Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Max Blumenthal on Republican Gomorrah: A Brief History of the Rise of the Tea Party Movement

If American democracy survives the period of toxic rage that has ensued following the election of our first African-American president, and if a fascist takeover does not expunge the records of this dismal moment in the history of our democracy, Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah will one day be must-reading for those seeking to understand what happened in our society once Mr. Obama was elected.

Yesterday, Alternet provided an excerpt from the book--its epilogue--which tracks in detail the rise of the Tea Party movement and its destructive activities in the period following the last presidential election.  As Blumenthal notes, far from being a grass-roots movement, the Tea Party is "the creation of a constellation of industry-funded conservative groups with close Republican ties" anointed by the mainstream media as a faux-populist phenomenon.  The movement is well-organized and strategic in its relentless nay-saying designed to curtail any and all attempts of the president to enact his agenda.

It intends to topple the president and to regain Republican control of Congress.  Its disingenuous and media-adroit professed disinterest in culture-war hot-button issues like abortion and same-sex marriage deliberately masks the extensive involvement of the Christian Right in the movement.

And from the outset, the Obama administration has been blind to the threat that this surge of money- and media-massaged "popular" anger poses to the agenda of the current administration:

Through his first year in office, Obama seemed oblivious to the threat of the far right. He campaigned against partisanship, declaring that there were "no red states" and no "conservative America." Apparently, he thought it was merely a contrivance or myth that there were people who rejected science, demonized gays, assailed minority and women's rights -- or that they genuinely believed in what they said. Speaking of changing Washington, Obama seemed to think that the entire history of politics since the rise of Reagan and the Right and their strategies of polarization was not deeply rooted but a superficial problem attributable to certain "divisive" personalities, easily wiped away with gestures toward bipartisanship. His view of the parties was that they were simply mirror images sharing fundamental beliefs but separated by "partisans." The skilled and devoted community organizer could bring them together.

In my view, the obliviousness of the current administration to the threat of the Tea Partyization of the Republican party derives from that echo-chamber effect I discussed recently as I looked at the curiously parochial nature of the American Catholic centrist conversation.  As I noted, in its blind parochialism, the American Catholic conversation of the center mirrors the parochialism of our mainstream political and media conversations, both of which are also echo chambers in which the same limited voices keep rehashing the same issues among themselves.

The problem of the elite centers that fashion opinion in America is that they imagine themselves to be America.  When they're not.  They're insulated by power, privilege, and geographic isolation from the American landscape in which the religious right runs rampant over democratic values and human rights.  Those living in the elite opinion-spinning centers of the U.S. have little experience of the maleficent power of movements like the Tea Party to disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens in places like Omaha, Macon, Little Rock, Danville, Oshkosh, Klamath Falls, or Peoria.

The conversations of the center--whether religious, media, or political--also remain, as an aside (but a highly significant one) predominantly male conversations.  When Mr. Obama went on vacation last summer and the media published a list of the books he was taking along to read as he vacationed, I blogged about the fact that every author on his reading list was a man.

The conversation that makes mainstream opinion in the media is equally male-dominated, despite the significant inroads that the women's movement has made into the power-brokering centers of American life in recent decades.  When Ross Douthat publishes a woefully ill-argued piece on the marriage ideal, even Catholic political and media commentators who disagree with him will still treat him as a member of their club, and will handle his arguments with kid gloves, knowing that the arguments do not deserve serious attention.

Their club: it's one in which males speak almost exclusively to males, using the surname designations favored by American ivy leaguers who ape the manners of the upper-class British educational system.  It's a male club constituted almost exclusively of men who went to school together in the ivy league schools of the East Coast.  . . . 

And as a result, the gender exclusivity, the economic power and the social privilege, and the geographic isolation of the elite centers that shape our mainstream conversations foster tragic blindness: our opinion-making elites are blind to what many of us outside their small club see clearly, because we have to do so.  We live amidst the Tea Partiers and the bullying fundamentalists.

We knew in our bones that it was a serious political miscalculation on the part of the Obama administration to ignore and appease the rabid right.  And we know with equal experience-based conviction that the reason the administration is now fighting for its life in the fall 2010 elections is that it did not hit the ground running after Mr. Obama's inauguration, begin immediately fulfilling its promises for change we can believe in, and create a brand for this administration that gives a high profile to principles (not pragmatism) and progressive politics (not a vapid version of warmed-over corporate-enslaved Clinton-era liberalism).

This fall election cycle is not going to be pretty.  The Tea Partiers are out there, armed to the hilt, metaphorically speaking--and as Blumenthal notes, armed in reality in many cases.  It's too bad that only now is Fortress Beltway becoming critically aware of their cancerous presence in the body politic.