Saturday, June 26, 2010

steeped in misinformation, ignorance, and denial


Video - Rick Santelli's Tea Party rant.

Monbiot | The rightwing movements thrive on their contradictions, the leftwing movements drown in them. Tea Party members who proclaim their rugged individualism will follow a bucket on a broomstick if it has the right label, and engage in the herd behaviour they claim to deplore. The left, by contrast, talks of collective action but indulges instead in possessive individualism. Instead of coming together to fight common causes, leftwing meetings today consist of dozens of people promoting their own ideas, and proposing that everyone else should adopt them.

It would be wrong to characterise the Tea Party movement as being mostly working class. The polls suggest that its followers have an income and college education rate slightly above the national mean(1). But it is the only rising political movement in the US which enjoys major working class support. It voices the resentments of those who sense that they have been shut out of American life. Yet it campaigns for policies that threaten to exclude them further. The Contract from America for which Tea Party members voted demands that the US adopt a single-rate tax system, repeal Obama’s health care legislation and sustain George W Bush’s reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax(2). The beneficiaries of these policies are corporations and the ultra-wealthy. Those who will be hurt by them are angrily converging on state capitals to demand that they are implemented.

The Tea Party protests began after the business journalist Rick Santelli broadcast an attack from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the government’s plan to help impoverished people whose mortgages had fallen into arrears(3). To cheers from the traders at the exchange, he proposed that they should hold a tea party to dump derivative securities in Lake Michigan in protest at Obama’s intention – in Santilli’s words - to “subsidise the losers”. (I urge you to watch the broadcast – it is the most alarming example of cheap demagoguery you are likely to have seen. It continues to be promoted by Santelli’s employer, CNBC(4)).

The protests which claim to defend the interests of the working class began, in other words, with a call for a bankers’ revolt against the undeserving poor. They have been promoted by Fox News, owned by that champion of the underdog Rupert Murdoch, and lavishly funded by other billionaires(5). Its corporate backers wrap themselves in the complaints of the downtrodden: they are 21st Century Marie-Antoinettes, who dress up as dairymaids and propose that the poor subsist on a diet of laissez-faire.

Before this movement had a name, its contradictions were explored in Thomas Frank’s seminal book What’s the Matter with Kansas?(6) The genius of the new conservatism, Frank argues, is its “systematic erasure of the economic”. It blames the troubles of the poor not on economic forces – corporate and class power, wage cuts, tax cuts, outsourcing – but on cultural forces. The backlashers could believe that George W Bush was a man of the people by ignoring his family’s wealth. They can believe that the media is a liberal conspiracy only by forgetting about the corporations (CNBC, Fox etc) and the conservative billionaires who run it. The movement depends on people never making the connection between, for example, “mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore” or “the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust.”

The anger of the excluded is aimed instead at gay marriage, abortion, swearing on television and latte-drinking, French-speaking liberals. The working class American right votes for candidates who rail against cultural degradation, but what it gets when they take power is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.