TEA ISN'T THE NEW BLACK
The American Prospect's Mark Schmitt wonders why there's as much interest as there is on the left in trying to find ways to align with the tea partiers -- and no, he doesn't just mean Jane Hamsher:
Hamsher is far from alone among progressives in actively trying to forge alliances with the Tea Party movement. I recently attended a progressive policy conference at which the goal "Find Allies Among Tea-Partiers" remained on the whiteboard at the end, despite a few quietly expressed doubts about whether it was realistic. Naomi Wolf, the feminist writer who in the later Bush years began warning of the emergence of fascism in America, has argued that the Tea Party movement is offering "proposals that are ahead of their time"...
I don't see a lot of outreach, but I've certainly read a lot of articles arguing that there's great potential for a progressive/teabag alliance. I'm reading that less these days, as the polls make clear just how right-wing and Republican the teabaggers are, but the hope still lingers out there.
Schmitt has some thoughts about what inspires lefty hopes of this kind:
Part of it is "authenticity," an idea with a weird appeal in recent American politics, especially for liberals. Many admired and trusted John McCain in 2000 and later, not because they agreed with him but because he seemed real, and his fits of ill temper made him even more appealing, until suddenly one day he just seemed like a tired Republican hack. Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and briefly even Mike Huckabee had a similar appeal, while Mitt Romney suffers as their opposite. And there's no doubt about the Tea Party movement on this point -- they do say what's on their minds. The appeal is also probably related to the inevitable let-down after the high energy of the 2008 presidential campaign. As we settle into the dreary compromised reality of actual governance, we need a hit of the intensity and passion of 2008 -- there's only one place to find it, even if that place is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Republican lobbying operation.
And finally, it may be that ... finding allies among Tea Partiers is the equivalent of what finding a black friend was to liberals in the 1960s. It's a way to get in touch with the real America, to feel a little superior, a little less elitist or isolated, less wimpy, less conformist.
Nahhh -- that's not it.
I'd say what's going on is that some of us can't quite believe how deeply rooted the Reagan/Limbaugh/Murdoch political narrative is in America, a narrative that says that all evil derives from people like us. We still think there's a hint of FDR in most Americans' thoughts, and there is to the extent that they're entirely willing to accept that Social Security and Medicare largess -- but that doesn't mean they think that we, the people who admire FDR the most and who want to take inspiration from FDR for the future, have anything to offer them. Reagan and Limbaugh and Savage and Hannity and O'Reilly and Coulter and Beck have told these people for thirty years that we're evil, and that's the unchangeable center of tea party ideology.
And some of us just can't believe that. We see people who are angry about the financial meltdown, angry about bailouts, angry about D.C. corruption, and we just can't believe that anger doesn't have an iota of progressivism in it.
It doesn't. It just has revanchism. They hate us, therefore all their theories about what's wrong must define us as the source of all evil -- even if it means that they believe, say, the bizarre theory that ACORN and Goldman Sachs are somehow allies in a sinister White House plot to destroy capitalism. They're not going to come around to the notion that business needs more regulation or the rich ought to be taxed a bit more or a government social program might blunt the worst impacts of turbocapitalism. Those are sinister sophisticated East Coast lawyer/financier/multicultural ideas. They want no part of them.
Some of us can't believe that. So we reach out our hands. We're crazy to try.
(More thoughts from Doug J at Balloon Juice.)