Monday, September 21, 2009

Tea Party!

I've fallen into a heated email exchange with my brother. It began when he sent me a link to a YouTube video in which scenes of the September 12 "Tea Party" rally in DC are strung together with the apparently revolutionary (but secretly reactionary?) song by The Who, "We Won't Get Fooled Again". The images, one after the other, display the shoddy propaganda and misguided hysteria of the crowd.

My brother avowed that he was moved by the actions of "those patriots" at the rally.

Well, I couldn't take this sitting down, so I wrote:

I don't know about patriotism. Somehow, anger and fear fed by ignorance and expressed through name-calling and really lame propaganda doesn't strike me as the best way to show one's love of country. All this shows, really, is that conservative activists can make themselves just as ridiculous as liberal activists when they engage in pointless street-theater.

Engaging in actual informed, reasoned debate about the substance of policy issues . . . now that would be an expression of patriotism in a democratic republic.

But, since you seem interested in exchanging mean-spirited jabs by way of YouTube, I offer this, directed at the problems that arise from ignorance in a democratic republic.

Okay, the Bill Maher video clip was over the top. I shouldn't have been so provocative. He wrote back with a long, angry diatribe against elitism, in favor of liberty, tried to smear me with every label he could, to associate me with King George, who would have thought colonists like Jefferson ignorant, and with those pimp- and prostitute-loving yahoos at ACORN, and on and on.

A sample:
The 9/12 gathering on the Mall in DC had over 1 million people, (I know the news only said 60k, but then there must have been only 60k at the inauguration of the Messiah because the crowd was exactly the same size. Time lapse photography from both events.) I digress, Zero arrests (0) yes and the park service commented on how people actually picked up after themselves. I will take ignorant dumbasses like these any day of the week. The problem the left has is that their people are only passionate when they get paid for it, with the exception of a few like, PETA, Michael Moore (oh, they do get paid for it). The people you are seeing, by the way many Libertarians (although ignorant and unimportant to you) are passionate for freedom. No government banks, healthcare, businesses, education (yes, no government education). If we as American's don't know what the Bill of Rights is all about or the Constitution or Government, or that the planets revolve around the sun (really?) what are they teaching in government regulated schools? Time to stomp the government back down to size, We the People!!

So, I wrote back again. Here is my reply, in full, with a few minor corrections:
I simply point out that, in that little video you so admired, there was not one cogent argument, not one careful assessment of the very serious policy proposals now on the table in light of the best available facts regarding health care, apparent disdain for the plain meanings of words (like "tyranny", "socialist" and "fascist"), and overall an apparent failure to understand what freedom is and how a constitutional republic works. And what of those few, fringe crackpots among the "teabaggers" who seem willing to make veiled threats against the life of the duly elected president of the United States by openly carrying firearms to events where he was speaking? Do you include them among "patriots"?

There are no doubt many people who have legitimate concerns about health care proposals and to the various actions taken in response to the financial crisis, even based on a fact-based assessment of the actions and motives of the Bush and Obama administrations. There is certainly room for debate regarding the scope and limits of legitimate use of government authority in various domains. The problem is, the argument cannot even get started when the most prominent voices are, for all intents and purposes, howling their incoherent (and almost certainly misdirected) rage - exemplified by the guy who stood up at a "town hall" meeting and demand that his elected representative "keep government hands off my Medicare!"

If people don't know how government works, if they don't know from which government programs and policies they benefit, if they think of themselves as living in some sort of fairy-tale libertarian vacuum, how can they even begin to engage in reasoned debate about the appropriate scope and limits of government? How many of those at the rally are on Medicare? How many arrived at the rally by driving on a highway system designed and financed by the federal government? How many of them have never had e. coli or salmonella because of the work done by the FDA and the USDA, even in the decrepit state in which they now subsist? How many of them have homes because of federal (FHA and VA) guarantees on home mortgages and because of that sacred cow of American politics, the home-mortgage interest deduction? How many of them remain cancer-free because of federal regulations aimed at clean air and clean water? How many of them did not lose their savings because of the FDIC? How many of them think their local school system must absolutely and without question live up to the mandates set down in the (federal) No Child Left Behind Act? Clearly, calls for some kind of absolute freedom against any "interference" from the Federal Government are at least an exaggeration. It strikes me that those at the tea party can't possibly mean what they say, but perhaps only because they don't know what they mean.

As for playing the King George card, I would hasten to point out that my concern - and, in fairness, Bill Maher's concern - is not to subject ignorant citizens to the rule of benevolent philosopher-kings. (I just finished reading Plato with my students, so I know the arguments in favor of such a position.) No, my concern is to do my best to make sure citizens of a free republic can live up to their responsibilities by becoming better educated, more informed, more capable of critical thought, better prepared to engage in real, serious, fair-minded public deliberation. That, I think, would have been Jefferson's take on it, since you invoke him.

You cite the fact that there were no arrests at the rally. That's great! If we were sliding into fascism, the 60-1000 thousand people who were there would have been lucky to have gotten out alive. Remember Tienanmen? Or Chicago in 1968?

Regarding the size of the crowd, I see that as typical number-skewing. Any count given by the organizers of an event is suspect, since they have a political stake in number-inflation . . . though I've read that Freedom Works has recently revised it's number down to 600,000, since that's a marginally more plausible inflation than their initial estimate of 1.2 million. Still, I would want a count from some independent, nonpartisan source.

Okay, so it's not the best, most thoughtful argument I've ever written. But unalloyed bullshit really annoys me. It makes me positively hasty.

Regarding the size of the crowd, I find it's always a good idea to check with, a non-partisan fact-checking service of the St. Petersburg Times. Their ruling on the claims of conservative bloggers based on a much-posted (still, not time-lapse) photograph of the event? Pants on fire! The photograph is of a different event, one that took place at least a decade ago.

It's more "time warp" than "time-lapse."

1 comment:

Doc Nagel said...

I love a good punchline!