot tea party group told the crowd. “You remember what the term ground zero means? We have been attacked… Tuesday is going to be the beginning of our takeover. And we’re going to follow it up the following week, and then we’re going to polish off the enemy in November 2012. Who’s with me?”
Yes, recalling state senators is exactly like killing 3,000 people in a terrorist attack. Between this and Philips’ claimed that liberals killed one out of every seven people on Earth, you begin to wonder if tea party leaders have a little more than a disregard for facts — if they actually believe this stuff, they’re quite literally insane.
And, of course, the Tea Party is rapidly evaporating. Currently, only 18% of Americans have a favorable view of the teapartiers, while 40% view them unfavorably. Regardless of how they view the tea party, 43% believe they have too much influence over the Republican Party.
And who would want to be associated with these people? They seem to believe that the best argument isn’t the one that’s most logical, but the one that’s most offensive. “Andrea Shay King, who hosts a Patriot BlogTalkRadio show. Ms. King managed to be my own personal low point of the evening as she kept referring to liberals as crybabies, and crying out WAAH-WAAH-WAAH to the protesters,” Hanson writes of the Hudson stop. “This variety of clever persuasion was typical of the day.” Seriously, who could be proud of this stuff?
However the recalls turn out tonight, we can be sure of one thing, the fight isn’t over. There are still two more senate recall elections and the governor’s recall next year. But as the tea party dissipates, expect them to become even more desperate. And possibly dangerous.
If the tea party has an ideological parallel, it’s with the “right to life” movement. Both movements don’t have opponents, but enemies. They believe that the people who stand in their way aren’t people with whom they have a disagreement, but that they’re people who are evil. Teabaggers equate progressives with Nazis and Communists for a reason and that reason is that they actually believe this crap. Not that the people above, pulling the strings actually believe it, but that the chumpy puppets like Judson Philips do. And the people in that small crowd in Hudson, Wisconsin did.
When you’re fighting evil, there’s no reason to worry about fairness or ethics or morality. No matter what you do, it’s automatically right, because it’s a blow against evil. Dirty tricks? Who worries about fighting fair when you’re fighting the devil? All that matters is that you win. You’ve got to take back America from the liberals and the commies and the Nazis and Muslims and the gays and the godless. The survival of the nation depends on total victory and failure means we’ll all be marched off to the dreaded FEMA camps by the Obama Youth Army.
No matter how things turn out tonight, expect the remaining teapartiers to become more entrenched. Not only is this a fight for Wisconsin, but it’s a proxy war for national interests. If Republicans go down tonight, it’ll be felt in the hearts of nuts everywhere. Expect prolonged legal battles regardless of the outcome, which should also inflame ‘bagger passions. The anger will grow as their numbers diminish, until all that are left are few die-hard little white-hot balls of hatred and misplaced rage.
Republicans Have an Odd Definition of “Exceptional”
Wikipedia defines the concept of American exceptionalism this way:
American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, America’s exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming “the first new nation”, and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional”. The term “American exceptionalism” itself was first used by members of the American Communist Party in the 1920s, in reference to their belief that “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions, America might for a long while avoid the crisis that must eventually befall every capitalist society.”
Of course, the entry goes on in some detail, but the broad concept is pretty much all there; America is a unique nation for many reasons. Personally, I believe the most important distinction is that we are a nation founded in law — we exist for a reason. Where other nations may exist because of ethnic or religious identity, America does not. And we aren’t defined by our existence within the borders of an ancient monarchy or tribe. “I am American” means something very different from “I am French,” for example.
The problem with American exceptionalism isn’t that the concept exists — in fact, it’s not difficult to see the validity of the argument. The problem is that it sounds vaguely like an argument that it is not; that the US is better than other nations and entitled to take liberties in the world. It was the Bush administration and their defenders who argued that America the Exceptional had the right to invade Iraq, in defiance of international law.
As a result of this distortion of the concept as an expression of hyper-nationalism, Republicans have taken to demagoguing the phrase. The left does not believe that America is exceptional, they argue, which means that they believe America is not great. For them, it’s an argument without facts, an empty buzz-phrase like “manifest destiny.”
Of course, the biggest problem with Republicans wielding the idea of American greatness like a weapon is that there’s absolutely no evidence that they actually believe it. Since Reagan at least, the Republican Party — Reagan’s “optimism” be damned — has been characterized by a “can’t do” attitude. America did great things once, built massive public works projects and is the first and only nation to put a person on the moon. But not anymore. Americans and American government are hopelessly incapable of even the simplest efforts, let alone grand projects. By Republican arguments, Americans are exceptional only in their incompetence and laziness — a nation of boobs incapable even of running a school, let alone building a huge dam.
Take a google of the term “restoring America’s greatness.” You’ll find articles about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, as well as more local demagogues.
But you can’t “restore greatness” to a nation that’s already great. Republicans would savage an opponent who made that argument, yet it’s extremely common on the right.
And do Republicans believe Americans themselves are exceptional? Clearly not. In arguing against extending unemployment benefits, Republicans basically say that Americans will not work unless they’re forced to, that the average American will sit in front of the TV eating Fritos until their benefits run out. They believe that the bulk of Americans are lazy and dishonest.
And do they believe that America is defined by the concepts laid out in the Constitution, rather than a national or religious identity? Of course not. Find one Republican willing to argue that the US was not founded as a Christian nation. In short, they believe the national identity is defined by something that is not American.
And ethnic identity? The right is dominated by xenophobes worried about Hispanics and Muslims “taking over.” Just yesterday I reported that the Tea Party Nation warned of an “invasion of America” by “non-European immigrants.” America is now a Christian European country. There are a lot of those and the concept is not exactly exceptional.
So the next time you hear some rightwing commentator or a Republican politician expound on the importance of American exceptionalism, remember that there’s no evidence that they actually believe what they’re saying.
News Roundup for 7/5/11
Tea Party rally
-Headline of the Day-
“Tea Party Nation column warns of dangers of ‘non-European immigrants.’”
One of the things that make Tea Party denials of racism hard to swallow is the fact that they’re always saying racist stuff. In this case, Eliana Benador writes for the Tea Party Nation that there’s an “invasion of America” by “non-European immigrants.”
“As we celebrate America’s Independence Day, it’s noteworthy that the percentage reduction of original American voters, might have been a defining factor in the election of someone like the current president, who among other goals, seems to be keen in opening further our borders to endlessly increasing numbers of immigrants who, regardless of their skin color, are bringing in a whole new texture of culture, 100% foreign to what America’s origins were as its wonderful adventure began back in 1776,” she writes.
According to the report, “Tea Party Nation has previously published writings that warn of the impending “extinction” of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population.”
Apparently deciding that none of this was offensive enough, Benador went on to argue that freedom of religion doesn’t actually mean you have the freedom to practice your religion.
“However, the First Amendment does not stipulate that ‘freedom of religion’ must be upheld even if the followers of a religion have perpetrated an attack on, and massacred, our civilian population in times of peace, especially if that religion incites to the destruction of our country, our people, and our values,” she says.
In related news, Daily Beast reports there’s a “startling number of white-power candidates” running for office this year — as Republicans.
Yup, no racism here. (Raw Story)
-Bachmann History X-
Michele Bachmann explains the Fourth of July:
Click to embiggen
Any questions? (McClatchy)
“U.S. Renewable Energy Production Has Surpassed Nuclear.”
Hippy whirlygigs and suncatchers now put out more power than huge space-age tea kettles, beating nuclear output by 6%.
Clearly, the terrorists have won. (ThinkProgress)