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That Tea Is Spiked With Kool-Aid

I agree with Ross Douthat about one thing [1]: the tea parties resemble the antiwar protests of 2002-2003. But that’s not a good thing. Douthat correctly points out that the antiwar marches were probably counterproductive, boosting support for Republican hawks in the 2002 midterms and 2004 presidential election. (The American people don’t like prolonged wars, as polling figures for the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq conflicts demonstrate. But as the ghost of Richard Nixon could tell you, one thing Americans like less than open-ended wars is disruption in the streets.) The tea parties risk ghettoizing anti-tax sentiment.

The antiwar example should give serious small government people pause for another reason as well: the highly emotional antiwar movement from the start blended its principled anti-imperialism with ideologically partisan opposition to Bush and the GOP. As a result, once the public’s antiwar sentiment came to the fore in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats reaped the rewards. But the Democrats, many of whom voted for the Iraq War in the first place, have pursued policies little different from those of the Republican since coming to power in Congress and the White House. We’re still in Iraq and may be no closer to leaving Mesopotamia today than we were to leaving Indochina in 1969. Obama has escalated the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet because the antiwar movement mixed its cause with simple opposition to Bush and the Republicans, many quondam critics of the war are now staunch Obama supporters. (See Justin Raimondo for more on this [2].)

Already the tea party protests have begun to follow the same path, being as much anti-liberal and anti-CNN as anti-tax and anti-spending. The problem here is not that liberals and Democrats aren’t bad and shouldn’t be opposed, but that one must be careful that in opposing them one does not overlook the crimes of the Republicans and the budget-busting militarists of the conservative movement.

There’s a deeper defect inherent in the politics of protest. Not only does it a.) often alienate the non-protesting public and b.) encourage a crude right-against-left polarization that masks the real extent of the problem (i.e., that most Democratic pols are also militarists and most Republicans are also big-time deficit spenders), but protest populism also substitutes emotions (especially rage) and symbolism for thought and effective political action. Notice that the neoconservatives of PNAC hardly ever waste their time with street theater. Instead they corral funding and work to shape policy regardless of who is in office.

Having the right emotional response to war or taxes is not enough. You must also know how the world works and how you can change it — or prevent others from changing it around you. Broad emotional responses cannot make necessary critical distinctions between, say, opposing war and opposing Republicans, or supporting Ron Paul and supporting Rick Perry, both of whom may say things that hit the right emotional buttons, but who stand for very different philosophies and policies.

There is a reason why the scoundrels of Fox News and talk radio and the neocons in the press can get behind the tea parties. The reason is that these protests pose no threat to the Republican and neocon establishment — they are thoroughly tame and impotent diversions of populism. They reinforce the power of the establishment by redirecting popular discontent into mere sound and fury. If the Right had learned anything at all from the Bush years, it should have learned that neoconservative and Republican elites are adept at manipulating emotional populists — proud patriots, heart-on-the-sleeve social cons, enthusiastic Christians. And now people who are “mad as hell” about economics are falling for the same trick. Get mad about busing — and elect Richard Nixon. Get mad about abortion — and elect George W. Bush. Get mad about the bailouts — and fill in the blank. Any folksy-demeanored Republican hack who has mastered the Right’s talking points will do.

The grassroots do not lack intelligence. They’re plenty smart. But smart people who let their emotions do their thinking for them are like bulls before the matador. Rallies and emotional exercises have their place in politics — but for too long the populist Right has mistaken such things for real power. The result has been exploding deficits, continual inflation by the Fed, and deaths of thousands of American troops overseas (to say nothing of the “collateral damage” to civilian populations in the countries we attack — hundreds of thousands of deaths, whole communities shattered). This must stop. Don’t get mad, fight smarter.

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#1 Comment By Angela On April 16, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

(Your Justin Rainmondo link actually goes to Douhat’s page.)

Awesome awesome article Daniel. I hope people will isten, plus maybe click that DIgg link at the top of the page.

But they probably won’t. THey’re not dumb, but they’re a passionate bunch…

#2 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On April 16, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

Thanks, Angela, I’ve fixed the Raimondo link.

#3 Pingback By Young Americans For Liberty » Blog Archive » Don’t get mad, fight smarter… On April 16, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

[…] Read the rest here. […]

#4 Comment By Tim M. On April 17, 2009 @ 12:04 am

Fight smarter? How? You offer no explanation, and if your article is taken at face value, it’s really saying to not protest at all. What other impact is your article intended to have on the reader when you do not offer solutions?

#5 Comment By RJ On April 17, 2009 @ 7:02 am

“Get mad about busing — and elect Richard Nixon. Get mad about abortion — and elect George W. Bush.”
Um, so I guess folks concerned about thsoe issues should have voted for McGovern and Gore instead?

I understand the sentiment behind much of the piece, and agree with it; “street” theater often is silly, and too often these “movements” stray far from their stated cause, endorsing every item on the appropriate agenda (Left or Right.) What I don’t quite get is AmCon’s seemingly greater anuimus toward the GOP and various stripes of conservatives than toward the Dems.

Maybe the AmCon crowd feels left out. keep up the work, tho’, yours is a POV that deserves voicing.

#6 Comment By Chris On April 17, 2009 @ 8:09 am

Well said…could not agree more. Thank you!

#7 Comment By TomT On April 17, 2009 @ 10:06 am

RJ – You said, “What I don’t quite get is AmCon’s seemingly greater anuimus toward the GOP and various stripes of conservatives than toward the Dems.”

LOL – try this. Pat Buchanan holds a grudge for things conservative, and things Republican, because they didn’t vote for HIM. He uses his longterm insider knowledge, and his encyclopedic knowledge of ANCIENT DOCUMENTS to publish an article critical of some conservative, while making himself look conservative, then makes the talkshow rounds to advertise that article.

In the meantime, a platform has been provided for those who hate anything conservative, and so while pretending to be conservative, many here simply wish to pound nails into what they see as a failed American Political Party, usually through some sort of personal denigration of individuals they consider enemies, or who they consider valuable to “the other side”.

Look for personal attacks, and also look for “attribution of OPPOSITES”. That is, what they see in themselves, or what they feel they have been accused of, expect them to loudly level the same charges against their conservative enemies.

For example, Daniel McCarthy said, “If the Right had learned anything at all from the Bush years, it should have learned that neoconservative and Republican elites are adept at manipulating emotional populists…” If you hear anyone on this blog begin to laugh, and make some comment about ACORN spending MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to push the registration of voters to the lowest common denominator to help Democrats, then you may see who is really a conservative.

To “smell” these “seminar bloggers”, look for certain attributes:

SLICKBEES – S.L.C.B.B. – Sarcastic Liberal Continuously Bashing BUSH.

ELITISM – basic feeling that they are superior to “the masses”, and therefore it is okay to make fun of any GROUP that they dislike – expect to see scorn for FOX NEWS, RUSH LIMBAUGH, and REPUBLICANS in general, particularly any of those who expressed even partial support for any of Bush’s policies.

LYING – morality seems to be missing in much of the discussion coming from many of the LIBS who inhabit this blog. Note that Daniel McCarthy, above, while making fun (and scorn) of the millions of mindless conservatives motivated by blind emotion, seems to miss entirely what the TEA PARTIES were about.

Don’t be fooled, he knows precisely what the TEA PARTIES were about, he simply “forgot” to mention any of it.

Expect to see things like, “The grassroots do not lack intelligence. They’re plenty smart. But smart people who let their emotions do their thinking for them…” Expect to see LIBs level this charge at conservatives, then make fun of PALIN as “fat”, and characterizing MCCAIN as a “nice old guy” who at least is willing to seek the truth from the LEFT.

If you come here as a CONSERVATIVE, expect to be vastly OUTNUMBERED on this blog.

#8 Comment By Magister Aurelius On April 17, 2009 @ 11:38 am

Just one problem with your idea that street theater is meaningless and useless is that most people who care about the economic shenanigans are the people who are least able to get into the “halls of power” to change things. Methinks you live a little too close to the belly of the beast of wonkville Mr. McCarthy. The disdain out here is for both sides and for the hangerson. I think that the tea parties are a little too Pollyannaish.. they belive that the country can be fixed. I think that class war is coming and the tumbrels will be expressing the discontent of the dispossessed.

#9 Comment By Tony On April 17, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

Exactly right!

#10 Comment By JihadLizard On April 17, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

Tom T, your sophomoric adoption of Rush’s “seminar caller” to seminar blogger is pathetic. You can’t handle the truth. How about this, get deployed twice, extended during those combat deployments twice, and then feel free to comment on how great the Bush Administration was to those vets who defended your freedom and abundance. A true conservative seeks the truth instead of solace in emotional stoking by the pop-con matadors.

#11 Comment By TomT On April 17, 2009 @ 9:48 pm

If you google “a reptile dysfunction”, you get about 10,000 hits. If you search “seminar blogger”, you only get about a thousand. We didn’t invent either term.

I take it that you feel that your service in the 2000’s was superior to my service in the Special Forces in the 60’s. Without a few more details, I’m not qualified to comment on that.

Not sure what part of what I said came out as saying Bush is great. I think, rather, that I intended to point out that people who constantly curse Bush, without articulating any ideas, tend to come off as left-wing haters.

A similar situation is here in rural Oklahoma. If someone at a church picnic were to get drunk and say something racially or ethnically off-color (about blacks, indians, or latinos), they’d be asked to shut up or leave.

You said, “A true conservative seeks the truth…”.

This is a pretty good place to start. Tell us YOUR truth.

#12 Comment By Tom Human On April 18, 2009 @ 10:29 am

“The American people don’t like prolonged wars, as polling figures for the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq conflicts demonstrate. But as the ghost of Richard Nixon could tell you, one thing Americans like less than open-ended wars is disruption in the streets.”

You must think very poorly of the American people if you believe that they’d rather have their kids come home in boxes, trillions of dollars wasted in the process, than see a minute or two of people protesting on the TV.

#13 Comment By Tom Human On April 18, 2009 @ 10:33 am

“Sarcastic Liberal Continuously Bashing BUSH”.

Strange then that so many of the people I hear “bashing Bush” are Iraqi war veterans…

“Sarcastic” isn’t really a good word for the Liberals. Angry, hysterical, sure, but generally they’re very very serious and a little humorless about their perception that Bush destroyed the economy and lead America into two endless, costly wars.

#14 Comment By Angela On April 18, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

TomT, here’s the truth, from the article:

“The problem here is not that liberals and Democrats aren’t bad and shouldn’t be opposed, but that one must be careful that in opposing them one does not overlook the crimes of the Republicans and the budget-busting militarists of the conservative movement.”

I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but my disenchantment with the GOP stems from the fact that Bush ran on an entirely platform than he governed on.

In 2007, the primary stages were full of giggling neoconservatives. I didn’t leave my party, my party left me, and I am indeed feeling quite like a bitter ex-spouse.

#15 Comment By JihadLizard On April 20, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

TomT, God Bless you for your service, I salute you sir. You secured the future of freedom for humble soldiers like myself to one day protect, thank you. I value TAC because the pop-cons are attacked and convicted from the right. The pop-cons are nothing but warmed over liberals who believe in Bush’s Big Government Conservatism, which is itself an oxymoron. I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and left the latter thoroughly disillusioned by how our GWOT long war strategy endangers our national interest, not advancing it. My TRUTH was when I found the light in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with winning the GWOT only securing the Afghanistan real estate. Then I learned the neo-cons hijacked the GWOT to grab property just like Al Qaeda attempted to hijack Islam to acquire worldly power. Thank you for your voice and opinions.