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Salon: "Tea Partiers as the new Hippies"

Hipster Duck

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For those interested in US politics, I thought this article was very interesting. It was mentioned in David Brooks' latest NYT piece:

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/02/23/counterculture/index.html

Glenn Beck is the new Abbie Hoffman
The out-of-power right has built a counterculture, just as the left did in the '60s

by Michael Lind.

Street theater. Communes. Manifestoes. Denunciations of "the system." The counterculture is back. Only this time it's on the right.

Political factions that are out of power have a choice. They can form a counter-establishment or a counterculture. A counter-establishment (a term that Sidney Blumenthal used to describe the neoconservatives in the 1970s) seeks to return to power by reassuring voters that it is sober and responsible. A counter-establishment publishes policy papers and holds conferences and its members endure their exile in think tanks and universities.

In contrast, a counterculture refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rules of the game that it has lost. Instead of moving toward the center, the counterculture heads for the fringes. Like a cult, it creates its own parallel reality, seceding from a corrupt and wicked society into morally and politically pure enclaves.

In response to the long era of Republican presidential hegemony that began with Nixon, many on the American left adopted the countercultural strategy. Some withdrew to raise rabbits and home-school their children in rural America. Other radicals on the left made pilgrimages in search of utopia to this or that illiberal communist dictatorship -- Mao's China, Cuba, Nicaragua.

Many devoured books by Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, who taught them that Washington and Lincoln and FDR were all capitalist warmongers and that America was the greatest menace to world peace. They cheered on Jesse Jackson as he denounced an insufficiently multicultural curriculum at Stanford, with too many overrated dead white European males like Aristotle and Dante and Shakespeare on the reading list, by chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!" Coming at a time when the right was becoming increasingly scholarly and policy-oriented, these antics by the countercultural left backfired by identifying liberalism with the lunatic fringe in the minds of many middle-of-the-road Americans. (It was its association with the countercultural left in the 1960s and '70s that made the word "liberal" so toxic that it has been dropped by the center-left for "progressive"; New Deal liberal programs like Social Security and Medicare remain popular with Republican and Democratic voters alike.)

As the hegemony of conservative politics deepened in the 1980s and '90s, others to the left of center rejected the counterculture and sought to assemble a progressive counter-establishment. This was the project of the Democratic Leadership Council and its leaders like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. In retrospect they made too many philosophical and programmatic concessions to the reigning right of their time. But many groups to their left, like some environmentalist groups and critics of Pentagon spending, followed them in abandoning the moralistic tone of the counterculture and argued on the basis of facts and trade-offs.

Meanwhile, as counterculture was succeeded by counter-establishment to the left of center, the post-'80s right moved toward the fringes. Like T.H. White's Merlin, the American right is aging backward. What was a mature adult has regressed to a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum. When he founded National Review in 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. said that conservatives wanted to stand athwart history and cry, "Stop!" The post-Buckley right has managed not only to stop history -- the history of conservatism -- but to run the reel backward.

When Buckley came on the scene in the mid-1950s, the American right was dominated by kooks: right-wing isolationists, Pearl Harbor and Yalta conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and members of the John Birch Society like the palindromically named professor Revilo P. Oliver. Buckley and his movement conservatives, and later the early neoconservatives, struggled to purge the right of crackpots and create an intellectually serious movement capable of governing the country.

And yet the right of 2010 looks like the fever-swamp right of 1950 instead of the triumphant right of 1980. The John Birch Society, which Buckley and Goldwater expelled from the conservative movement in the early 1960s, was a co-sponsor of this year's Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC). Folks who claimed that Eisenhower was a communist now insist that Obama is a socialist. (The conservative historian Russell Kirk had the wittiest put-down of the Birchers: "Eisenhower isn't a communist; he's a golfer.")

The tea partiers are the hippies of our time. True, they tend to be relatively affluent -- but so were the hippies. As Tony Hendra once told me, "You had to have a lot of money to take part in the Summer of Love."

Consider the following countercultural features of the emerging American right:

Anti-System Radicalism: Just as the New Left claimed that the New Deal era wasn't really liberal, so the countercultural right claims that the Republican Party from Nixon to George W. Bush wasn't really conservative. '60s radicals like Carl Oglesby denounced John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as sinister "corporate liberals" in the same way that the radicals of the right claim that the two Bushes, if not the sainted Reagan, were inauthentic "big government conservatives." The radical left had Ralph Nader. The radical right has Ron Paul.

Luddism: A few decades ago it was the countercultural left that opposed science, technology and markets. Now mainstream environmentalists have arguably gone too far in adopting the market rhetoric of cap-and-trade. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, today seeks to save the environment by means of nuclear power plants, genetically modified crops and urban living.

Nowadays anti-science, anti-technology Luddites are more likely to be found on the right, among opponents of stem-cell research and evolutionary biology. And while the exaggerations and coverups of some scientific proponents of global warming undermine the claim that science on this subject is settled, it is clear that many conservatives reflexively believe the opposite of what progressives say on this and other subjects. If Al Gore changed his mind and announced that global cooling was imminent, one suspects many on the countercultural right would immediately warn of rising global temperatures and flooded coastlines. A counterculture inverts not only the widely shared values but also the agreed-upon facts of the dominant culture they despise.

Street Theater: The eclipse of the countercultural left by the countercultural right is evident in political protest as well. Carnivalesque protest is practically monopolized by the tea-party right in the age of Obama. In the U.S., at least, the street theater of antiwar and anti-World Bank activists cannot compete with the mass demonstrations of the tea partiers. The giant puppets of the left are out. Posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are in.

Dropping Out: In a letter to other conservative activists in 1999, the late Paul Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress Foundation, called on the right to adopt an explicitly countercultural strategy. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," Weyrich wrote. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values."

Echoing the back-to-the-land hippies of the '60s and '70s left, Weyrich called on conservatives to secede from American society and form their own subcultural communities. "And while I'm not suggesting that we all become Amish or move to Idaho, I do think that we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture." Weyrich concluded by holding up the countercultural left as a model for the new countercultural right: "The radicals of the 1960s had three slogans: turn on, tune in, drop out. I suggest that we adopt a modified version."

During the freak show at CPAC, the crumbling old conservative establishment sought to prove that it's still relevant by calling for "constitutional conservatism" in its "Mount Vernon Statement." Signed by dignitaries of the old regime like Reagan's Attorney General Edwin Meese, the Mount Vernon Statement is less interesting for its content -- an attempt to reunite the libertarian, religious and foreign policy hawk wings of moribund "fusionist" or "movement" conservatism -- than for its dignified style and invocation of philosophical first principles.

The attempt of the Mount Vernon constitutional conservatives to re-create conservatism as a counter-establishment is almost certainly doomed. Meese and the other signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are to the tea party right what Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and other lions of New Deal liberalism were to Abbie Hoffman's Yippies. Indeed, in Glenn Beck, the countercultural right has found its own Abbie Hoffman. In both cases it is hard to distinguish sincere zealotry from self-promoting show business.

The rise of the conservative counterculture may provide the beleaguered Democrats with a stay of execution. A serious Republican counter-establishment, putting forth credible plans for addressing the nation's problems and determined to collaborate with the other party to govern the country in this crisis, would be a greater threat to the new, shaky Democratic establishment than the theatrics of the right's Summer of Love.

Or should it be called the Winter of Hate?
 

kEiThZ

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Interesting take. But these folks still scare the crap out of me. Hopefully, they never go mainstream.
 

cacruden

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Well, any protest group is not going to represent just one group (no different on the left). From what I have been about to figure out, the majority of those that make up the protest movement (so called constitutional conservatism) are more libertarian..... which is closer to what my politics would be (small government; fiscal conservatism). Most of these people don't like either major party in the US. The courts have gone astray from the constitution, allowing for pretty much any government to expropriate any property for any use - when the constitution states that it is for public use only. People have had their property expropriated now (and courts have allowed) for private malls, for "improved" tax base (i.e. to redevelop and sell back to private owners - with a higher income). The constitution should be interpreted fairly strictly, if you don't like your constitution -- there is an amending formula - use it. That being said, most people coming out to the streets are scared that the government is selling their future out - high deficits for the foreseeable future because no politician has the balls to say that they have been living above their means. The public is not too stupid to know, sooner or later that bill will come due.
 

kEiThZ

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I see far more than libertarians in the Tea Party Movement. As someone who's sympathetic to Libertarian principles, I would not have a problem if the movement was full of people who just wanted more freedom. But you have nutjobs who are anti-immigration and borderline (if not outright) racist in that club. That's the scary part.

When it comes to fiscal issues, they are just out to lunch. Okay, you don't want to pay high taxes. And you are opposed to deficits. Fair enough. Tell us what you'd cut. They whine and moan about Obama's policies yet are opposed to any modifications to entitlement programs that eat up the largest chunk of the budget and any cuts to defence which is the next big line item. So how do they plan on balancing the budget?

Apparently none of them know to use Wikipedia either. Take a look at this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2010_Receipts_&_Expenditures_Estimates.PNG

I think that fairly summarizes the US fiscal situation.
 

salvius

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I'm not big on libertarianism -- I think shrinking government to law/order and the courts and leaving everything else to the markets is a bad idea. Indeed, I think basic libertarian assumptions are highly questionable. However, the point is moot in any case since the Tea Party is more than just libertarians. This is the vehicle of the disgruntled population that has basically zero economic acumen. Cut deficits by slashing as much tax as possible. Ok...
 
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GraphicMatt

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I wish people would stop trying to paint this as a bunch of fed-up Americans tired of the two-party-system. If these people were so principled we certainly would have heard of them during the Bush administration.

I bet none of them would be out there if McCain had won the election. This movement is almost completely motivated by people unable to deal with there being a black democrat behind the president's desk.
 

adma

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Well, any protest group is not going to represent just one group (no different on the left). From what I have been about to figure out, the majority of those that make up the protest movement (so called constitutional conservatism) are more libertarian.....
I know what you mean, in the reported sense that the Tea Party braintrust is actually more populated by Ron Paul types than Palinistas.

In which case, roughly speaking, you're looking at a Yankee version of Preston Manning and Reform in the early 90s: likewise there, a rural-racist-redneck reputation among the chattering class, but it was the libertarian-populist element which, in fact, gained them their 1993 breakthrough...
 

jade_lee

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Sarah Palin, tea party movement and Calgary speaking engagement hosted by Pamela Wallin.......the reform party of Canada lives on and I am pleased they have Sarah representing because who here in Canada will take them seriously?
 

urbandreamer

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^Me! I love Sarah Palin! Although in truth I'd go for Ron Paul as Prez, Sarah for VP. I'd say rural farming communities across Canada admire Tea Party types, as do quite a few Forest Hill (and Westmount, K-W) folks I know--but for different reasons. My dad certainly loves SP--but what man wouldn't? :D

I suspect you (JL) live in the Annex... :p
 
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adma

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Limbaugh's Lair
(somewhat down the page; your usual Urban Shocker suspects would have a field day with this)

Limbaugh’s Lair

What sort of décor do you think the King of Right Wing Radio likes to come home to after a hard day’s ranting into the mike? Big manly couches, a 50 foot wetbar, life size statues of Ronald Reagan? Think again. The dirigible of drivel has put his Fifth Ave penthouse on the market for $13.95 million. Here are a couple of rooms.





Sort of make you wonder, don’t they? Uptight provincial rococo. As someone commented, “Looks feminine, dainty and uncomfortable. No reclining chair. No TV. No pool table. No mounted deer head. No bear rung. No gun rack. No militaria. No truck in the driveway. Are you sure a single man lives here?” Of course the thrice-married, thrice-divorced Rush takes pains to have a woman on his arm, at least in public, even though the current companion, Kate Rogers, was having her nails done in West Palm Beach when Limbaugh was on vacation in Hawai’i, where he had his heart attack.

The photos somehow remind me of the passage in John Buchan’s Greenmantle where our man Hannay ends up in Stumm’s German castle, in his private apartment:

“We went up a staircase to a room at the end of a long corridor. Stumm locked the door behind him and laid the key on the table. That room took my breath away, it was so unexpected… It was very large, but low in the ceiling, and the walls were full of little recesses with statues in them. A thick grey carpet of velvet pile covered the floor, and the chairs were low and soft and upholstered like a lady's boudoir. A pleasant fire burned on the hearth and there was a flavour of scent in the air, something like incense or burnt sandalwood. A French clock on the mantelpiece told me that it was ten minutes past eight. Everywhere on little tables and in cabinets was a profusion of knickknacks, and there was some beautiful embroidery framed on screens. At first sight you would have said it was a woman's drawing-room.

“But it wasn't. I soon saw the difference. There had never been a woman's hand in that place. It was the room of a man who had a passion for frippery, who had a perverted taste for soft delicate things. It was the complement to his bluff brutality. I began to see the queer other side to my host, that evil side which gossip had spoken of as not unknown in the German army. The room seemed a horribly unwholesome place, and I was more than ever afraid of Stumm.
 

unimaginative2

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Uptight provincial rococo.
That's an insult to rococo.

I'd say rural farming communities across Canada admire Tea Party types, as do quite a few Forest Hill (and Westmount, K-W) folks I know
As a resident of Westmount, K-W, I can say with some assurance that I don't know anybody there who admires Tea Party types.
 

afransen

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I was wondering about that, too. What is it supposed to be about Westmount?
 

Long Island Mike

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Everyone: I have wanted to chime in here on this topic after reading David Brooks and Michael Lind's opinions - interesting observation BUT...

The BIG difference between then and today is that the far right actually has a chance to take power in the US...back then a leftist like Abbie Hoffman would have had virtually no chance of being even elected to office let alone the US Presidency...

I speak for many here by saying that I consider the far-right fringe element potentially more dangerous then the Left ever was - with the possible exception of far-left groups back in the late 60s/early 70s like the Weather Underground...

It is still hard to believe that someone like Sarah Palin actually has a chance to become elected to higher office in the US thanks to the rise of the anti-Obama right wing tea party element...

As much as Canada has divisions between parties they do not have the divisive elements that the US does and to me that is a GOOD thing...

I hope that the US comes to their senses and realize how the country may be if the far-right ran things...frightening to many including me!

Thoughts from LI MIKE
 

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