The Dim-Post

September 30, 2010

Taibi on the Tea Party

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:22 am

This Rolling Stone article on the Tea Party movement in the US is crack cocaine for sneering left-wingers like myself:

You look into the eyes of these people when you talk to them and they genuinely don’t see what the problem is. It’s no use explaining that while nobody likes the idea of having to get the government to tell restaurant owners how to act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the tool Americans were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100 years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is not real to Tea Partiers; what’s real to them is the implication in your question that they’re racists, and to them that is the outrage, and it’s an outrage that binds them together. They want desperately to believe in the one-size-fits-all, no-government theology of Rand Paul because it’s so easy to understand. At times, their desire to withdraw from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart.


Of course, the fact that we’re even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter’s unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party’s incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms. They returned to prominence by outdoing Barack Obama at his own game: turning out masses of energized and disciplined supporters on the streets and overwhelming the ballot box with sheer enthusiasm.

When I talk to some Labour activists and some journalists about how badly the opposition is doing they repeat the conventional wisdom that that ‘the phone is off the hook’ for the opposition during a government’s first term. But if you look at the US and Australia you see that isn’t the case. Of course I don’t want a domestic version of the Tea Party but it does prove that political parties can pick themselves up after a massive defeat, refocus, rebrand, energise your base and make life difficult for the governing party.


  1. Of course, the Republican revival is abetted by the fact that Obama and the Democrats have given them something to oppose (i.e. Healthcare reform; TARP and stimulus spending; etc). That opposition might take retarded forms (“death panels”; “Obama is a socialist Hitler!”), but it is real and quite widespread. Further, it is fueled by a media environment that is significantly different to NZ’s – Fox News has acted as a de facto cheerleader for the anti-Obama sentiment.

    Compare to NZ, where National has hewed pretty close to Labour’s centrist politics and been very quick to back down on any issues that threaten to generate genuine public disquiet (schedule 4 mining, anyone?). Further, the media environment (as you yourself note) is one of “nothing happening for 3 years – what’s Lindsey Lohan up to?”

    Not that I’m saying Labour is doing as well as it can … but equally I’m not sure that this is apples and apples.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 30, 2010 @ 7:38 am

  2. What galls me is that Labour isn’t even fighting for a healthy second term in opposition. From the outside looking in, it appears that Labour is waiting for the public to realise they don’t like the Government and should turn to Labour as the natural Government-in-waiting – without the party doing anything to earn that role. They’re being couch potatoes rather than training for the marathon.

    Comment by Ataahua — September 30, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  3. The worst thing is that Labour IS fighting for a second term in opposition: they genuinely and honestly seem to believe that taking GST off fresh fruit and vegetables and giving Chris Carter multiple opportunities to humiliate himself and the party will win them votes.

    Comment by JD — September 30, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  4. Yes, folks, we’re at the ???? stage of Labour’s Underpants Gnome electoral cycle.


    Comment by Lew — September 30, 2010 @ 8:15 am

  5. although you have to admire the way Labour and the unions co-ordinate. The CTU backing the MEAA against Jackson is the sort f brilliant plan one would expect from a Labour strategy team.

    Comment by NeilM — September 30, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  6. Labour have a plan and it is Goff leads to the unwinnable next election and then steps aside. In the mean time internal positioning occurs aka squabbling and bitchfighting. The more rational appear to be trying to create a brand based on ‘labour cares for the little guy’ and ‘gosh aren’t things expensive’. I guess it makes some sense IF the plan post election is to get rid of the extremists and deadwood in order to evolve labour into a dynamic alternative to national in the middle / middle left ground. Much will depend on the leadership and their ability to clear the decks skillfully in the face of factional interests and to align well with the treehugging hippies.

    Comment by leon — September 30, 2010 @ 8:27 am

  7. Yes, folks, we’re at the ???? stage of Labour’s Underpants Gnome electoral cycle.

    I hereby demand that one of the writers of ‘Key to Victory’ (Second edition) incoporate that into one of their articles.

    Comment by Stephen — September 30, 2010 @ 8:30 am

  8. Andrew: TARP was proposed by (Bush appointee) Henry Paulson and passed under Bush. It was a Democratic Congress, but it was supported by the Republican leadership.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 30, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  9. My theory: Goff’s got a secret back-room deal with Key. Goff will continue to be as incompetent as he can, to keep National running high into the next election. Then, when Goff gets rolled after the election, Key will reward him with a nice diplomatic post somewhere warm.

    Comment by Repton — September 30, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  10. derp de derp,

    Not sure why you think that facts have any relationship to criticism of the Obama administration’s actions. The truthiness of the matter is that Obama wants to make the USA into Sweden. Etc, etc, etc.

    My own view is that if this sort of analysis is what constitutes “refocus[ing], rebrand[ing], energis[ing] your base and mak[ing] life difficult for the governing party”, then long may National continue to soar in the polls! Provided, of course, they do what I say.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — September 30, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  11. Derp,

    From what I can see the Tea Party would see a run by George Bush now as part of the problem.. after all, he started the high expenditure. As far as the Rolling Stone article is concerned there’s a bit of the “Goldstein, the world has changed” feel to it.. and that applies to the Republicans as well as the Dems.

    The Tea Party movement is thought to be 55-60% women mainly from Flyover country who are organising and voting tactically to get rid of big spending representatives from both parties. K Rudd fell victim to something similar with his big spending ideas and Labour here is getting bugger all traction moaning about rich prick tax reductions.

    Both in the US and here I think there’s a adverse reaction to “incumbency”, where politicians are hanging around for 30 years, collecting their pay and perks and fighting battles that were won and lost years, even decades ago.


    Comment by JC — September 30, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  12. Not sure if the USA equals Sweden meme works when your population has visafication and basic geography challenges 😉

    Comment by leon — September 30, 2010 @ 9:31 am

  13. “Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. This mantra seems to be all there is to Labour’s strategy at present. From what I can see, NACT is doing what it always does – ruling in the interests of the rich and powerful, while screwing everyone else. Labour’s position is to emulate NACT as far as possible. The people are denied a genuine choice between alternative political visions and the elite carries on with business as usual. MJ Savage and Norm Kirk must be rolling in their graves.

    Comment by Michael Gibson — September 30, 2010 @ 11:33 am

  14. Read an interesting article recently (possibly Vanity Fair’s piece on Palin?) that pointed out that it isn’t specifically a Republican revival in that the party itself isn’t doing this at all – the leadership are in fact getting no say here. It’s all run and funded by huge third party setups all closely interrelated and outside the party machine. And not because they’re consciously doing it to avoid campaign finance rules (although they do) but because the Roves etc of the world don’t like the party leaderships approach

    Comment by garethw — September 30, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  15. What you are asking for Danyl is an opposition based on extremism. Yes there is an effective opposition in the US and Australia – but both could be defined as extreme. Palin and the ‘Tea Partyers(?)’ have used horrid wedge issue politics to make a greater divide within the US (race, ‘reds’ etc). In Australia Abbot began to do the same with his moral conservatism and his (lunacy) denial of climate change.

    The problem we have is that both parties are trying so hard to be the ‘centre’ that neither are effectively doing anything. What we will end up with is making no progress (either one way or the other), instead we will find ourselves in a slow decline.

    What would be really refreshing is if either party managed to discover a backbone and take an actual position on something – not simply focus group the hell out of everything and then only do what is ‘popular’. It would be so nice to actually have politics of principles and not popularity.

    Comment by Tim — September 30, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  16. “At times, their desire to withdraw from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart.”

    Sounds like the damascene Bernard Hickey and the Stranded crowd.

    Comment by insider — September 30, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  17. I would agree with you, Tim, but only up to a point. Taking a strong principled stand is a great way to end up isolated and unelectable, because it lacks “popular” support. It’s a hard line to tread, a delicate balancing act.

    Comment by David in Chch — September 30, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

  18. garethw: Maybe there are some Rove-likes involved with the Tea Party, but the Master of Darkness himself apparently doesn’t care for them, and he criticised Christine O’Donnell’s primary win. I imagine his reasoning is that people like her are unelectable.

    JC: I know that I’ve seen many self-described Tea Partying internet commenters (typically I don’t assume that such people are representative of any particular group; for the Tea Party, I will make an exception) frothing at the mouth about how George Bush was a socialist.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 30, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

  19. I was going to write the following, but then saw Andrew @ 1

    That’s a little unfair, surely:
    “the American voter’s unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago”
    But 10 seconds ago, he was promised change. He now recognises he was duped by the rhetoric and can go back to his normal voting pattern (my guess).

    “When I talk to some Labour activists and some journalists about how badly the opposition is doing”
    But The Nat’s, unlike Obama, are “doing good” in many folks eyes. This makes it harder for Labour to get traction. Shees: I just defended Labour, albeit not even faint praise.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 30, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  20. Part of the genius of the Tea Party movement has been to present people like Sarah Palin as a clean break from George W Bush, when actually her values are pretty similar to his.

    Comment by kahikatea — September 30, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  21. What, err, a balanced, um, article…
    The very first paragraph ends with “The dingbat revolution, it seems, is nigh.”
    Ha-ha, I’m mindful of your last post Danyl:
    “9. You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.”

    I like how, insightfully, he concludes “They’re full of shit.”
    He may have a point, though how you conclude this from interviewing one elderly couple: “The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them.”
    A bit like how socialists are sincerely for higher taxes – with the exception of the money extracted from them. I’m thinking of folk like Helen Clark and the Greens with their residential property investments, which I thought the settled science says is tax manipulation of the highest order, made worse if effected by way of trusts. Also, the late Ted Kennedy comes to mind, with his artful avoidance of death duties, which he had a hand in raising.
    Sure, I’m engaging in equivalence, but at least I’ll concede that Taibi has a point in relation to spending. (Although I think it is a bit unfair of him to consider a state employee as “living” off the state! Prison guards as parasites? Me thinks not.)

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 30, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  22. Prison guards as parasites? Me thinks not.

    Oh come on, everyone knows that all social workers are just bogan farmers.

    Comment by joe W — September 30, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

  23. I loved this piece (I also attach great article in the Sept/Oct ‘Mother Jones’ on the history of the Tea Party and how this is deja vue all over again: Of course it has such a feel of verisimilitude. However amusing all this – I worry greatly that this is the wrong attitude to have towards these people. They have serious serious money behind them (Koch Bros etc) and all the usual suspects funneling dosh (often hidden through not-for-profits). And as the Rolling Stone article notes they (the Republicans) have bounced back every quickly after being toast but two years ago.

    Stanley Fish in Tuesday’s in the New York Times wondered if actually the Tea Party had real concerns that need to be addressed and that the progressive liberal/left should start taking some of this seriously. The article is here ( Focus groups all over the States (both left and right) say what they want is their fears taken seriously and that a LEADER actually has a plan to start getting the US out of the jam of which they are in. Of course Americans have put off making the hard decisions forever (well at least since Reagan) – and have lost a strategic decade to China while pissing about in first Iraq and Afghanistan. But the left misses the point by just smugly taking the piss.

    Comment by DeanC — September 30, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

  24. cheers for the link
    when i finally got around to reading it, it was really interesting
    i’m not sure how relevant it is to new zealand, but that’s mostly because every now and then i just can’t be assed over-analysing everything

    Comment by greg — September 30, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

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