The Manufacture of the Tea Party

This is a guest editorial from Dangerous Minds reader Em, expanding on some pointed commentary he’s made elsewhere on this blog. Em—who’ll keep his last name to himself, thank you very much—works in the financial industry:

Although I’ve never been a big believer in conspiracy theories, a well-constructed one creates a narrative that pulls in a lot of facts previously viewed as having no connection. The best conspiracy theories don’t even need to be true in order for them to shine a light on what’s actually going on or, better yet, aren’t technically even conspiracies because the activity is going on in the open, even if unrecognized by many.

Consider how perfect the Tea party is on one level: They have the perfect combination of pro-big-business ideologies combined with a cynical distrust of scientific expertise to the point of even regarding mere “facts” as mind-controlling tools of the ‘liberal elite’ (whatever that is). Add to that, convictions that are built upon what are often regarded as fundamental religious principles, and you have the perfect soldier who cannot be dissuaded, cannot be convinced that they may be seriously misguided about some very significant issues because they fully believe their ideas originated within themselves.

In that sense, the fundamentalist push to reflect “Biblical literacy” within the public education system begins to look like a sinister plot designed to teach followers to shut out facts that contradict one’s ‘personal conviction.’ even if that conviction is actually inherited wholesale and largely unquestioned from someone else. Consider the notion of “Biblical literacy”: Aside from containing countless phrases that can’t possibly have a literal meaning, the original Hebrew has no vowel marks. Like a Rorschach blot, the letter clusters in the Hebrew Bible only make sense if we assume vowels for each of the words. (Indeed, traditional Kabbalists maintain that there’s an alternative set of vowels that, after insertion, yield esoteric meanings.) It’s as if someone wrote the Bible precisely to prevent a legalistic and ‘strictly literal’ interpretation. In a sense, therefore, those organizations looking to ‘reform’ public education by having curricula around the country reflect a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Bible are in reality attempting to impose the will (and interpretation) of a small group onto the rest of the American public. Their claim, “this isn’t about us, it’s about God’s will and the Bible” is a lie, but none of its adherents are aware that it’s a lie, and any attempt to prove they’re wrong using so-called “science” and “facts” is viewed as an anti-religion attack from the godless left. Thus, the religious right have become self-protecting vectors of a certain set of viral memes injected by a small secret cabal and coated with the appearance of objective truth.

Now that the vectors are ready, what will the payload be, and who controls it? You don’t have to think too long to take a good guess: It’s about money, and about retaining the power of certain aging industries. In The New Yorker’s recent expose of the billionaire Koch Brothers (See “Covert Operations” by Jane Mayer), the money trails are traced to the various Koch-created PACs, think tanks and even specific branches of the Tea party. As the Kochs control oil refineries, paper products (such as Dixie cups) and various chemical product companies, seems pretty clear that any Koch-supported groups will certainly not be for protecting the environment, and any talk of global warming will hit the protective ideological coating and bounce off like the hard casing around the HIV virus. As the Tea party and like-minded viruses propagate, they insert their anti-environment DNA and get the new hosts to replicate themselves, working perfectly to push away new legislation from impeding the money-flows into those industries that most impact the environment. Is this a mere coincidence? Perhaps.

One thing I’ve found particularly baffling is the vehemence with which the Tea party seems to fight universal health care. As a banker, I would have thought that widely available health care would tilt the economy ever so slightly in favor of small-to-medium-sized business. Currently, there are plenty of employees of large companies that would have loved to work in a small company, or try their hand at creating a new business, but the need to provide health care for their families was a limiting factor. In other words, universal health care would help small businesses (as it does in the rest of the developed world), not hinder them. But the agenda of the Tea party becomes much clearer when viewed as a mere vector of special interests, particularly those tied to specific sectors of big business.

At this point it’s almost superfluous to point out that the Tea party isn’t about freedom or the Constitution or individual rights. The tactical suspension of habeas corpus (for instance) or the assassination (without any due process) of alleged terrorists overseas who are US citizens doesn’t seem to get any recognition at all by the vast majority of the Tea party. Indeed, those may end up becoming useful levers should Tea partiers successfully insert their payload into the halls of Power and the Whitehouse.

As for balancing the budget, the recent Tea party outcry over the Banking Sector bailout is somewhat harder to understand. Of course, we don’t hear the Tea party discussing the elephant in the room: The vast amounts of money that go each year to funding our military, despite the non-existence of wars on US soil over the last century or so. Neither this nor the two perpetu-wars (each now twice as long as WWII) are ever mentioned in any meaningful way, yet they are obviously enormous and ongoing expenses.  Another little noticed fact is that, in the 2008 election (and in the previous two elections prior to that), ALL of the Red states (with the exception of Texas) were net receivers of Federal tax money, often via military bases or national laboratories (which are very military in their bent). So perhaps that’s the key: Banking bailouts (combined with universal health care) represent a potential movement of tax money away from states and industries that are defense and oil-focused.

At this point I’d step out of a conspiracy-like narrative and ask just how feasible it is that the Tea party movement is a synthetic movement, created entirely by some hidden cabal of (most likely) rich, white men. Part of the answer, I think, is that there are some truly significant social issues that have given rise to the Tea party: Not only unemployment, but the wholesale sellout and movement overseas of industries that once employed large numbers of Americans with solid, middle-class wages. This movement represents a deeper demographic shift that has called into question the very future of many sectors of the American middle class. It only makes sense, then, that a “back to basics” movement arise that seeks to reset the clock to a time when it was far easier for the now-Tea partiers to live what used to be the middle-class lifestyle. Hence, the phrase: “take back America”.

On the other hand, perhaps this mass of soon-to-be lumpen proletariat looked like the perfect clay from which to sculpt a veritable army of ‘true believers.’ ready to fight for the cause of big corporate profits. Indeed, to quote The New Yorker article:

Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”

This is for me where the rubber meets the road, where the alleged conspiracy theory becomes real: Take an unorganized and frightened populace, send into their midst well-funded ideological leaders who speak their language, and then load up this golem with instructions to do its’ masters’ bidding. Drag-drop the doublethink of regarding contravening facts as attacks on purity, and there you go: The Tea party is basically just a co-opted gang of stooges, not essentially different from Basij militia in Iran or the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in communist China. Indeed, even the willingness to use violence in order to terrorize the majority into some kind of perceived purity of thought seems to be gaining ground (which is of course just another way to spread a viral meme).

Whether this is an actual conspiracy or not, it’s pretty clear that something like this is happening with the Tea party. And is that a surprise? Any gang-of-goons pretending to purity is in reality just a way that interests-behind-the-scenes leverage their influence to hold on to their power and privilege, just like the Gang of Four launched and directed the Red Guard movement, and just the way the Iranian hardliners control the Basij.

In that sense, then, the Tea party already is the sleeper cell of corporate interests. They are particularly dangerous because they truly believe that their
 ideas stem from some type of deep conviction, rather than having been 
slopped out to them from various right-wing-controlled media outlets. They believe they are acting independently and of their own free will rather than enacting the agenda of hidden privileged forces.

 They’re dupes. They’re stooges. They’re drones.

The hilarious and sad
 thing is that, like any gang of goons, they are regarded as disposable by those whom they unwittingly serve. If they get what they want, they’ll rapidly be so marginalized that they (or their offspring) will end up fighting over jobs at Walmart, with no prospects and no health care. This will be the inevitable and logical conclusion to the economies of scale enjoyed by large corporations that, like a lens, focus the benefit back to a small number of upper-level managers in “Headquarters.”

Years from now, those lucky Tea partiers who manage to survive by working two or three jobs will shake their heads as they push a broom or work the register, and wonder what went wrong.

About the author: Em was a founding member (with John Cale and others) of the New York punk band Doppler Effect in the early 1980s. After living in China in the late 80s, Em worked in the physics and electrical engineering space until 2002, at which time he moved into the financial world. In July, Em returned to the US after having lived in London since 2006 and is a member of the UMOUR art/event collective. He blogs at The Magic Lantern, his"litterbox of the soul.”

Posted by Richard Metzger
07:51 pm



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