Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Failure to grasp the Tea Partiers

TBA observes the debate on what makes the Tea Parties tick. J.M. Bernstein:
My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.

....This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other — the anonymous blob called simply “government” — has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.
Kevin Drum thinks Bernstein is ignoring who the Tea Partiers are:
Look: if anything, tea partiers might be a little less dependent on the federal government than the rest of the country. They're mostly married, middle aged, have slightly above-average incomes, and have the same education level as the rest of the country. They haven't been hit by the recession any worse than anyone else. Maybe a little less, in fact, especially for the older contingent that's covered by Social Security and Medicare.
Andrew Sullivan looks to the old research of Adorno's on "the pseudo-conservative," as described by Richard Hofstadter:
From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released into action, would be very far from conservative.

The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness" in his conscious thinking and "violence, anarchic impulses and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere. The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them from largely fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.
All this is blind men describing the elephant.

Because I live in Mississippi and have relatives and acquaintances who fit the TP profile, I credit myself with acuter insight. (My mother-in-law is a perfect match.) Bernstein is right about fear of being dependent; Drum is right about their relative independence.

The fundamental attitude of the Tea Partiers is resentment that "their" country, privileges, etc., are being "taken away" in favor of immigrants, blacks, foreigners, The Other. They don't hate government for being "big," they hate it for its alleged empowerment of these Others, who don't work, just live off crime and welfare. The fact that TPers themselves are frequently beneficiaries of farm subsidies, Medicare, etc. is beside the point to them, because in their minds, they earned those benefits.

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