I recently received an email from a former student now friend. He simply asked, “What’s your take on the Tea Party? On the money or just a decent direction? Or just plain wack jobs?”
I replied quickly but have since continued to think about this issue and have come up with the following response:
A significant population motivated by an ideological position that supports liberty and dislikes government, even for stupid reasons, can do a lot of good for society. If we lined up soldiers from the American revolution, or other “legitimate” revolutionary movements from history – my guess is that they would look and sound much closer to tea-party activists today than they would look or sound like 1960s radicals. The simple fact is that formal governments have a great capacity to do a lot of harm, if a group of people walk around hostile to governmental power, even if it is because they think the government is run by evil aliens from outer space, they might still be doing something very useful for society if government actually has a harder time causing harm because of their presence.
I think of the tea party movement in the same way as I think of many conspiratorial movements (911 truthers, reptilians, bohemian grove, etc.). While I think that their particular psoitions are ridiculous, I am not surprised that these groups exist and persist. In a world where the government claims to know what is best for you, better than you know what is best for yourself, it seems an obvious next step in that logical chain to presume that the government knows things that you don’t know, knows things that you would like to know and that the government actively tries to keep these things from you. I’m not convinced that the government knows what they think they know let alone do I believe that they know things that I don’t.
At the very least I think the tea-partiers represent a general sentiment that large amounts of the American people are fed up. In the recent past, the American government has launched and perpetuated unwanted wars, bailed out unpopular banks and companies and are now fiddling with the health care system. While the tea party activists seen on television communicate some not so compelling arguments against government largess and in favor of liberty – that is not to say that their frustrations are ill formed or ill directed. There are better arguments that these ordinary people perhaps do not understand nor can they well articulate. What we should be willing to admit when seeing these protests is that something is in fact wrong.
Lastly, I find it strange that everyone is so focused upon the anger of the right. To me it is no surprise that the right is angry – they lost an election. What is more surprising to me instead is the lack of anger on the left. Let’s say you were the typical coffee-shop, neo-liberal hipster before 2008. You and I probably disagreed on all things fiscal but agreed on most things cultural and social. You were anti-war, pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration, and anti-drug war – me too. Obviously you voted for Obama and probably thought of his platform and campaign “hope and change” in these near and dear policy spaces. It probably felt like you were a 1960s radical, the sort you always admired. But as the last few years have shown, Obama ain’t no JFK and health care ain’t no civil rights movement. So my question is, where are all the angry hipsters? I hold all of those same political opinions. I am anti-war, pro-gay marriage, pro immigration and anti-drug war and I am really frustrated at this administration for failing to do anything productive on these margins. But where are all my hipster friends?
A homosexual friend of mine recently argued that gay marriage is a second term issue, and that the gay community should work for health care reform first. I can’t imagine a black activist in the 1960s saying civil rights are a second term issue, so why is this similar position acceptable today?
Today I saw these two videos, they give me hope: