Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Here's the home page of NPR's Morning Edition right now:

This is a tease for a story about Keli Carender, aka "Liberty Belle," one of the founders of the tea party movement. If you're looking for liberal contempt, you're not going to find any in this story -- in fact, if you're looking even for ordinary reportorial skepticism, or examination of hypocrisy, you won't find any. The key point seems to be that Carender is just like you and me, maaaan! Really!

Carender is not the stereotypical Tea Partier. She's classic Seattle -- hipster glasses, a couple of tattoos, that certain Northwestern fashion sense. She even works for a nonprofit, teaching math and resume-writing to low-income adults.

Hmm ... does that nonprofit receive any government funding, do you think? I ask because we're given that biographical sketch right after we're told this:

But her most viral video came last August during the health care town hall protests. In this one, Carender is at a microphone, holding up a $20 bill, challenging Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks of Washington to come get it.

"You come and take this $20 from me," Carender said, "and take it as a down payment for the health care plan!"

Months later, that clip still makes Carender smile.

"I tried to boil down in essence what makes me so angry about it," Carender says. "And it was this idea that he and other people decide what the needs are in society. They get to decide. But in order to fund those things, they have to take from some people in order to give to the other people."

Did anyone ever decide to take from some people to give to your employer, Keli? And if so, does that make you mad? Have you considered resigning in protest?

NPR never asks. NPR doesn't bring it up. Carender's bio is interesting to NPR only because, wow, she's sort of a hipster!

The NPR bio of Carender isn't as detailed as it could be. For instance, it doesn't tell you that (UPDATE: My mistake.) Carender is an actress and improv comic -- here she is in the cast of her sixth show for Seattle's Wing-It Productions. And, gosh, what's this? Why, it's a list of arts grants issued by Washington State in 2009 -- including $3,750 to Wing-It Productions! In order to fund that, Washington State had to take from some people in order to give to the other people!

But Carender's never asked about that -- or about the National Science Foundation-funded research project she worked on in 2000.

Because, really, why spoil a good story -- the new "liberal media" story about the teabaggers, which is that (sound effect of reporters flagellating themselves) we were very, very wrong in our early characterizations of the movement, and they're really just the swellest of people ... in fact, they're kinda cool?


There's more of this in Ben McGrath's recent New Yorker piece on the movement. Oh, sure, McGrath does introduce us to one paranoid:

"Their constituency is George Soros," one man grumbled, and I was reminded of the dangerous terrain where populism slides into a kind of nativist paranoia....

The Soros grumbler, who had also labelled John McCain a Communist, was dressed in jeans pulled up well above his waist with suspenders, and wearing thick, oversized shades. When he saw my notebook, he turned to Seely and asked, "Where's he from, supposedly?" Informed that I live in New York, he replied, "There's a nightmare right there." What he had in mind was not a concentration of godless liberals, as it turned out, but something more troubling. "Major earthquake faults," he said. "It's hard in spots, but basically it's like a bag of bricks." Some more discussion revolved around a super-volcano in Yellowstone ("It'll fry Denver and Salt Lake at the same time") and the dire geological forecasts of Edgar Cayce, the so-called Sleeping Prophet, which involved the sudden emergence of coastlines in what, for the time being, is known as the Midwest. I asked the man his name. "T. J. Randall," he said. "That's not my real name, but that’s the one I'm using."

But we're immediately reassured that Mr. Randall is unrepresentative of the movement as a whole by Seely -- full name Don Seely -- a Kentucky teabagger who's McGrath's guide to the movement. And what do you know -- Seely, it turns out, is a swell fellow, too, with a bright, brainy, sophisticated family:

Seely saw our encounter with the doomsayer more charitably than Hofstadter might have. "That's an example of an intelligent person who's not quite got it all together," he said. "You can tell that. But he's pretty interesting to talk to." Seely's own reaction, upon learning where I'd come from, had been to ask if I was familiar with the New School, in Greenwich Village. His youngest daughter, Amber, had gone there.

I asked Seely what Amber thought of the Tea Party. "We kind of hit a happy medium where we don't discuss certain things," he said, and added that at the moment Amber, who now works for a nonprofit that builds affordable housing in New Orleans, was visiting his son, Denver, who is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering at Mississippi State.

It takes many, many more paragraphs before we learn that this nice Don Seely with his educated, sophisticated children is actually married to a woman who works at, um, the Creation Museum. But that's OK because by this time we're supposed to really, really like the guy; his belief system is just something we need to understand. McGrath:

The museum, which opened in 2007, at a cost of twenty-seven million dollars, features a planetarium, animatronic dinosaurs, and a partial replica, built to exacting scale, of Noah's Ark. Several staff Ph.D.s work on site. The first exhibit showed two paleontologists, a Darwinist and a Biblical literalist, examining a fossil. "Depending on what your world view is, and what you believe and what you've been taught, you can look at the same thing and come to a different conclusion," Seely explained. The exhibit, called "Starting Points," was intended to demonstrate the plausible divergence in theories about man's relation to dinosaurs, but it could just as easily have spoken for the assumptions we make about Barack Obama's past associations with figures like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

Not buying it? Well, you'd better, because, well, Don Seely doesn't even matter. You know that gay-rights slogan "We are everywhere"? Well, the same goes for tea partiers, and you need to get used to it, smart guy, and pronto, because they're just as hip as you, if not hipper. From the end of McGrath's piece:

Not long ago, at a restaurant in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, I stood next to Kellen Giuda, a twenty-seven-year-old self-described "party guy" (in the night-life sense) and the proprietor of a Web site, parcbench.com, that he describes as a "Rolling Stone from the right." He was listening to a couple of deficit hawks from Hoboken who were worried about potential demagogic influences on the Tea Party movement from the likes of Sarah Palin. Giuda is a co-founder of Tea Party 365, a local New York City battalion, which had convened this particular meeting, as well as a national board member for the Tea Party Patriots. While the Hoboken pair were making their case, he glanced at his iPhone....

Eventually, a couple of men dressed in black silenced the crowd with an impassioned presentation that called to mind lefty gatherings of the sixties, or even the thirties. One of them was from Maine, the other from Fresno, and they were driving across the country to raise awareness of the plight of farmers in California’s Central Valley, where a water shortage had been creating a "new dust bowl" and threatening the local way of life. Women handed out flyers for a campaign called Saving the Valley that Hope Forgot. ("Americans need to ask themselves whether they are willing to settle for foreign food, like they have settled for foreign oil.") A gray-haired man in a blue velvet jacket and sneakers started inching toward the center of the room with an acoustic guitar. He had a "Reagan for President" button on his shoulder strap and a "Hoffman for Congress" sticker on his case.

... before long Hank from Gravesend and Julie from Chelsea and Kellen from Morningside Heights were singing along to the chorus of a folk anthem in that great American tradition....

Get it? Tea party is the new black. Your Obama bumper sticker is so two years ago.

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