Freedom can be confusing.
We’ll come back to that.
I’ve told this story many, many times. I think it’s still illustrative. Back in the nineties and early naughties, you could predict a few things about GOP gatherings.
- At precinct caucuses, you could be assured that there would be an avalanche of pro-life/anti-stem cell/anti-gay-marriage resolutions. In the former two cases, they would be largely redundant with what was already in the platform. No matter; they had to be debated and voted up or down, one at a time.
- At legislative district (“BPOU”, in the MNGOP’s curious parlance) conventions, there’d be two big clusters of people in the room. To stage right, there’d be a group of pro-lifers. To stage left, there’d be everyone else. And if one was running for a district office, one could expect a series of questions about one’s commitment to life. “Are you pro-life?” “How pro-life are you?” “Please describe exactly how pro-life you are?” “If your pro-life-ness were a mountain, which mountain would it be – Denali, K-2 or the Matterhorn?”
And pro-lifers weren’t the only single-issue voters. During the nineties, after the nadir of the Clinton crime bill and Alan Spears’ various attempts to ratchet up gun control in Minnesota, the shooters came out. And it could lead to comical results; pro-lifers would occasionally express revulsion at rolling back gun controls, while some of the shooters were visibly bored at the pro-life talk. They came for their issues, and their issues alone.
That was then.
Now, we have the Tea Parties. And while the left and media (pardon, as always, the redundancy) likes to try to portray the Tea Parties like Nick Coleman once referred to “peasants beating on the observatory door” with pitchforks and torches, they are actually a whole lot more complex – John Kerry’s word was “nuanced” than that. You see a lot of people at these rallies who, two years ago, didn’t care about politics, who a year into the Obama administration have taken it upon themselves to educate themselves.
And there are many roads to education; there are as many stories at the Tea Parties are there are participants. Some reacquainted themselves with Reagan. Many others in Minnesota arrived via (Minnesota-based syndicated talk show host) Jason Lewis’ long-running Tax Rallies, and Lewis’ heady introduction to the Federalists and Limited Government; Lewis, with his MA in Political Science, gives a pretty compete education in Federalist history. Others come via other media figures – Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt – to a new appreciation iof what limited government means, and how far off from that ideal we currently are. Another contingent were brought to politics by the Ron Paul campaign. And you can find others who filtered into the movement from immigration reform, pro-life and other groups, including a few from groups that we can tactfully call “the fringe”.
All of them – the good, the weird and the rhetorically ugly – come together for one reason; they want to put government back in its place.
Which, compared with the anything-goes, single-issue-bound GOP of 2000 and 2004, is pretty exciting stuff.
And as with anything that excites conservatives, the left and media (pardon, as always, the redundancy) must spin it as some sort of potential depravity or another.
Commenter “Master Of None” drew my attention to NYTimes piece on the Tea Party movement yesterday. I read it.
At first read, it was almost encouraging; it seemed at first blush to pay some service to the most important facet of the Tea Parties; that represents a wave of self-education, an “awakening” if you will, on the part of an awful lot of people. It almost seemed like the NYTimes might start portraying Tea Partiers as people; actual individuals with their own motivations, each as unique as they are.
I said almost.
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.
I chewed on that last clause for a bit. A phrase like “bracing for tyranny” has two different meanings in our society. To a big chunk of “Red” America, it means “being aware that unlimited government can not end well”, with a twist of “so let’s not let it get out of control” on top.
But to an NPR-listening, Times-reading, down-the-nose-at-the-hoi-polloi-looking putative “elite”, it’s a code phrase, for something the “fearful, Jebus-clinging, John Birch-reading gun freaks” do.
In other words, it’s something foreign. Un-American. Worthy of fear and, inevitably, fear’s eldest child, hatred.
These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
“Militia groups”. It’s another media code word; the unwashed, insane, depraved, usually racist undercurrent that Blue America sees hiding under every rock between the Hudson and the Sierra Madre.
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.
“Shadowy international networks”.
You see some of that at the Tea Parties. Again, it’s the fringe; the people with the beards and camouflage and the huge potbellies and the pamphlets that gather around the fringe of the Tea Party rallies, mixing uneasily with the vast majority; the people in dockers and polos, or work boots and embroidered shop jackets, who make up the vast majority of people at the Parties. People like you and me and, someone tell the Times, your typical Times reader as well.
Oh, the Times gets parts right – enough to make the whole thing worth a read:
The Tea Party movement defies easy definition, largely because there is no single Tea Party.
Defiance of easy definition notwithstanding, the Times wants you to accept their facile definition anyway.
And those facile definitions are always based on fear of the great unwashed unknown:
At the grass-roots level, it consists of hundreds of autonomous Tea Party groups, widely varying in size and priorities, each influenced by the peculiarities of local history.
“Ah”, I thought. “This could be good!”. The rural west is a fascinating sociological hodgepodge; my own hometown in North Dakota jumbled college professors with their urbane, sometimes far-left beliefs, together with engineers (from a few local manufacturers) and business people (mostly fiscal conservatives) and agribusiness types (conservatives who loved farm subsidies) to a few drastically-misplaced hippies, and always, always the farmers – including a few who’d been driven to radical populism by the hard times.
Who do you suppose the Times would be focusing on today?
In the inland Northwest, the Tea Party movement has been shaped by the growing popularity in eastern Washington of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, and by a legacy of anti-government activism in northern Idaho. Outside Sandpoint, federal agents laid siege to Randy Weaver’s compound on Ruby Ridge in 1992, resulting in the deaths of a marshal and Mr. Weaver’s wife and son. To the south, Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, preached white separatism from a compound near Coeur d’Alene until he was shut down.
Of all the “local peculiarities” to pick, what do you suppose the odds were?
The piece focuses, throughout, on the Tea Parties’ most paranoid lunatic fringe – almost as if to say “pay no attention to the populist awakening behind the curtain, Boston and New York and San Francisco! They are unclean! These are the bitter, gun-clinging Jesus freaks we warned you about!”
If they can’t beat the Tea Party on the facts, it’s logical that the next step will be fearmongering.