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  • NPR: “Who Is The Tea Party? There’s No Short Answer”

    Posted by onparkstreet on September 15th, 2010 (All posts by )

    Mr. RAUCH: Yes, that was what turned out to me to be most interesting and to be hardest to get my mind around. The most important thing that they will tell you they’re trying to do is a cultural movement, not a political movement. They’re tiring to reeducate the whole country, change the way Americans think about their relationship to government. Move us back to a more self-reliant, independent sort of watch dog against government mentality.

    They will tell you if you just try to change an election result, you have to come back every two years and do it again. If you can change the hearts and minds of the people, make them more skeptical of big government, then you do that forever.

    I enjoyed listening to this NPR interview with Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal.

    The interviewer seemed to have a hard time understanding the Tea Party as a largely leaderless movement which is sort of amusing. Jonathan Rauch says it is like a “hive or a network.” Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz….buzz away, friendly libertarian-ish hive. People are intrigued.

    Update: Reihan Salam at NRO’s The Agenda blog:

    Rather surprisingly, Jonathan Rauch, one of my favorite writers, has emerged as the most keenly observant chronicler of the Tea Party movement. I say surprisingly because I’ve never thought of Rauch as a political reporter per se, yet it’s clear that he has a knack for it. As much as I admire National Journal, I think his essay on “The Tea Party Paradox” deserved a much wider audience.

    John Robb of Global Guerillas is mentioned too. Paging zenpundit….

    Update II: Thanks for the link Instapundit! An Army of Davids is a perfect description of the phenomenon, isn’t it?

     

    20 Responses to “NPR: “Who Is The Tea Party? There’s No Short Answer””

    1. Ginny Says:

      I haven’t followed Rauch much, but every semester require “In Defense of Ignorance,” in freshman rhetoric. A man that could write that would understand the tea parties.

      These aren’t mobs and they aren’t irrational. The arguments are for small government & cutting taxes – for specifics. But they arise from a respect for debate, for the open marketplace; they recognize, as he does, human nature – how we can reach higher but how we are tempted, how we want to connect dots and sometimes we jump too fast to conclusions but keep doing that and eventually the right answer is still standing at the end of the debate.

    2. Everett Hamilton Says:

      The interviewer questions how the movement can continue without a leader and organization.
      Perhaps a reading of wikinomics would be a good start. The traditionalists model they are using to try and analyze this movement is like fighting the last war.
      Go online and study how the ” Contract From America” was put together and discover that it is pure and simple wikinomics. For those who question that this model can’t work, look at the Java Platform and imagine what the consequences of this movement will be in 10 years.
      In a globalized world, the ruling class simply don’t have enough input to make the decisions that will be needed in the future.

    3. zenpundit Says:

      “The interviewer seemed to have a hard time understanding the Tea Party as a largely leaderless movement which is sort of amusing.”

      It is self-referential. There’s a sliver of the Left that understands this phenomena, mostly a narrow demographic of technoliberal, hippie romanticizing, netroots, suburban hipster types who are into social entrepreneurship, urban farming and similar causes. They read Howard Rhinegold, Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield, Techmeme and BoingBoing along with MoveOn.org and DailyKOS. etc and get networks, swarming, resilience and similar concepts.

      However, most of the Left does not for two reasons:

      First, a majority of the Left are still in the “community organizer”, Alinskyist,protest theater, organizational front group, grievance-victim-social-justice paradigm adhered to and honed since the 1930’s by the Marxists, Social Democrats, organized labor and the New Left. They want a centralized nanny-state themed to race and gender issues and approach politics with a vanguard mindset where talking points are issued by the leaders and everyone must stay in lockstep. Decentralized spontaneous political activity is inconceivable to them, so the Tea Party has a secret control center of avaricious, fascist billionaires. The Soviets used to think the same thing about the US until their last years – the market economy was just a trick of sorts and the white House scretly controlled the NYT and WaPo etc. etc.

      Secondly, most Leftists have a very poor understanding of the political diversity on the Right, which is a set of factions with competing worldviews that just happen to have a common enemy in the Left to semi-hold them together. Even well educated Leftists frequently do not realize the depths of hostility between paleocons and neocons, or between Ayn Rand type libertarians and the religious right. Or movement conservatives and country club Republicans. Because their political side is a continuum where philosophical differences are about degree and tactics, understanding an opponent whose side is more of a collage creates cognitive dissonance. It also doesn’t help that many on the Left – like the noted tool Paul Krugman – reflexively shut down when faced with a conservative POV and dismiss such arguments as motivated by racism or greed or mental retardation ( to be on the Right is to be either stupid, a venal shill or some kind of evil genius puppetmaster).

    4. wlpeak Says:

      “…to be on the Right is to be either stupid, a venal shill or some kind of evil genius puppetmaster.”

      The Left used to regularly rotate between these alternatives when attacking the last POTUS. I cannot understand such willful eliding of the intellectual dishonesty in employing these mutually contradictory stances; let alone always expressing them in the form of crude insults.

    5. Jimmy J. Says:

      Neither the dems nor the Washington establishment Republicans get the TEA Party because they live in a bubble in Washington D.C. They believe all politics is structured by special interests that want something from the government – money, favorable regulations, tax breaks, etc.

      The TEA Party wants only a few things, none of which compute to the D.C. establishment:
      1. Less government spending.
      2. Less government.
      3. A serious approach to national security to include secure borders and defending the nation from Islamic terrorists.

      Those are the main themes. For details see the Contract From America.

    6. Duncan Winn Says:

      Perhaps most Rightists have a very boor understanding of the political diversity on the Left. Every group of people have a wide diversity. We are all individuals (after all).

    7. M. Simon Says:

      Even well educated Leftists frequently do not realize the depths of hostility between paleocons and neocons, or between Ayn Rand type libertarians and the religious right.

      Yep.

      As a neocon libertarian I have lots of fights with paleocons and the religious right.

      But come election day we bury all that and fight the socialists.

      If the cons stick to smaller government eventually the programs I hate the most (DRUG WAR = BIG GOVERNMENT) will get put in the dust bin of history.

    8. kcom Says:

      Decentralized spontaneous political activity is inconceivable to them, so the Tea Party has a secret control center of avaricious, fascist billionaires.

      I know that was sarcasm but the interesting thing is that the Tea Parties do have a not-so-secret control center that does the job of guiding the swarm in the same direction. It’s almost invisible (and therefore inconsequential) to leftists, though, so that’s why everything that is happening is such an inscrutable mystery to them. That control center, of course, is the Constitution. You don’t need a secret, mystery organization when you have shared principles embedded deep in the heart of the founding documents of our country. If you agree on the meaning and importance of that, the rest of it just flows.

      To use an old expression, I think TEA Partiers believe you should “dance with the one that brung you.” We got where we are as a country by honoring, and yes adapting where necessary, the incredible gifts bequeathed to us by the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. As such, there’s no reason, and it is in fact unwise, to toss those gifts aside lightly to pursue the Utopian fantasies of the left, which experience of the last hundred years tells us is a path of folly.

    9. Shelby Says:

      Perhaps most Rightists have a very boor understanding of the political diversity on the Left.

      Perhaps. But, since most of the country that follows the news gets force-fed the Left’s views, they’ve probably learned a fair amount about them. Recent “reporting” on the Right suggests that even specialists in the media (lookin’ at you, Weigel) don’t really understand it very well, they just flail around and grab whatever condescending trope is at hand to bludgeon — I mean, characterize — their subjects for the enlightened readership.

      I’m on neither Left nor Right, but I can see how the game is played, and why the Right understands the Left much better than vice versa. It’s the same reason flyover country has a much better handle on DC, LA and NY than the latter do on them.

    10. Shannon Love Says:

      Ducan Winn,

      Perhaps most Rightists have a very boor understanding of the political diversity on the Left. Every group of people have a wide diversity.

      But there is far less diversity on the Left and the degree of required conformity is much higher.

      A good example of this is the way that the entire left as one voice joined to protect Bill Ayers. It is inconceivable that the right would elevate the rightwing version of bitterly anti-American, avowedly Stalinist terrorist to position of respect and power within the right. The intrinsic diversity on the right means that any subgroup that tries to harbor violent extremist is ganged up on by the others out revulsion or as threat to them all. The right has absolutely no problem isolating and expelling extremist elements to the point of sending the police and military after them.

      By contrast, the left coddles their extremist and makes them heros. This is because people like Ayers simply aren’t that too unusual in outlook on left. Most leftists share his dark and hostile view of American and individualistic society to a significant extent so he simply doesn’t seem beyond the pale. Oh maybe he went a little over the top with his attempt to kill dozens of soldiers and their dates but his heart was in the right place.

      The left also dominates fields which have powerful mechanisms to enforce ideological conformity. Academics can only have careers if first their superiors and then their peers grant careers to them. People who challenge leftwing tropes simply never get jobs. Same for political work, activist,NGO and unions. Used to be the same for media and still is for most. Entertainment is also governed by political dictates to a shocking degree and mass entertainment overwhelmingly reflects leftwing views.. Combine this with an ideology which says that the people who hold it are perfected beings with no need to question themselves and you have a population in which people seldom deviate and those who do are materially punished.

      Those on the right, however, don’t have economic basis with which to control people. There is no rightwing counterpart to academia, unions, NGOs or unions. Until the last decade, there was no rightwing media. The right has no presence in entertainment. The right is more defined by being collectively attacked by the left than it is by any internal cohesive effects.

    11. Joan of Argghh! Says:

      The so-called elephant in the living room that I see in all of this is how irrelevant the mainstream media is rapidly becoming.

      “Open-source politics” (love that!) would not be possible without the Internet. That is why the Left won’t allow Obama’s minions to regulate it. Yet. It works for both sides.

      However, if the Tea Party doesn’t thoroughly exploit its momentum with strong leadership and a healthy snubbing of the MSM, they will doom themselves to a once-great notion.

    12. Banjo Says:

      Shannon Love is correct when she says the MSM should be snubbed. The Bush administration correctly understood it to be a special interest group whose goals were aligned with the left. But, characteristically, it never followed up on this understanding with any tactic or strategy that would exploit the public deep suspicion. So Republicans and conservatives continue to subject themselves to hostile questioning on the alphabet networks that lay out the welcome mat for Democrats.

    13. Multitude Says:

      I’m increasingly shocked at how poorly read liberals have become, particularly radio journalist elites at NPR (who appear to have relegated their research duties to MSNBC political commentators and the daily edition of the New York Times).

      Decentralized systems of political power are by no means unique, and are certainly not limited to libertarian thought. Communist theorists and distinguished professors Antonio Negri (Italy) and Michael Hardt (Duke University) have written three vital texts on the concept: Commonwealth (2009), Multitude (2005) and Empire (2000). All three look to rhizomatic movements as an alternative to the tyrannical dominance of hierarchies in both capitalist and statist institutions. Originating out of the post-structural thought of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari — particularly out of their collaborative work A Thousand Plateaus — their analysis forecasts just the very autopoietic movement the tea party is resonating to.

      Naturally, every person well entrenched within hierarchy — be it an NPR journalist, a Republican strategist, or a Democratic party advocate and MSNBC host — is certain to see conspiracies of hierarchy behind every corner. Just as many Western institutions cannot correctly comprehend Al Quada and subsequently impute a hierarchy of leadership onto a rhizomatic movement, our nation’s dominant institutions struggle to approximate the threat of decentered political uprisings. Leave it to theorists familiar with the event of Paris ’68 to recognize the significance of this event.

      As one who has attended tea party rallies and fully appreciates the contribution of post-structuralists, communist theorists, conservative constitutionalists and other analysts who correctly recognize the intrinsic evil and corruption inherent with unaccountable large institutions, I’m excited to see commentary such as this blog (and even the complete confusion of the institutional media elites) as it suggests that awareness is finally beginning to transcend into a broader realm.

    14. TheLastBrainLeft Says:

      “Duncan Winn Says:

      Perhaps most Rightists have a very boor understanding of the political diversity on the Left. Every group of people have a wide diversity. We are all individuals (after all).”

      I think this is yet another leftist who is “projecting” his own flaws onto their opposition. It’s been fascinating to watch the left become corporate, racist and condescending, in exactly the same manner they accuse the right.

    15. John Says:

      Who is the Tea Party? There IS a short answer:

      The Tea Party is a collection of independents, conservatives and libertarians who don’t care if Big Government Republicans lose.

    16. onparkstreet Says:

      These are FANTASTIC comments. I’ve read the thread over a couple of times. This is exactly the discussion I was looking for.

      I think Duncan Winn has a point. The left has its factions and rambunctiousness too, if broadly defined. The left – or Democrats – often joke that the party is just a herd of cats and look longingly at Republicans – as if the right is more disciplined. Well, that’s what I read and see constantly on left of center sites. Human beings are individuals; fractious and difficult. I don’t think DW’s point is so out there.

      You’d think, given that self-impression, that people would understand TEA parties a bit better.

      @ Zenpundit – Thanks for answering the page! I knew any comment of yours would be interesting.

      @ Shannon Love – Yeah, the whole Bill Ayers thing kind of shocks me. I don’t get it.

      @ Multitude – “Decentralized systems of political power are by no means unique, and are certainly not limited to libertarian thought. Communist theorists and distinguished professors Antonio Negri (Italy) and Michael Hardt (Duke University) have written three vital texts on the concept: Commonwealth (2009), Multitude (2005) and Empire (2000). All three look to rhizomatic movements as an alternative to the tyrannical dominance of hierarchies in both capitalist and statist institutions. Originating out of the post-structural thought of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari — particularly out of their collaborative work A Thousand Plateaus — their analysis forecasts just the very autopoietic movement the tea party is resonating to.”

      Really, really interesting. That comment deserves a post of its own….

      – Madhu

    17. onparkstreet Says:

      @ John: Ha! I like that short answer, too….

      But if you take TEA parties as something larger than political – and on into the cultural – it then becomes more diffuse. How do you change a general cultural zeitgeist?

      I wonder how much is influencing and how much is reacting to others reacting to, well, the increased size and scope of government. Feedback loop within feedback loop or something.

      – Madhu

    18. Ritchie The Riveter Says:

      The left also dominates fields which have powerful mechanisms to enforce ideological conformity. Academics can only have careers if first their superiors and then their peers grant careers to them. People who challenge leftwing tropes simply never get jobs. Same for political work, activist,NGO and unions. Used to be the same for media and still is for most. Entertainment is also governed by political dictates to a shocking degree and mass entertainment overwhelmingly reflects leftwing views.. Combine this with an ideology which says that the people who hold it are perfected beings with no need to question themselves and you have a population in which people seldom deviate and those who do are materially punished.

      This is an environment where the desire to personally advance is a powerful motivator for intellectual dishonesty … in other words, for greed to corrupt these “non-profit” endeavors.

      And I thought that only the “for-profit” were susceptible to greed, while the “non-profit” were immune to it — and therefore more trustworthy and noble than the for-profit community. At least, that’s what those who would punish success in the marketplace were telling me …

    19. Yehudit Says:

      I have been trying to figure out what these descriptions of the TP lack of hierarchy remind me of. It’s the 2nd Wave feminist movement – that of the early 1970s. Not the ideology itself, just the form.

      An important principle of the feminist movement was to refuse any pressure to appoint leaders, to allow any kind of hierarchical structure. This was to avoid falling into unexamined supposedly patriarchal modes of organization, but more so to make a space for women to think, to develop themselves – especially women from social classes or ethnic groups where leadership or assertiveness is not encouraged – without being run over by those who were already competent in the “man’s world.” The downside of this anti-hierarchical ideology was that the fear of being dominated led to women who did display leadership ability, or took the role of spokeswoman, getting attacked by her “sisters.” (Survivors of feminist “trashing” have written reams on that topic.)

      Another key ideology was to assume that all received wisdom was tainted by patriarchy and to try to rebuild one’s understanding of reality from one’s own experience and observations, by sharing them in small groups. So all over the country were gathered small autonomous “consciousness-raising” groups who kept in touch by photocopied or mimeographed newsletters, and by phone. But they were all part of a great movement which did radically change American culture (and mostly for the better).

      It was remarked at the time that this way of creating a movement and affecting society was something new, that came into being as a result of casting off patriarchal needs for power over others. It wasn’t new, and it never had anything to do with patriarchy one way or another, but it was certainly a Leftist source of pride only a generation ago. So it’s amusing that our current political elite, many of whom participated in consciousness-raising groups in their youth, find this so alien and frightening. I think this falls under the category of “but that was ours! You rightwingers aren’t supposed to be smart enough to use it!”

    20. onparkstreet Says:

      @ Ritchie the Riveter – the fetishization of the non-profit would make a good topic for a post too!

      @ Yehudit – that’s an astute point.

      – Madhu