Why we shouldn't mock the Tea Party
Oct 2, 2010

Why we shouldn't mock the Tea Party

The political discourse in this election campaign has a new and strong focus on the Tea Party and the politicians and media on the left spend a lot of effort ridiculing the Tea Party.  Let me be clear: I strongly disagree with a lot of what the Tea Party says and advocates. That said, much of their underlying anger is both legitimate and quite natural given the circumstances. The reality is that there are many legitimate problems that motivate the response of Tea Party advocates and opposed to simply ridiculing them for their reaction and proposed solutions (deserving of ridicule though they may well be) we should be trying to identify these underlying problems and have an open discussion about how to solve them.

Consider being in the shoes of the average Tea Party supporter. They have probably worked hard at their jobs, got a house and car like everyone else, been a good God fearing Christian, paid their taxes, sent their sons and daughters to fight wars for the country, were fervently patriotic and generally involved themselves in society. In effect, they have done everything that society said they were supposed to do. However, now they find themselves losing their jobs, losing their homes and even if they hold onto those, inflation adjusted wages have stagnated over thirty years. To make it worse, they can turn on Fox or Limbaugh and hear all about the governments role leading to the housing crisis, the enormous bailouts of wall street and Detroit, the record deficits and the like. Now of course the rightwing media adds a substantial bias that further indoctrinates people, but these basic ideas are founded in truth. In the need to blame someone, the Government is usually the immediate choice.  The result is that is the anger of the Tea Party supporters is to be expected and the focus against government comes because they think - and to a large extent correctly - that their government has failed them.

Just because the anger is justified does not mean the resulting policies are good or correct. Indeed, in the case of most Tea Party policies proposed I find them overtly lacking and many candidates make simply outrageous claims. The point here is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the underlying anger and the natural way it leads down the path to these claims. The problem is that if we choose to ridicule and mock their policies and statements we ignore to our detriment the underlying problems and waste the opportunity to identify, understand, discuss and solve them.

Part of the limitations in the Tea Party perspective comes from that natural way in that their perspective is a generalization of the underlying antigovernment sentiment. Opposed to trying to fix and discuss the ways we can fix government, the very idea and nature of government is being attacked. It is a reductionist stance. However, we should not stop here and take the easy road of merely ridiculing the Tea Party stances, we should actively try and identify the ways the government has failed them and what we can and should do about it to make the future better. We could look at problems of corporatist influence, excessive partisanship, media bias, economic policies and many other factors. This is the debate that should dominant most of our public discourse on the actual issues not the vilification of various extreme Tea Party claims. When we dismiss the legitimacy of their anger because of the quality of their resulting policies, we ignore the significant problems that led to their position. When we focus the public discourse on ridiculing the Tea Party positions we don't have to come up with ones of our own or tackle the big underlying, systemic problems. We get to apply bandaid  solutions from  within the system without seeing how their source of anger is representative of the need for larger, more encompassing solutions.

Now I am being somewhat hypocritical here considering my past comments that we ought not to get distracted by the Tea Party as it shifts the framing of the debate towards their perspective and issues like this. Yet here I am talking about the Tea Party once again. I do this because I think that seeing them in this context I have outlined in these posts is important. The Tea party represents a legitimate force in today's world and at the least the politicians must address them. However, when put in the context of having legitimate anger motivated by legitimate problems we can pass the first hurdle towards having a discussion about these underlying issues that affect all of us without being marred in a focus on the failure of their proposed policies. This post aims not to continue a discussion about the Tea Party but to try and move past it.

For more on this issue and to hear it said by someone far smarter and more knowledgeable than I, here is the Citizen Radio interview with Noam Chomsky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWs6g3L3fkU

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Nick Burbules said...

Thanks for the link to Progressive Blog Digest. I have added you to my blog list as well.

Nick Burbules

bazie said...


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