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Comment on ‘What the Tea Party Really Wants’, (Gail Collins & David Brooks 9/1/2010)

September 1, 2010

In response to:

What the Tea Party Really Wants

New York Times | September 1, 2010

What strikes me about Beck’s stranger-than-fiction jeremiad, (or jihad, if you prefer), and about the whole Palin/Armey/O’Reilly axis of “virtue” in general, for that matter, is the artful way in which Christian themes are grafted onto the discussion. As we all know, Christianity has absolutely no franchise on values of decency, compassion, respect for others, or the acceptance of what Mr. Brooks calls “a restraining values system.”  In fact, Christianity (like most every other religio-political movement) has a notably mixed record with regards to those universal human values…its unfortunate tendency to bully unpopular minorities (Jews, gays, Muslims, etc.) is ample evidence that relying on “The Good Book” to provide the warp and weft of our social fabric yields a weak cloth, at best.

The other thing that strikes me about this particular flavor of populism is the way in which it employs an entirely undefined concept of so-called “elites” to fuel its animus. In Beck’s construction, and David’s thoughtless reverberation, such godless overlords equate to some kind of malevolent, anti-Christian force & are meant to represent the work of Satan in our society. And, in an instance of the type of historic mangling that peppers Mr. Beck’s rants like the acne scars of the twinkie-scarfing teens from which spring his core audience, the fact that elites would have disproportionate influence on civil affairs is posed as somehow being anti-constitutional. (In point of fact, the framers ASSUMED that elites would be the primary agents of government; its authors were very clear that the reason for the initial restriction on the voting franchise was to protect against the tendency of those of their countrymen whom they considered to be rabble to be swayed by intemperate emotions and the risk that they posed to cause their experiment in self-government to descend into mob rule. There are some good arguments for the subsequent Jacksonian broadening of political inclusion, but attaching the “one man one vote” principle to a literalist interpretation of the Constitution – as so many on The Right seem fond of doing – is simply contra-factual).

Which brings us to my final point: some people are, indeed, “elites” when it comes to creating civil structures – better educated, more thoughtful, more temperamentally-suited and well-practiced at the art of balancing competing interests and crafting wise policy. The First Amendment right for all to speak freely – an effort to realize Locke’s notion of justice, itself a riff on Kant’s Categorical Imperative to “treat rational beings rationally” – should in no way be taken as an ontological statement about cognitive parity. Or, to put it more simply, just because we believe that all people should be given the right to be heard, and to be treated fairly, does not in any way mean that all opinions are of equal value. Beck & his cabal artfully conflate these principles to exploit the animus of the woefully under-educated and chronically mis-informed; to manipulate them. In Beck’s case it’s clearly part of a broader sociopathy consistent with his incipient and obviously untreated addictive personality disorder (alcoholism being primarily a disease of the ego; it’s a fundamental principle of substance-abuse treatment that anybody who continues to spend his or her life in pursuit of ego-gratification cannot be truly be said to be in recovery).

So we have a charismatic leader with a diseased mind manipulating people whose defenses have been degraded by chronic fear & the failure of their economic system to provide even the minimal opportunity which they feel was promised to them, and all amplified by a media which has come to the brilliant realization that toxic & harmful messages are more profitable than healthy & constructive ones.

However skillfully he dresses it up, there is simply no sense in which Beck’s message is fundamentally, “warm, spiritual and uplifting.” Wolves can don sheepskins, and “Satan” does his work by playing on our fears and desires. I’m disappointed, David, that you allowed yourself to be caught up in the narcotic fog rather than employing your clear ability to rise above it and see it for the dangerous evil that it really is.

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