Wednesday, February 09, 2011


There's a new magazine called the Tea Party Review, and while I'm never going to read it for pleasure or enlightenment, I didn't have quite the reaction to the publishers' breathless rhetoric that Greg Sargent did. He just couldn't stomach this (emphasis Greg's):

"People are weary of the distorted version of the Tea Party movement that we see in most of the media," said Katrina Pierson, a member of the Dallas Tea Party and the "national grassroots director" for the new magazine.

"Throughout American history, successful movements -- abolitionists, women's suffragists, the civil rights movement, the conservative movement, et cetera -- all had their own print publications."

Greg wrote:

... it often seems like some on the right are suffering from what you might call a world-historical inferiority complex. They're so desperate to imagine themselves as actors in an ongoing drama that rivals the most momentous struggles in human history that they simply play-act the part, pumping up their own situation into something comically out of proportion with historical reality....

I think it's a bit too soon to say whether the Tea Party deserves a place alongside those movements. Abolitionism and the civil rights movement, taken together, spanned more than a century, beginning with the founding of abolitionist societies in the early 1800s and culminating in the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. The abolitionists helped liberate millions of people who had been held captive under a deeply entrenched economic system -- the Slave Power -- that could only be overturned by decades of committed political activism, superhuman perseverence, and untold amounts of bloodshed....

Steve Benen has more:

I'd add for context, though, that the Republicans' Tea Party base characterizing themselves as a "movement" in the first place strikes me as a mistake.

We're talking about an amorphous group of activists with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no real areas of expertise....

Tea Partiers may struggle to appreciate this, but real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. We knew exactly what the civil rights movement was all about -- they highlighted a systemic social injustice and presented a moral/legal remedy. Similarly, labor unions created a movement. Women's suffrage was a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution.

Really? We can't let them have the word "movement"? We can't let them dream?

Yeah, Greg, the movements you cite did endure for decades -- but they published magazines and newsletters and pamphlets early in their histories. That's how movements happen. Some fall by the wayside. Some don't. Some go on to endure difficult struggles and bloody battles. Some don't.

And "movement"? I guess I just don't see it as a sacrosanct word. Wikipedia has a category listing for "defunct American political movements." It includes the Better Homes in America Movement ("a nationwide campaign of home ownership, modernization, and beautification because of a critical shortage of homes in the years right after World War I") and the Lily-White Movement ("an anti-civil-rights movement within the Republican Party in the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century"). Not-so defunct American movements listed by Wikipedia include the militia movement and the Christian patriot movement. See? Movements don't have to be noble, or undeservedly long-suffering, or world-historically transformative.

Maybe I just have a bad reaction to this because I used to follow the many genres and subgenres of pop music, in which every new trend was described as a "movement." The shoegaze movement! The happy hardcore movement! It was all like that (and I guess it still is).

Besides, I'm not sure that the tea party movement is really so insignificant and incoherent. It seems part of a (yes) decades-long movement, dating back at least to William F. Buckley and the Birchers, that seeks to repeal the entire twentieth century -- the social safety net, the efforts to use the tax code as a buffer gainst rising inequality, the lot. And I think they're winning. So this movement ultimately traces its energy to the rich. So it deals out more pain than its adherents suffer. It's still a movement. It still matters -- alas.

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