Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Palin Says About Tea Partiers

I am not going to use this piece to attack Sarah Palin; while doing so would certainly be fun, it is doubtful that I would be adding anything to the canon of anti-Palin criticism that others have not already contributed. What's more, lambasting Palin has usually had the opposite effect of the one intended by her opponents, since the people who love Palin embrace the idea of their champion being an innocent martyr at the hands of savage liberal foes. The more we pillory her, the more her followers see fit to wrap her in a zealous embrace. As such, I will refrain from discussing the woman's personal qualities here.

Instead what I want to focus on is the article she wrote (or had ghostwritten for her), as published in the most recent issue of USA Today. In it, the former governor and former vice presidential candidate explains her decision to speak at a convention of Tea Party protesters. She does this in prose that, platitudinous though it may be, is certainly passable in quality when compared to the fare offered by other politicians these days. Yet amidst the morass of verbiage that she devotes to her subject, she leaves out one extremely important detail: Namely, what exactly the Tea Party protests are all about. Apart from vaguely lauding the Tea Party cause as a "grassroots" movement of "everyday Americans" who "share a commitment to limited government, common sense and personal responsibility" and "are fighting for responsible, limited government — and our Constitution", Palin offers no explanation.

Defenders of the Tea Party movements that I personally know will claim that they oppose President Obama's expansion of the power of the federal government; but why do they object to Obama's economic stimulus package and health care reform initiatives, while having remained strangely silent during the far more dangerous expansions of government power that took place during the Bush years (the Patriot Act, the dishonest war in Iraq, the wiretappings, the politicized firings of federal judges, the retributive outing of undercover intelligence officers)?

Then I will hear that Tea Party protesters are concerned about the growth of the budget deficit. But if that is the case, then why do they gloss over the fact that the deficit grew 89% during the administration of George W. Bush (to say nothing of 189% during the reign of right-wing beau ideal Ronald Reagan)?

This is not the first time that I have found myself frustrated by the faulty logic of the grassroots Tea Party movement. Here is an excerpt from a conversation that I had with Kevin Brettell a few months ago:

Take, for instance, the "Tea Party" protesters who claim that they are "true conservatives" who never liked George W. Bush but now object to the taxation policies of Barack Obama. If that is really the case, then where were they when Bush spent trillions of dollars on an unnecessary war in Iraq? Where were they when millions of dollars meant to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were used on - well, we still don't know what? Why didn't they get up in arms against Bush when he squandered Clinton's budget surplus early in his presidency on a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich? The fact of the matter is that the so-called real conservatives didn't have a slight problem with George W. Bush when he flouted the principles on which they stood (or if they did, they were surprisingly silent about it), and only began distancing themselves from Dubya when his political stock began to plummet during his second term (although they couldn't get enough of him during his first term, convenient revisionism aside). Obama, on the other hand, they began to oppose almost from the first day he took office.

Whatever else you may say about the radical liberals who protested during the days of George W. Bush, at the very least they openly denounced specific policies of his (the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, the appointment of anti-abortion judges) within an ideological framework that they laid out in clear, unmistakable terms. The very evasiveness of the Tea Party movement is what makes them so troubling, and so distinct from their left-wing predecessors when they opposed the previous administration. If there is one thing that I have learned from multiple conversations with people who have transparently erroneous explanations for their actions, it is that generally speaking, they are concealing deeper motives that they know would look bad if they came to light.

And what do I believe those motives to be? Let me put it this way: The Tea Party movement did not come into existence until the day Barack Obama became president. With a rhetorical violence that occasionally threatened to spill over into the physical, they have vehemently opposed everything supported by this president, often while displaying a shockingly poor - and even outright misinformed - grasp of what exactly he stands for (such as the shrill claims about "death panels" in his health care bill or encroaching "socialism"). Considering that their objections to Obama are clearly not based in his policies, the only conclusion that can remain is that they hate Barack Obama for the simple act of being Barack Obama, with what he stands for being mutated in their own eyes to fit with their preconceived notion of who he is.

The act of being Barack Obama may be a sin in their eyes for the worst of all possible reasons (because he is black). It may be a sin in their eyes for reason that, though still despicable, are not quite as bad (because he is a Democrat). Either way, those who have such strong emotions not based on rational thought - and anyone who hates a politician for being the man or woman he/she is, and not based on what he/she stands for, is inherently irrational - should not be taken seriously in public discourse.

And that, to me, is what Sarah Palin's article says about the tea partiers.

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