One quick look at the typical heroes of liberals -- few of whom are paid remotely enough to be described as "elites" -- school teachers and social workers and climate scientists and workplace whistleblowers struggling under the weight of the world without due compensation or praise or even much in the way of attention, or civil rights and organized labor activists still fighting the good fights or even our favorite comedians (some of whom go on to become Senators) instantly and effortlessly dispels the deception getting peddled as always -- and by the white shriveled organ of Wall Street billionaires, no less -- that liberal folks are all elite effete aesthetes.
And that's the point. These charges have little to do with declarations of falsifiable fact or with solicitations for understanding to testimonies of violation. Steve Benen andBooMan (both of whom are becoming indispensable reads to me these days) both get right to the heartless heart of what's really going on here.
For a year and a half, we've seen rallies and town-hall shouting and attack ads and Fox News special reports. But I still haven't the foggiest idea what these folks actually want, other than to see like-minded Republicans winning elections… This is about "freedom" [they cry] … But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom. This is about a fight for American "liberties" [they cry] … Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we're told, not those kinds of liberties. This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities [they cry] … But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can't afford insurance? No, we're told, not those kinds of opportunities. This is about the values of the Founding Fathers [they cry] … [W]ould this include their steadfast commitment to the separation of church and state? No, we're told, not those values. This is about patriotic Americans willing to make sacrifices for the good of their country [they cry] … [D]oes that mean millionaires and billionaires can go back to paying '90s-era tax rates (you know, when the economy was strong)? No, we're told, not those kinds of sacrifices. This is about a public that, at long last, wants to hear the truth from those who speak in their name [they cry] … Maybe that means we can hear the truth about global warming? About the fact that health care reform wasn't a socialized government takeover? About Social Security not going bankrupt? About how every court ruling conservatives don't like doesn't necessarily constitute "liberal judicial activism"? No, we're told, not those truths.
Movements -- real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time -- are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change -- transformational change that sets nations on new courses -- is more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom." Labor unions created a movement. Women's suffrage was a movement. The fight for civil rights is a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for. Their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect. The folks who gathered in D.C. today [for Glenn Beck's "I Have A Scheme" rally] were awfully excited about something… [I]t's not… altogether obvious what that might be….
It is easy to read this as little more than a denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Republican Base at this moment. But it is crucial to grasp the underlying realities testified to in such "hypocrisy."
We must recognize that these are the still-racist still-patriarchal still-theocratic losers of the culture wars railing incoherently in the midst of their losses. Their "hypocrisy" bespeaks the reality that they cannot give clear voice to their distress in its own terms precisely because this is what it means to be a white-racist, a fundamentalist-authoritarian, and/or patriarchal-prick who has lost culture wars that were fought on just these grounds. This is the reality in the face of which they tear out their hair and wail in frustration in the Capitol of an ever more secular multicultural America with a President of color pushing the United States into a diplomatic social democratic sustainable partnership with other planetary powers.
This hypocrisy (scarcely stealthed racism about Obama and anything remotely like a mosque), these denials of facts (climate change, "Death Panels") simply functions to announce membership in a profoundly marginalized full-throated subcultures of white-racist, patriarchal, fundamentalist authoritarianism. It is a terrible mistake to hear in the cries of these people that they "Want Their Country Back" that this is some kind of programmatic utterance, some sort of policy outcome, some kind of eyewitness testimony to fact.
These festivals of hypocrisy and hate are not reports of reproducible results that might stand the test of evidenciary falsification, they are not policy proposals inviting public scrutiny and consider of diverse stakeholder impacts.
These signals of marginal memberships (Confederate flags, Second Amendment slogans) cannot publicly say what it is that they mean even while they take the superficial form of public declarations and proposals, and they distort the field of public discourse and deliberation more generally only if we allow them to do so.
This problem of complicity is especially fraught in a moment when key public institutions (a whole news network, the leaders of one of the two major political parties) are collaborating energetically in this subversion.
The public rituals through which both a consensus as to facts (every one of which is, after all, contingent and defeasible) and as to the line that distinguishes persuasive deliberation from duressed and even violent dispute (that there is no non-violent way to determine with certainty and in advance of every contingency of what exactly violation surely consists creates a host of fraught quandaries for those of us who actually take nonviolence seriously) are maintained are actually always artificial and hence must be both made and maintained in their existence, but they are especially fragile in a moment like this.
It is this fragility that leads to charges about reality having a liberal bias and excoriations of right-wing Know-Nothingism as a general matter.
To dismiss this basic adherence to the performative maintenance of a deliberative space for the falsifiable adjudication of questions of fact and nonviolent adjudication of disputes as such in the usual idiotic terms as an elite liberal fetish for lattes, or the World Cup, or France is to confront the flabbergasting renunciation of good faith and good sense altogether.
[T]he reason that liberals (and not just our elites) are revolted by the Tea Partiers is [that w]hen we try to take their arguments seriously, those arguments vanish into thin air. They have no logical consistency. Once you scratch the surface of their calls for liberty and freedom and following the Founding Fathers, it turns out that there is no 'there' there. Because their policy prescriptions (insofar as they are ever articulated) are either counter-factual or extraordinarily radical, it is impossible to engage Tea Partiers in intellectual debate or enter into any kind of negotiation with them. When your idea of religious freedom is to ban mosques, how can we take you seriously? …
[T]heir entire movement is a nebula of formless angst. What is it that is bringing people out to protest at this particular moment in time? The budget deficit? The budget deficit ballooned under the previous president and these Tea Partiers didn't express any dismay… The reason liberals are quick to throw around accusations of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia is because the heart of Republican resistance to Obama has been based in attacks on black institutions like ACORN, on court rulings related to gay marriage, on manufactured outrages like the deceit that PARK51 is being proposed for ground zero, and on Latino immigration. The rest of the Tea Party/conservative opposition lacks credibility because they didn't oppose deficit spending or warrantless surveillance or Medicare Part D or No Child Left Behind when those policies were carried out by a Republican. Big government is therefore not the reason that Tea Partiers have taken to the streets…
[T]he Tea Party doesn't have ideas… they have… outlets for channeling racial, economic, and cultural insecurity into traditional conservative tropes. The anti-intellectualism of Tea Partiers (exemplified by the lazy Sarah Palin) is one of its core features… But just because someone is revolted by anti-intellectualism doesn't make your a liberal. Or, maybe it does. The Republicans seem to have been replaced by the idiocracy.
I think it is crucial to grasp, first, that Republican discourse is suffused with non-argumentative subcultural signaling and, second, that the content of that signaling is mostly a matter of impotent rage and despair for a real reason.
We are wrong to react to non-arguments as though they are arguments, pointing out the foolish ways in which they fail to pass muster as arguments when they are not arguments at all. We should be making our own arguments and filling the empty argumentative space they have evacuated in their rage and despair.
Further, we should hear the rage and despair in their signals. We should grasp as they clearly have done themselves, that they have been defeated. We should stop treating the ferocity of their passion as if it represented an organized opposition. We should be building up multicultures and convivialities in the midst of the wreckage of the Culture Wars that we won and they lost and filling the empty civilizational space they have in evacuated in defeat.
None of this is to deny the real civilizational threats posed by the historically all-too-familiar bad-faith alliance of parochial short-sighted incumbent-elites and the impassioned mob, but it is to demand that we identify their convulsions for what they actually are and respond to what is actually happening here and now.