Why the mea culpa? When I am in less of a hurry, given more than a few minutes to think through what I actually believe, I write things like this:
In the summer of 2009, as the Tea Party began to coalesce around opposition to the proposed health care reform legislation, there was quite a bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the liberal world over all those horrible folks showing up at various Town Hall events, speaking out against the bill. I, for one, supported it, and still do. I remember quite distinctly writing that more participation in the political process is always a good thing.I still believe that. Were I less lazy, more thorough, and perhaps had a commenter or two who would call me on it, I would recognize that I frequently fall from this far more basic, and honest, belief:
Tea Party Republicans Dis American Troops Fighting Wars They SupportI am sorry for statements like this. The reality is this - not only do I support Tea Party Republicans organizing around issues vital to their perceived interests, I find much of the abuse hurled at them more disgusting than anything they have actually done.
Since even the leader of the Tea Party - an alleged populist uprising against elites - is now publicly stating that people without property (which, I would guess, constitutes a significant portion of Tea Party supporters) should not be allowed to vote, the final scrap has been stripped away and it is clear (as if it ever were murky) that there is now not even a pretense of support for the general welfare, real fiscal responsibility, concern for the economic stability of the country, or supporting the policies most understand will actually drag the country out of the doldrums.
This yearning for simplicity, this primitivism, this fear which expresses itself in a rage against the Other, against those forces that push and pull us in ways we neither understand nor like, is certainly much of the attraction of the Tea Party and its candidates.
Has the right lost its mind on the Cordoba House? Seriously. These same Tea Party conservatives who insist they sleep with the Constitution under their pillows at night seem to forget that freedom of religion includes Muslims (of course, they also want to get rid of the constitutional clause that allows for birthright citizenship and simply repeal the 14th Amendment outright).
Furthermore, I think it is safe to say that some, at least, of the Tea Party-supported candidates have not supported a Tea Party agenda. Scott Brown in Massachusetts is probably the best-known example. I would even venture to say that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for all he plays the right notes of the Tea Party song, in fact has an agenda far different from Tea Party faithful.
I say all this because I read this blog post over at New Politics, and I find its measured, careful consideration both of the Tea Party and the mouth-foaming liberal reaction to it a sober corrective to far too much political commentary these days. I don't agree with everything in the article, to be sure. All the same, it zeroes in on the fact that liberal hysteria over the Tea Party mirrors, in large measure, Establishment disdain for popular movements of any stripe. By tarring the Tea Party with the broad brush of such sins as racism and proto-fascism, the real grievances they represent - the protest over neo-liberal economic and social policies that many on the left used to voice pretty regularly - liberals and self-identified leftists such as Melissa Harris-Perry (mentioned in the article) become co-opted in ridding the land of those pesky citizens organizing around issues of common concern. That Tea Partiers are regularly derided as ignorant yahoos - lumped together with such fringe elements as birthers, for example - misses the point that there really is a Tea Party agenda with real targets.
The accusation of racism, which crops up again and again, and which Sunkara analyzes in detail, is an example of the kind of demands for silence from the polloi that are just too frequent to ignore. Are some Tea Partiers racist? Probably. So are some leftists. The Tea Party agenda, however, is concerned with the size and scope of government intrusion in to the market, as well as matters relating to tax policy, as well as support for the recent redefinition of second amendment rights as personal, rather than referring to the states and the organization of state militias. The Tea Party is not a group organized around race or one that uses racial animus as a driving force (except, perhaps, in its more breathless denunciations of the rise of undocumented immigrants and the economic threats they pose).
All in all, Sunkara's article is a nice corrective to the brow-furrowing and tut-tutting of far too many liberals, snickering behind their hands at the silly, ignorant Tea Partiers. That I have done some of this myself is something of which I am not proud. I have to be careful in the future not to be dismissive of either the Tea Party or its agenda, not painting with a broad-brush, but rather considering their positions, and considering the very real grievances they have. Political differences aside, Tea Partiers are Americans, and deserve at the very least a hearing on the merits. This does not exempt them from criticism. It just means they should not be de-legitimized through careless, and often evidence-free, accusations of racism and fascism. We would all be better served if we did as Sunkara has done, rather than I have done far too often in the past.