Winds of Change.NET: Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.

Formal Affiliations
  • Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto
  • Euston Democratic Progressive Manifesto
  • Real Democracy for Iran!
  • Support Denamrk
  • Million Voices for Darfur
  • milblogs
Syndication
 Subscribe in a reader

Michael Kinsley's Meretricious Look At the Tea Parties

| 13 Comments

Dictionary.com defines meretricious:

-adjective 1. alluring by a show of flashy or vulgar attractions; tawdry. 2. based on pretense, deception, or insincerity. 3. pertaining to or characteristic of a prostitute.

...and that pretty much sums up my view of Kinsley's take on the Tea Parties in this month's Atlantic.

Here's Kinsley:
The Tea Party movement has been compared (by David Brooks of TheNew York Times, among others) to the student protest movement of the 1960s. Even though one came from the left and the other from the right, both are/were, or at least styled themselves as, a mass challenge to an oppressive establishment. That's a similarity, to be sure. But the differences seem more illuminating.

First, the 1960s (shorthand for all of the political and social developments we associate with that period) were by, for, and about young people. The Tea Party movement is by, for, and about middle-aged and old people (undoubtedly including more than a few who were part of the earlier movement too). If young people discover a cause and become a bit overwrought or monomaniacal, that's easily forgiven as part of the charm of youth. When adults of middle age and older throw tantrums and hold their breath until they turn blue, it's less charming.
Second, although the 1960s ultimately spread their tentacles throughout the culture and around the world, politically there was just one big issue: ending the war in Vietnam. No such issue unites the Tea Party Patriots. You might guess from some of their materials on the Web that the repeal of health-care reform is the TPPs' Vietnam, their towering cause. But even for devoted TPPs, stripping health insurance away from people who've just gotten it is unlikely to summon the same passions that the activists of the 1960s brought to stopping a misguided war. Not only do TPPs not have one big issue like Vietnam - they disagree about many of their smaller issues. What unites them is a more abstract resentment, an intensity of feeling rather than any concrete complaint or goal.

The antiwar movement also worked, sort of. As did the civil-rights movement that preceded it. Antiwar protests ultimately turned the establishment itself against the war, though extracting us from it still took years. By contrast, the Tea Party Patriots, I predict, are just the flavor of the month: the kind of story that the media are incapable of not exaggerating. The antiwar movement and the 1960s changed America in numerous ways forever. The Tea Party Patriots will be an answer on Jeopardy or a crossword-puzzle clue.


Wow. Just wow.

I've been to three Tea Parties, and was at a shedload of 1960-70's radical events and I'll tell you this distinction is overblown and ahistoric - generously. If Kinsley could actuoally bring himself to go out and talk to - you know - regular people at one of these events, he light learn a few things.

The Tea Party folks I talked to as I walked around are all deeply distressed by what they see as the size, corruption, and ineffectiveness of government at most levels. yes, they bring a lot of baggage with them - there aren't a lot of critical theory fans there, nor a lot of fans of affirmative action or more robust regulatory regimes. But they were certainly no more racist - in my direct experience - than the people I meet everyday at the local grocery store, or the people I work with.

They are voicing the same kind of rage at a government they don't believe listens to them as the soixante-huit crowds, and my belief is that they will do a better job of breaking the government's walls down than the 68-ers did, because in 68 we could end the draft, stop enforcing the laws on pot, and pretty much buy off a movement and leave it's members to their future as BoBo's (Bohemian Bourgeois) and members of the media.

So now we have Kinsley, prostituting himself (or at least his intellect) to show his solidarity with the media class that used to throw rocks at cops and now counts themselves puzzled at others who do didn't as well.

Nice work, Mike.

[fixed dumb typo in second-to-last sentance]
-

13 Comments

Ever since Michael Kinsley presided over the destruction of The New Republic, I thought he was a profoundly unserious thinker. Now I realize how wrong I was. His logic is so compelling that it demands broader application.

It must really annoy Kinsley to hear Tea Partiers compared to Nazis, because:

First, the 1960s (shorthand for all of the political and social developments we associate with that period) were by, for, and about young people.

Like the Nazis, who took over youth groups and universities long before they took over Germany. With understandable youthful enthusiasm.

Not only do TPPs not have one big issue like Vietnam—they disagree about many of their smaller issues.

The Nazis started out with a big issue - The Versailles Treaty. They quickly developed a consensus on a whole range of issues - hate Jews, hate bankers, hate Social Democrats, and hate the cops (until they became the cops). None of this petty senile bickering for them.

The antiwar movement also worked, sort of.

Ditto the Nazis. There was no more Versailles Treaty when they got done, and almost no Jews, either.

These goals and some of the methods for achieving them may have been childishly romantic or even entirely wrongheaded, but they were about making the world a better place.

The Nazis definitely believed they were making the world a better place. Very few people have ever put their making-the-world-a-better-place ideas into such thorough effect.

So this comparison of Tea Partiers to Nazis is yet another usurpation of the laurels that rightfully belong to the young heroes of the Sixties. Boy, is that ever annoying.

yes, they bring a lot of baggage with them - there aren't a lot of critical theory fans there, nor a lot of fans of affirmative action or more robust regulatory regimes.

Dictionary.com must define "hyphen" as "a punctuation mark that means, 'here comes a part of the sentence that has nothing to do with the previous part'".

the media class that used to throw rocks at cops and now counts themselves puzzled at others who do as well.

The pro-communist demonstrators of the 60s threw rocks at cops. There has not been one rock thrown at a single cop at any tea party ever, and you're a goddamned liar for saying otherwise.

I think Kinsley, in part, is getting at what others have observed: the flower power movements of the '60s, the "get-government-off-my-back-and-let-me-make-money" '80's and 90's, and the Tea Party have in common a selfish focus on the individual. Burning draft cards, free-love, feminism, and gay-pride are all about individual rights--the right not to go to war, the right to love whom you want . . . and how you want to. Deregulation, financial speculation, and ever better and cheaper products at Walmart is all about getting ahead on our own. The Tea Party movement with its cry of "taxed enough already" follows this solipsistic path in its own way.

I think Kinsley is trying to get at something like this here:

Some people think that what unites the Tea Party Patriots is simple racism. I doubt that. But the Tea Party movement is not the solution to what ails America. It is an illustration of what ails America. Not because it is right-wing or because it is sometimes susceptible to crazed conspiracy theories, and not because of racism, but because of the movement’s self-indulgent premise that none of our challenges and difficulties are our own fault. “Personal responsibility” has been a great conservative theme in recent decades, in response to the growth of the welfare state. It is a common theme among TPPs—even in response to health-care reform, as if losing your job and then getting cancer is something you shouldn’t have allowed to happen to yourself. But these days, conservatives far outdo liberals in excusing citizens from personal responsibility. To the TPPs, all of our problems are the fault of the government, and the government is a great “other,” a hideous monster over which we have no control. It spends our money and runs up vast deficits for mysterious reasons all its own. At bottom, this is a suspicion not of government but of democracy. After all, who elected this monster?

There's someting to this. The challenge is to re-imagine government for the collective good. The Tea Party, however, is continuing to tear at government for narrow self-interest when, across the political spectrum, we should be focusing on how to work better for the collective good.

bgates - sorry, typo. Kinda undermined the rhetorical strength of the sentence, too. Fixing it now.

The challenge is to re-imagine government for the collective good.

Ah, but who determines what the "collective good" is? Perhaps selfish individuals who are guided by their own individual self-interest?

The history of "they came to do good and did very well" is too extensive to believe anyone who asks to give up individual rights in the name of 'collective good.' Usually, it ends up being just another case of some-are-more-equal-than-others as far as how that 'collective good' gets applied. The Hobbesian skepticism which Americans feel when presented with collectivism is well deserved, and woe to us if we ever lose it.

The column is an interesting writeup on what Kinsley thinks the TP groups represent, but its just an opinion piece without any actual research or conversation with TP members, so its not really illuminating as to what the Tea Party stands for or represents.

Tagryn:

I think you have Hobbsian skepticism backwards. Hobbes famously quipped that life in the state of nature, i.e. without government, is nasty, brutish, and short. Think Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq.

I've never seen a better example of the hysterics caused by having one's worldview so decidedly challenged.

Look- there are many different dynamics between todays left and right (and some odd overlap), but in my opinion there is one absolutely defining idea. The left believes the individual draws his success from society, and the right believes society draws its success from the individual. Both of these viewpoints have validity and philosophical underpinnings we can debate.

But one reason we get screaming matches, outright calumny, and crude sexual innuendo a high schooler would roll their eyes at is that the left, for whatever reason, doesn't comprehend the thinking of the right, or even acknowledge that it exists at all (aside from greed, outright stupidity, or simple evil). The lefts worldview is that government provides for the people, and hence anyone opposing the growth of government opposes the enrichment of the people, and one must be either evil or stupid to do that.

The cherished belief of the left is that the vast majority of the people believe as they do, and that any discrepancy in elections or polling is due to people being either misled or stupid. That mentality is rife, and I challenge anyone that has witnessed the attacks on these teaparties to deny it. The idea that a pretty huge portion of the populace is rejecting the leftist worldview (not to say they embrace the republicans) is simply incoherent. To believe that they would be forced to rethink their belief that there simply IS no rational alternative, and that would be a massive undertaking, philosophically. It opens doors they've been nailing shut for years.

They alternative is to believe that, indeed, the left has been wrong- the majority of Americans aren't simply misled and stupid (although they are misled and stupid), its that they are in fact racist, selfish, and nihilistic. And that's where we're at today.

If one must look for a similarity between the Tea Party Movement and the Anti-War Movement in the Sixties Kinsley misses it by miles.

I think where they are similar is that they both grew out of serious fissures in the Society, and both are generational and both are motivated by fear.

Whether or not these fears are justifiable is up for debate. A debate I do not want to take sides on.

The gulf between the generation that live through the depression and fought the Second World War and mine the Baby Boomers who grew up in the '50 culture of abundance and Supremacy couldn't be bridged. The differences in experience was to great. I really had no understanding of what my parents were talking about when they spoke about want and war.

I think the same sort of Gulf now exists between the generations. the cultural differences and points of view between young and old, social, ethnic and economic issues and views of how the world works (Private Garden vs. Open Source are enormous and real garden.

In the Sixties youth feared the loss of their lives in War, now the people my age fear the loss of everything they had built for vis-a-vis the loss of all they had built for over their working lives.

My generation lived in privileged and got very used to it. I say this not as a condemnation, but as a statement of fact. Because of our size, the country and the economy danced to our tune. It doesn't anymore and I doubt that it ever will again.

Am I happy about that? No.

Am I unhappy about that? No.

Some things just are.

And what experience did Hobbes base this on? The wide ranging knowledge of the world that he possessed at his death in 1679? Or was it the was it the psychopathic interregnum that he, and the rest of the British Isles suffered under Cromwell, who in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Churchill places with Hitler in a tandem of the most loathsome characters to ever grace the stage for the thousand years of that history.

That Hobbes quote is one of the most ill-informed ever uttered.

Well, before you're too hard on Hobbes, remember Kant. If you want to talk about someone making expansive claims on the basis of very little experience, he really has few equals. :)

Hey Mark:

You say

[I]n my opinion there is one absolutely defining idea. The left believes the individual draws his success from society, and the right believes society draws its success from the individual.

That "defining" idea is a Janus image: society depends on the industry and ingenuity of individuals; individuals need the support of society to thrive.

You accuse "the left" of not working hard enough to understand the "right." I agree with that. It cuts both ways.

"The lefts worldview is that government provides for the people, and hence anyone opposing the growth of government opposes the enrichment of the people, and one must be either evil or stupid to do that."

Let's take this in parts. The first clause "government provides for the people" seems right. The very purpose of government is to provide for the common good. I'm assuming we're together on that one. Similarly, despite your suggestion to the contrary, there is no disagreement that the purpose of government is not to provide for the overall growth of GDP ("enrichment of the people?"). Believe it or not, but in the U.S. both left and right are capitalists and in any capitalist system the engine for growth is individual and corporate investment, production, and consumption.

So, although there are differences about the proper size and role of government, these differences are not as categorical as you would have it.

Discussions about the size of government are disfunctional, in part, because we focus on the wrong question. The question is not whether government is good or bad. Everyone agrees government is necessary and desirable for many things. The question needs to be what specific things do we want government to do, what things can government do well, which not, and how can government do a better job at the things we think are important. Do we want government to regulate the water we drink and the food we eat? Do we want government to provide some type of safety net? Do we want to have government to make some provision for the sick, the elderly, and the dysfunctional who would not otherwise be able to provide for themselves? Do we want government to take an active hand to regulate markets and the economy so we have smooth functioning system? I think we have a broad consensus that the answer to these questions is "yes, we do." Dysfunctional political discourse masks this consensus.

"You accuse "the left" of not working hard enough to understand the "right." I agree with that. It cuts both ways."

That is true, but I think the left has a transformative agenda (or at least a 'taken to its logical conclusion' momentum of government growth) while the right is trying to hold the line.

"Similarly, despite your suggestion to the contrary, there is no disagreement that the purpose of government is not to provide for the overall growth of GDP ("enrichment of the people?")."

I'll pose a minor objection to that- at least as far as priorities goes. I dont think there is much question that the left values overall wealth growth much less than redistribution of what we have in search of social justice. And that isnt necessarily the enrichment of the individuals as reorganization of the tools of production for all kinds of priorities.... such as just getting power away from one group and to another (or the government). That flies in the face of growth, of course.

"Believe it or not, but in the U.S. both left and right are capitalists and in any capitalist system the engine for growth is individual and corporate investment, production, and consumption."

The current definition of capitalism is almost unrecognizable. This incestuous relationship between government and industry is destructive and dangerous, and the republican party is responsible as well. Our government runs 2 out of 3 car companies, 2 huge mortage lenders and interest in all the others, and has been threatening audits etc for banks that won't do as theyre told ala TARP etc. What does that have to do with capitalism?

"So, although there are differences about the proper size and role of government, these differences are not as categorical as you would have it."

I disagree. And i'm not taking the old guard republican pov here. I think there is a major argument that the current government/corporate 'cooperation' is much worse than government as a hostile agent to business. This business of picking winners and losers (and the rent seeking therein) is a spiral of trouble we havent seen the end of. It makes regulation pointless (as the regulators are checked by their political masters).

"The question needs to be what specific things do we want government to do, what things can government do well, which not, and how can government do a better job at the things we think are important."

True, true. But there is a question of approach here. For the left, I question when they accept the government has failed and that a different approach is necessary. It would seem that the solution to a failed government program is always a bigger government program. How and when do we kill bad programs, or try a different way. Our federal government is HUGE and the Democrats cant seem to find even minor, cosmetic cuts when pressed. The Republicans havent been much better and Bush certainly expanded things disturbingly as opposed to cutting (of course Obama has rocketed past that level in no time).

"Do we want government to regulate the water we drink and the food we eat? Do we want government to provide some type of safety net? Do we want to have government to make some provision for the sick, the elderly, and the dysfunctional who would not otherwise be able to provide for themselves?"

Is this necessarily the role of the federal government? That is a question that has fallen by the wayside.

"Do we want government to take an active hand to regulate markets and the economy so we have smooth functioning system?"

This question especially begs the first question- CAN government do this effectively and to what degree? And what defines a 'smooth functioning system'? Eliminating the natural cycles of the market? We have seen many a disaster made worse by trying.

"I think we have a broad consensus that the answer to these questions is "yes, we do." Dysfunctional political discourse masks this consensus."

That may be so, but I think we are worlds apart as to whether the vast system we have now needs to be expanded to succeed (how big, no one can say), or should be hacked back to its minimums. We can't even agree to slash the rate of growth, much less make actual cuts, much less consider eliminating actual programs, much less consider areas the federal government might not belong in at all.

No, I don't think we are very close at all.

Thanks for this read. Well, this is my first visit to your blog! But I admire the precious time and effort you put into it, especially into interesting articles you share here! I didn't know much about this history. Very intresting, thanks again.

Leave a comment

Here are some quick tips for adding simple Textile formatting to your comments, though you can also use proper HTML tags:

*This* puts text in bold.

_This_ puts text in italics.

bq. This "bq." at the beginning of a paragraph, flush with the left hand side and with a space after it, is the code to indent one paragraph of text as a block quote.

To add a live URL, "Text to display":http://windsofchange.net/ (no spaces between) will show up as Text to display. Always use this for links - otherwise you will screw up the columns on our main blog page.




Recent Comments
  • TM Lutas: Jobs' formula was simple enough. Passionately care about your users, read more
  • sabinesgreenp.myopenid.com: Just seeing the green community in action makes me confident read more
  • Glen Wishard: Jobs was on the losing end of competition many times, read more
  • Chris M: Thanks for the great post, Joe ... linked it on read more
  • Joe Katzman: Collect them all! Though the French would be upset about read more
  • Glen Wishard: Now all the Saudis need is a division's worth of read more
  • mark buehner: Its one thing to accept the Iranians as an ally read more
  • J Aguilar: Saudis were around here (Spain) a year ago trying the read more
  • Fred: Good point, brutality didn't work terribly well for the Russians read more
  • mark buehner: Certainly plausible but there are plenty of examples of that read more
  • Fred: They have no need to project power but have the read more
  • mark buehner: Good stuff here. The only caveat is that a nuclear read more
  • Ian C.: OK... Here's the problem. Perceived relevance. When it was 'Weapons read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
The Winds Crew
Town Founder: Left-Hand Man: Other Winds Marshals
  • 'AMac', aka. Marshal Festus (AMac@...)
  • Robin "Straight Shooter" Burk
  • 'Cicero', aka. The Quiet Man (cicero@...)
  • David Blue (david.blue@...)
  • 'Lewy14', aka. Marshal Leroy (lewy14@...)
  • 'Nortius Maximus', aka. Big Tuna (nortius.maximus@...)
Other Regulars Semi-Active: Posting Affiliates Emeritus:
Winds Blogroll
Author Archives
Categories
Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en