Thursday, April 16, 2009


Watching the tea parties, Atrios, like a lot of other lefties, is scratching his head and saying he doesn't get it:

... The problem is that it was never clear what they were protesting.... honestly, I still have no idea what it was about. I mean, I know it was about tribal allegiance against Barack Mumia Saddam Obama III. But it wasn't actually about anything else.

A couple of days ago, Matt Taibbi said the tea partiers had been steered away from the true targets, by Beck, Santelli, and others. Taibbi focused on the right's attacks on attempts to claw back AIG bonuses and wrote:

... actual rich people can't ever be the target. It's a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master's carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you're a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you're on board.

But I've looked through a lot of tea party photos and the anger wasn't about attempts to claw back AIG bonuses. And there was plenty of anger at banks. The peasants, as Taibbi calls them, aren't really identifying with the villains.

But the peasants don't have any memory of ever finding a way to get back at banks -- hardly anyone alive remembers genuine successful American class warfare. So the message crafters of the tea-party movement have given the peasants a task they feel they actually can accomplish, and said this will (somehow) get us out of our current mess: throw the bums out (now that the bums are Democrats) and elect people who'll lower taxes and not give our hard-earned tax money to ... anyone.

The peasants have fond memories of throwing Carter out and electing Reagan (even though he didn't really cut government and vastly increased government debt and ultimately raised taxes), and the peasants also have memories of electing Bush (they remember him as a Reaganite hero of low-taxism even though they know he's now a tax-and-spend villain). So they think they can do this. And, boy, would it be emotionally satisfying.

Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats are pursuing solutions that aren't emotionally satisfying -- we know the banks screwed up, but we have to give them money to get them lending, and we know debt is bad but we have to increase the federal debt in the near term to stimulate consumer spending, and we know that some people in mortgage trouble got that way because they took on debt they couldn't repay, but we have to help them to shore up neighborhoods and prevent further financial losses in housing. There's no satisfying "Take that!" in Obama's approach. There's no sense of heroes punishing villains.

The tea-party message crafters give the peasants a nice list of villains and say that punishing those villains will make all the pain go away. And what do you know -- it's the same list of villains the right-wing peasants always hate! Democrats! Liberals! Black community organizers! Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank! George Soros! The IRS! How convenient! Refighting the Revolutionary War is easy!

Taibbi's mostly right, but the ultimate Enemy, the ultimate evil Other, is always the liberal, the Democrat. It's fine to hate bankers, as long as you know that they made bad loans because Barney Frank wanted them to and they got bailouts because B. Hussein Obama has a compulsive need to spend. (And yes, of course the ultimate Enemy just so happens to be the corporate and political enemy of Dick Armey, Rupert Murdoch, et cetera.)

Maybe the White House could turn this populist outrage around -- by, say, nationalizing a few banks and creating its own list of villains. But the right has a real head start here. The right has been lovingly tending its narrative of the evil, sinister Democrat, its Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism, for a long time now. The right can fit pretty much anything into that narrative.

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