Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Half Baked Thoughts on the Tea Party

Well, to continue the metaphor these thoughts are more like unbaked dough and the oven's on pre-heat. Still, I've been doing some reading on it, mostly from The Stone blog mentioned earlier, my local Tea Party blog, and of course The Contract From America (Sorry I couldn't find a link that didn't ask you to sign the damn thing, I'm certainly not trying to encourage you to do so).

From this reading I feel inspired to sum up what I currently think on the Tea Party. My point here isn't to say anything definitive about what they are, the effect the movement will have on politics, or to predict where they are going. All I'm going for is to get some thoughts down in writing as to what I think I know about them.

First of all, if all we wanted to do is label them, I think reactionary populists does well enough. They express a lot of anxiety about the changes in balance among industries, a preoccupation with manufacturing comes out a lot, and they really don't like the idea that there could be changes in the rural-suburban-urban balance as shown by their focus on energy and in particular in preserving automobile use. They also obsess over what they see as a changing role of government and an obsessive veneration of what they seem to believe are traditional ideas. Of course, while I think this label is pretty accurate it's also not really helpful for understanding the movement except to note they are part of a long tradition of political reaction and there is nothing unique about them. As a side note, in comparing them to early groups it is important to keep in mind that attitudes towards commercial activity have changed remarkably in the last few centuries, and even more recently in some areas. Anti-commercial sentiments of earlier reactionaries represents a cultural shift, not a proof that the Tea Party aren't essentially reactionaries. I'm debating dissecting what I see as the populist nature of the Tea Party in a separate post, see here for my attempt to explain what I'm trying to get at by the term populist.

A second take on the Tea Party is to relate them to the international trend towards fundamentalism (or literalism if you prefer) that seems to have become so prevalent over the past century. I'm not really sure exactly how to fit them into this more general trend but with their very literal, and revisionist, interpretation that they want to force onto the US Constitution I can't help but think that there isn't a link between this trend in the movement and the international trend towards interpreting the Bible or Qur'an in the same way. To my knowledge the trend towards literalism across cultures isn't really well explained so I'll leave this hanging. There's something there but I'm perfectly willing to confess that it's easier to point out there's something going on than to explain it.

My third take on the Tea Party is to look at it as mirror image Marxism. What I mean by this is that it's an image of America that was created during the Cold War that was meant to present the Soviet Union as the complete antithesis of what we are as a people and country. This has persisted well past its dubious usefulness. The elements behind the Tea Party's thought seems to line up pretty well with a mirror image of international Communism, obviously the elements within each are all different.

While the elements differ, there seems to be an overall logical framework that I see as being very similar to the dialectical materialist thought that runs through Marxism (more precisely, the image of the thought that was visible as part of the Cold War struggle, I'm not trying to claim that this is a perfect pattern with the far more nuanced academic version of Communist thought). This framework relies on ideas such as an essential conflict between two forces, in Marxism class structures, in the Tea Party, government and the individual. The efforts the Tea Party has exerted to present a conflict between their views and "socialists" are something I see as being a key part of this movement and evidence of this style of thought. Obviously, a lot more needs to be said on this but this post would get unduly lengthy to explore it. I'll take this up again in more detail next time I feel inspired to write about the Tea Party.

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