Sunday, October 31, 2010
Revolution at the Ballot Box: Teabaggers in the Promised Land
For the first time since the Vietnam war, there is a renaissance of political activity in the United States, as a ground swell of Tea Party activism portends swaying the current mid term elections. Though subject to three word slogans, this first big crack in the media’s unitary message of viewer despair and the inevitability of losing, it has revealed the tip of an iceberg of public discontent. Like anti-Japan protests in China, however, where anti-government messages are constantly popping up, Tea Party protests in the US reveal a far greater undercurrent than is visible in its early manifestation. Once the democratic cat gets out of the bag, it’s hard to put her back in.
In regard to citizen participation, for example, Rush Limbaugh and Noam Chomsky are in agreement. Limbaugh tweaks his listeners to go to the streets and take back America from big government. Chomsky, who describes our modern form of limited democracy as a system of “elite rule and public ratification,” observes that US government doesn’t take into account the public’s interests, and has thus become a failed state. They both advocate an active citizen role. But while Limbaugh steers people into line behind bipartite neoliberalism, Chomsky encourages them to decide for themselves.
The middle class is not satisfied with Wall Street’s export of their jobs to China, and acquisition of consumer wealth through foreclosures, hence, the most common Teabagger complaints are unemployment, government waste and self-dealing –- though they focus more on recent bailouts rather than long term military contracting. Because these ills have been unaffected by popular sentiment against the media and governing parties’ support of wealth consolidation, it was an abiding question as to how hot the bath water had to get before America screamed. The feeling of helplessness has finally brought a reaction.
Washington Post polls found that Teabaggers’ chief frustration is with government’s thinly veiled contempt for the public interest, focused slightly moreso on mainstream Democratic politicians than mainstream Republicans. Tea baggers, reported the Post’s Amy Gardner, [Tea Party’s Leaves are Loose, 10/24/10], most responses to a Post quesitnaire found far greater focus on government spending than gay marriage or abortion. Though military solutions remain popular among Teabaggers, for example, since DoD can’t protect home mortgages without bombing Wall Street, their pro-isolationist tendencies may eventually win out over the war component of government waste.
The chance that common sense wins out over slogans, flags and television commercials, is growing. Denial of obvious shortcomings of the American system grows less sustainable every day that the American dream is derided as popular delusion.
This is why people are getting angry -- recognizing a problem . Getting even, i.e. using the democratic process to make changes – is a solution that hasn’t been tried in decades. It is written that a citizens’ job is to open his mouth. But it’s been the non-citizens in the US who hold the most vibrant demonstrations, while middle class Americans are more likely to complain via email or on blogs. They substitute wiring campaign money to Obama, or voting for someone they themselves didn’t nominate. It’s as if political activity is a job too dirty a task for the middle class, which they therefore relegate to the illegals. Placards carried at demonstrations, however, have been known to end run the media blackouts that shut those mouths.
Middle-aged American men broke their silence in the nineties, by repeating Limbaugh’s diatribes over the dinner table -- before that, commercial jingles sufficed. Now their utterances have neoliberals worried. Why? Because grandpa’s leaving the kitchen and spouting off in public.
Rush Limbaugh’s seductive exploitation of this zeitgeist, by cleverly channeling his listeners’ angst in tight formation behind the Republican wing of a perpetual governing coalition, has launched an army of imitators, sponsors and followers. Just ask their wives. “My husband was brainwashed,” say a generation of American house fraus.
“He’s brainwashed,” said one elderly wife of a life long Democrat, who organized unions in his workplace in the 60s and 70s, and wore Adlai Stevenson buttons in the 50s. An honest, diligent worker who, as a result, has never won nothing, dedicated his golden years to parroting Limbaugh’s ‘Slick Willie’ critique of Bill Clinton – and becoming a regular listener, i.e. a self-styled “dittohead” (yes-man).
“They stole my husband,” said Mirella, after her spouse caught wind of Limbaugh and their conversations devolved to sound bytes. Between Limbaugh brainwashing sessions, TV advertisements hammer home the audience’s need for products to compensate for their loneliness and to help them deny the helplessness, that media tells them they all suffer from. Together, all paths lead to living vicariously through Clear Channel’s bold individualist, el Rushbo.
That recent Washington Post article characterized the Teabaggers as ‘surprisingly unengaged’ in political activity, revealing just how little the media is engaged. Expressing surprise over a studiously ignored and absent electorate implies the Post is foolishly believing its own reporting about the “grass roots” presidential election of Obama. Indeed, Democratic Party voters chose Obama for the same reason Republicans are getting excited over throwing out their corporate-lawyer-senators – because he was presented as an easy means of subverting the culture of Capital Hill. But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) anointed Obama to give the keynote speech for the 2004 convention, long before television convinced America that voting for him would overthrow the DNC. TV convinced people that Obama was a Chicago “community activist,” and that his election would upset business-as-usual. Voters felt good at the time, but once in office, they learned that the easy way, i.e. just sending money or just voting, does not a revolution make.
The Vietnam era’s renaissance of citizen participation was similar in some way to today’s Teabag conditions. Vietnam was spawned by: frustration over the restrictions that silenced debate over cold war, a dim suburban reality, and the life-and-death struggle of a large draft age population. Yet, the Post treats the Teabag renaissance as if it’s reviewing an off-kilter episode of a quaint, middle American TV series. Each week, the town judge and mayor is depicted as a saint who quietly embezzles their pensions, and everyone tries to ignore it. The tea bag revolution is like an episode where the cast comes out of character and finally goes after him. Has the media really convinced itself that there is so little meaning behind such visceral sentiment?
The question, today, is whether results inspire a larger minority of America’s wounded middle class to strike back. And rather than put blind faith in the corporate parties’ spokesman, figure out how to launch a campaign of ordinary people, for ordinary people?