In Part I of my review of Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article, Tea & Crackers, How Corporate Interests and Republican Insiders Built the Tea Party Monster, I yet again defend the Tea Party against the charge of racism–leveled by one who sees race in everything mind you. I realize this is old hat, and perhaps his charges should be ignored at this point given the election results, but he is too respected a journalist in some circles and Rolling Stone too widely read a magazine to have his charges go unchallenged–hopefully this was the last time.
As an offshoot of this racism in everything worldview, Taibbi lobs a ridiculous and ignorant claim that Tea Partiers supported candidates who “want to enact South-African-style immigration laws in Arizona.” Matt, this was a joke right? Do you even have the remotest concept of what was the apparatus of apartheid – a state-enforced race-based segregation imposed by a minority against an overwhelming majority that intentionally denied social equality, political rights, and economic opportunity to the latter? Either his historical ignorance is truly astounding, or he is cynically evoking yet another leftist buzz-word (see: “Nazi”, “Racist”) in this case “South African [fill in blank]” to evoke an emotional response from those unschooled in the history of southern Africa in the last century.
For a man who is so brazen in calling Tea Partiers “earth-shatteringly stupid” he sure is having a difficult time getting his intellectual meat-hooks around one of the most basic premises of the entire Arizona law. As a nation of immigrants and/or their descendents, Tea Partiers fully understand that it is utterly hypocritical, indeed un-American, to harbor feelings of antipathy towards our newest legal arrivals. However, as a nation of laws, we have every right to disparage those who come here illegally. I simply do not understand why that is such a hard concept? I mean, what would a conversation with this man be like?
Brad: “Matt, I’m anti-illegal immigration.”
Matt: “You’re anti-immigrant?”
Brad : “Nooo, anti-illegal immigration.”
Matt: “So you’re a racist!”
Brad: “Ugh! Check please.”
Is the man daft? Stubborn? Ideologically blind? So caught up in his own race-based view of the world that he simply refuses to see tea Partiers for just what they are, citizens who want the laws enforced? One would have better luck explaining to Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel that imprinting an “eleven” on a guitar amplifier does not make it “one louder” than getting guys like Taibbi to give up this offensive canard.
What about those who push for English-only policies in our schools and public facilities? It is not so much racism as a general understanding that the cohesiveness, security, and domestic tranquility of any nation begins with sharing a common language. That Americans of many stripes fear that our kow-towing to a certain ethnicity will create an us-versus-them tower of Babel hardly makes them bigots. It just shows they have a rudimentary grasp of what makes societies work. And they are not alone. Angela Merkel just admitted in an recent speech in Potsdam, that Germany’s liberal decades-long policy of allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating into mainstream society has “utterly failed” for them. A powerful admission in any language.
Even when I agree with Matt, his disdain for this country before the 1960s is palpable–which is probably at the heart of his anti-Tea Party vitriol. Consider this observation. Like me, he agrees that “while nobody likes the idea of government telling restaurant owners how to act,” [so far so good] “the 1964 Civil Rights act was the tool…” [to end an unjust system of racial discrimination – I agree]. But he didn’t say what was in brackets. His sentence ended like this: “…tool Americans were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100 years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is not real to the Tea Partiers.”
Utter nonsense. Who is ignoring history here by placing the “Western world” of the 1860s-1960s in a morally superior position to judge any nation, let alone this one? I would have thought that that Western world (which I assume means Europe?) to whom Matt looks as the arbiters of shame would have probably given such wonderful episodes in their own histories as the utter destruction and mass slaughters of the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, The Spanish Civil War, and World War II and The Holocaust as a wee bit higher ranking on the shame-o-meter than our admitted racial transgressions during the same periods. I guess those millions of European innocents being herded into the gas chambers (probably prodded along at bayonet-point by Westerners heaping “shame” on America) didn’t know what true suffering was until they were turned away at a deli in Mobile, Alabama! Again, the guy is so obsessed with one subject that it positively blinds him to the exponentially more violent, unjust, and cruel history of the rest of the world outside our borders during the time of our Jim Crowe era.
And so, the America that Taibbi inhabits is one still overflowing with social injustice against anyone but whites at any and all turns. He finds nothing wrong with white people having to pay the bills for illegal immigration. That, to him, is what whitey gets, and how dare you complain. If you are white, you will never have a legitimate grievance. Ever. So quit your whining over a “fantasy that white people are some sort of oppressed minority.” Payback is a bitch, bro.
And to him, that’s what this whole Tea Party movement is…just a bunch of bitter racists (whether they know it or not) upset that the glory days of Jim Crowe and isolationism is behind them. His interpretation of “take back the country” is code for a sinister campaign to re-establish white supremacy. Not a desire to return to the better ideals of the nation like limited government, lower taxes, etc. But that is the beauty of free will. New flash to Matt and the editors of Rolling Stone: one can bring back the good stuff without returning to the Triangle Trade.
Tucked away in his racist smear of the Tea Party is the premise of the article’s title. Perhaps the most serious charge leveled in his piece is that Tea Party’s ties to the GOP somehow make it a hollow movement. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding (unwillingness to listen even) about what is the Tea Party movement. It is not a political party but rather a decentralized movement of Americans concerned about the state of the nation for a variety of reasons, be they political, cultural, religious, economic, you name it. Taibbi argues their core uniting factor is racism and ignorance. And as such have they become tools of the Republican Party. But I argue it is the other way around. The GOP has moved into the Tea Party camp. And this may show a fundamental misapprehension on the part of the GOP should they not see the anti-establishment overtone in the movement.
For some reason Matt attaches a diabolical significance to the notion that corporate money has flowed in to help finance the movement. For him, the Koch brothers are the worst offenders given their interests in oil and natural gas. Well, if I were them and I saw a movement that preached lower taxes and easing environmental regulation that is preventing the exploration of our own domestic resources, I too would get involved. That’s what people with money do. And that is bad in the Tea Party case why again? I am a business owner who has contributed to candidates with whom I find agreement. Does that make them my dancing puppets? I wish! But no, it is called the democratic process in action. Look Matt, the Tea Party sprung up as an ad hoc grass-roots movement of concerned citizens well before any money flowed in. Its legitimacy was established and then funds followed…money did not make the Tea Party. That is an enormous difference as it goes to the legitimacy of the message. But again, I think big business and other interests need to be wary of who is shilling for who. As this election shows, Tea Partiers vote with their convictions, not party, and will be watching closely how their candidates behave in office and who they listen to. First the GOP in 2006, then now the Democrats in 2010 paid a serious political price for business as usual governance.
I wonder how Taibbi feels about the fact that labor unions spent over $1 billion nationwide in support of Democratic candidates? And this was mandatory dues money of hard-working Americans, 60% of whom did not want their money spent that way. Are not the Democrats just shills for big labor then? Their interests are hardly aligned with the workers they claim to represent. So how does one become a shill in Taibbi-land? Step one is identify if they agree with his world view and then work backwards.
What frustrates me the most about this article is how unforgiving Matt is of the inevitable slide to the center that even the most avid of libertarians must endure to win a general election. Senator-elect Rand Paul, who still probably very much remains the Paul of 2009, took the advice of Ben Franklin who said “Politics is the art of the possible.” Call it cynical, or call it simply being pragmatic, but one cannot effect any sort of meaningful change from the outside looking in. And the Tea Party still does not have the organization, funding, or the cohesive set of issues to call all the shots in the entrenched political process…so a Rand Paul must hold his nose and compromise. Taibbi seems to think this a crime. A sell-out. But as far as the right is concerned, Matt presents a no win scenario where either you stay pure and be labeled “extremist” or compromise and be a “sell-out.” But the fact is Rand Paul’s views jibed much more with those at the rallies than any candidate before who had a serious chance at winning a race. And that is what matters. In Taibbi’s world one is either 100% pure, or a sell-out shill. This is common notion of absolutism that comes from those with the self-righteous haughtiness of the uber-liberal, and who make a living by ridiculing those trying to effect real change through actions – which always is a dirty process as anyone who has ever run an organization knows
There is so much hypocrisy and downright misinformation I could point out in his piece. The biggest of which is that somehow the Tea Partiers, and not the Democratic Party operatives who held power in all branches of federal government except SCOTUS, are puppets for big business…his arch nemesis Goldman Sachs he mentions repeatedly. Perhaps a footnote is in order here: in 2008 executives of the four biggest Wall Street firms gave over ten times the amount of money to the Democrats as the GOP, Obama’s presidential bid in particular, and were responsible for millions more through organizing fund-raisers. In return they got their money’s worth in “too big to fail guarantees” first in practice and then codified in the so-called Financial Reform Bill, TARP II, artificially low interest-rates that allowed them to do the carry trade to dizzying heights of profitability as they funded Obama’s deficit spending. Meanwhile middle America stagnates in unemployment and small businesses still cannot get a loan without offering up their family as collateral, and our children are being set up to take on a debt load they can never repay. Under the Democrats Wall Street has had one of its most profitable years ever…courtesy of the free money provided by you and me through our W-2 or 1099s and the Democratic Party. Taibbi of all people should know this, and he documents it well in other pieces. Why he turns on the Tea Party here is puzzling.
In fact, that is an aspect of the Tea Party that Taibbi, were he not so racially absorbed, should have at least appreciated. Whatever their shortcomings, deep down the Tea Partiers recognize that something is not right in Washington D.C. That the current crew at the helm is running the ship of state onto the rocks, and yet they act with a haughty indifference as if their positions of power are birthrights, not temp jobs. That government of the people has given way to something corrupt that crosses both party lines. If they are not possessing Taibbi’s command of the language, and even if some are unwitting parties to the problem, they at least recognize that something is terribly wrong and that, as Maximus said: “There was a dream that was Rome, and this is not it!”
But this is the type of faux journalism you get (all of his obvious eloquence aside) when you approach a story with a foregone conclusion that the Tea Party is a racist, buck-toothed, GOP-run, quasi-Nazi movement whose aim is really to just reestablish the KKK’s prominence and go from there. It would be as if I believed the progressive movement to be a bunch of neo-Marxist thugs and then sought out a Weather Underground meeting to prove my point. Regardless of his sometimes legitimate points that Rand Paul is hovering near sell-out status, and that the Tea Party movement as a whole, at least those in Kentucky which is all we are privy to in his piece, may strive for an era of de-centralized government that would leave them more vulnerable than they realize, or pine for an America that was not necessarily the best place to live for those of color, Taibbi shows an insular mindset that must have had him wondering just what happened on election day, when the second wave of change we can believe in smashed through the breakwaters of entrenched political power. Unfortunately for Matt, it is not the kind of change he wants…and less so is it the kind of change that he mistakenly believes is at the core of a movement he taints with such misguided vitriol while knowing so little.
It’s funny. Reading on, one can almost hear Taibbi’s fingers pounding down harder and harder on his keyboard as his veneer of being a fair-minded journalist wears thin as his true visceral hatred for the movement and all it stands for seeps through. He reminds me of Ralph Kramden who starts off trying to leave a pleasant and conciliatory message on tape for his mother-in-law whom he really despises, but just cannot help himself as it degenerates into him screaming wide eyed and red-faced into the machine that she’s a “Great Big BLABBERMOUTH!!!!!”
Anyway, all I can say is that Rolling Stone sending Matt Taibbi to Kentucky to report on the Tea Party was about as journalistically honest as sending a harp seal clubber to a PETA convention. And the hatchet job that resulted was just as banally predicatble. So much for “cutting edge” political commentary. Back to reading about Jay-Z.