Drinking the tea, ignoring the facts

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Listening to members of the Tea Party movement on KQED’s Forum this morning, I and many callers to the show were struck by the basic inaccuracy of their core beliefs, these revanchist delusions about what’s in the U.S. Constitution and how this country really operates.

There’s a lot of justifiable anxiety out there over the state of the country, and the Tea Party movement has tapped into that with bumper sticker slogans that are just broad enough to capture alienated Americans from across the political spectrum. One recent poll shows that 41 percent of respondents are sympathize with the movement, stronger support than either major political party now enjoys.

But facts should matter, and they just don’t to many teabaggers or their high priestess, Sarah Palin, who is headlining the current national Tea Party convention in Nashville. For example, the two self-described “patriots” on this morning’s show railed against all the unconstitutional actions of the runaway federal government in ways that reveal an astonishing ignorance about the document they claim to prize so highly.

An East Bay woman from Bay Area Patriots, Heather Gaas, complained that the “government takeover” of the health care system is specifically prohibited by the constitution, seemingly unaware that there is no takeover, and even if there was, the federal government is specifically empowered to “regulate commerce” and see to the country’s “general welfare.”

North Bay teabagger Gary Hahn claimed that a free market system with minimal government is enshrined in the Constitution, another false claim. The words “capitalism” or “free market” aren’t in the Constitution, which doesn’t prescribe an economic system for the country and would even allow socialism to exist if we had to votes to approve it.

Luckily, while host Dave Iverson did little to correct the teabaggers’ inaccuracies on the first half of the show, a series of callers did that work on the second half. One caller, who was a self-described Tea Party member and Ron Paul supporter, criticized the hypocrisy of the guests’ for criticizing “big government” while supporting its wars and imperial overreach, sounding the anti-war position that is also an element of this broad and unfocused movement.

And that’s really why we shouldn’t read too much into this movement’s power and its implications (check out this interview for an insightful take on why conservatism no longer contributes anything useful to American politics). The Tea Party is best understood as a primal scream rather than a political movement. I’m a big government progressive, yet I share the teabaggers’ outrage over the Wall Street bailouts and the corruption and unresponsiveness of the two major political parties.

We may even share a few revanchist impulses, concerns that powerful forces have steered this country away from what it once was. But my concern is with Big Corporations that have eroded basic egalitarian principles expressed from the Declaration of Independence (the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” talk about radical!) to the New Deal, not with Big Government (except for its biggest and most wasteful element, the bloated military budget).

But the revanchist fantasies of most tea baggers long for a time that is no longer possible, when there was still a frontier on which rugged individualists could stake their claim, for that “shining city on the hill” that their god, Ronald Reagan, once conjured up in the national mind’s eye. They want to smite their liberal enemies and restore this country to a position of deserved greatness, an attitude that frankly scares the crap out of me, with its echoes of 20th Century fascism.

The realities of today are much more complex than the teabaggers’ simplistic beliefs. They want to deeply cut government spending, despite the damage that would do to the fragile economy. They want us to get tough with the terrorists, unaware that every bomb we drop has the potential to create new enemies. They want more power for the “real Americans,” however racist and divisive that judgment is made.

Yet their primal scream shouldn’t be ignored because it is the manifestation of frustration that cuts across a wide swath of the country that is fed up with politics as usual. But in the teabaggers’ ignorance of the Constitution and the basic social contract on which any country or government is based, we can see just how much work there is to do before we have an educated and engaged citizenry that is even capable of participating in a democracy. So this is still a party worthy of our attention.

 

Comments

"North Bay teabagger Gary Hahn claimed that a free market system with minimal government is enshrined in the Constitution, another false claim."

Actually this isn't entirely a false claim. The constitution gives very limited powers to the Federal government. All other powers are to be given to the states. The ability to control the economy through a socialistic/fascist system is not authorized in the constitution. Thus the document does call for maximum economic freedom which would in fact allude to the free market system. We of course have not had free markets by any means. The system that we now have is corporate fascism where special interests rule the day. Goldman Sachs=Treasury, Monsanto=USDA, Lockheed/Boeing=DoD, etc. Conflict of interests run amok. The financial crisis is actually government created where politicians like Chris Dodd and Barney Frank championed government guarantees on mortgages which removed risk from lending. Banks no longer regulated who they gave money to and instead created mortgage-backed securities to satisfy their greed. It also didn't help that Americans don't know basic math.

I consider myself not so much a teabagger but rather a tea party supporter. However, people of San Fransisco and others will realize soon that Ron Paul was the guy that had it right and has the answers. You San Fran types need to drop your love for Pelosi. Didn't the junket to Copenhagen on our dime give you some heartache. Oh well, I digress, vote Ron Paul for pres in 2012.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

Though I agree to a certain extent what you have said here I must point out that you clearly know nothing about the US Constitution and I would highly advise you go read the Federalist Papers/ the Constitutional Convention notes, and specifically Madison's explaination of the general welfare clause, since clearly you have not bothered to do so. That being said, I don't believe in the legality of the Constitution, nor any non-contractual system of government, but I at least find it somewhat important to understand the document our government was founded on (weather legitimate or not). Also, most of the teapartiers and all the fake teapartiers, are certainly hypocrites for their support of the Empire and its wars, as well as the massive violations of civil liberties (how is this not as big government as government run health care?).

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

Though I agree to a certain extent what you have said here I must point out that you clearly know nothing about the US Constitution and I would highly advise you go read the Federalist Papers/ the Constitutional Convention notes, and specifically Madison's explaination of the general welfare clause, since clearly you have not bothered to do so. That being said, I don't even believe in the legality of the Constitution, nor any non-contractual system of government, but I at least find it somewhat important to understand the document our government was founded on (weather legitimate or not). Also, most of the teapartiers and all the fake teapartiers, are certainly hypocrites for their support of the Empire and its wars, as well as the massive violations of civil liberties (how is this not as big government as government run health care?).

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2010 @ 8:43 pm