Stronger than reason: David Brooks on the Tea Party

Dear god, please let there be a punk rock branch of the Tea Party.

He’s been wrong before, but when David Brooks says you’re a nationwide movement, you’re either Soccer Moms in the 2004 general election or a real thing. In Monday’s New York Times, Brooks alleges that the Tea Party movement is the latter. After opening with his usual overview of the prevailing sociopolitical winds for the last thirty to 100 years, he gets to the money shot. “Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year,” he writes. For the moment, Brooks has declined to enumerate which instruments he uses to measure the popularity of ideas, but he at least sounds right. “The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise,” he says. “The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.” Those committed to responsible argument will object to Brooks’s questionable use of the word so, which makes his theory the cause of his evidence, but as and statements his list still draws an unsettling connection. When Brooks points out that the Tea Partiers are defined by what they are against, and that most of what they are against can be grouped under “the concentrated power of the educated class,” he introduces a framework as useful as it is terrifying.

We’ve discussed this question before, and the response to a national political movement comprised of people who have no real idea how politics—or even the fundamental mechanics of American government—might work has been, “So what?” There has always been a vocal minority of very stupid people in the United States, and their demands have gone largely unheeded except by “The Lovely Bones” and the McDonald’s corporation. Well, here’s what: they aren’t a minority anymore. According to this utterly harrowing NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the Tea Party is now viewed favorably by more Americans than the Democratic Party or the GOP. There are some caveats, of course. More than 75% of respondents who get their news from Fox News view the Tea Party favorably, compared to only 24% of those who get their news from CNN or MSNBC. Still, enough people are apparently watching Fox News that the Tea Party is ahead of the Democrats by six points and the Republicans by thirteen. If you think such people can be safely dismissed because they’re stupid, I refer you back to Mr. Brooks.

Or you can just follow that canary in the mine of stupidity, Michael Steele. Yesterday he told Fox News that he’d join the Tea Party protests himself, if he weren’t, you know, chair of the Republican National Committee. One gets the feeling that Steele would join the Aryan Nations if he thought it would keep him in a job for a few more weeks, but his endorsement still suggests that the powers-that-be in the GOP consider the Tea Party real enough to co-opt. So does his assertion that the things the Tea Party and the Republican Party have in common outnumber the things they disagree on, which “don’t really matter,” anyway.* Also, check out this sly rhetorical maneuver: Steele told reporters, “I’m getting back to this conservative movement in the party or whatever you want to call it.” What Michael Steele wants to call it, apparently, is a movement wholly contained within the GOP. Despite Dick Armey’s role in organizing the original protests, I don’t know if that’s true anymore. Ask Dr. Victor Frankenstein or anyone who’s ever masturbated with a plastic bag over his head: just because you made it doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

So here is our current situation: the plurality of Americans support a political party that does not technically exist and was originally created by the PAC of a disgraced former Congressman and launched to national prominence by Fox News, although neither that Congressmen nor Fox News has control of it anymore. While its platform is entirely negative, this movement enjoys significant leads in approval ratings over both major American political parties, and has attracted a constituency united by their opposition to education, expertise and experience. Are you scared yet, or has my continual alarmism over national stupidity burned out your panic center? If you still need that frisson of pure dread, I direct you to the comments section of Brooks’s column.

All they need are enough votes.

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  1. I find it hilarious that Brooks and others place much credence in the NBC/WSJ poll numbers indicating that the Teabag Party has higher approval ratings than the GOP or the Democrats. Of course the Teabag party has higher approval ratings, what has it done to let you down? Has it promised smaller government and lower taxes, while only rewarding the rich plutocrats? Has it swept into power on a message of “Hope”, only to argue itself into schizophrenic paralysis and compromise?

    No, the Teabag party has done none of these things. Why? Because it’s entirely fictional. Puff the Magic Dragon, Mickey Mouse, and Dan’s junior high girlfriend would all have higher approval ratings than the current political parties because they’re all fictional too.

    I will watch, amused, as the first round of Teabag party candidates win coming elections, and then fail to accomplish anything because their “DO NOT WANT” platform is a platform of inacction, not direction or inspiration.

    However, I do fear their disruptive power in an election. As does Michael Steele, apparently, who spends lots of time trying to corral the Teabaggers. That is, all the time he has left after trying to get admittance into the all-white country clubs fellow Republicans hang out in.

    We’ve seen the Ross Perot effect before. That guy was a total Teabagger. He Teabagged the ’92 election, which got us a boozy philanderer into the White House instead of 4 more years of Dana Carvey.

    The top commenter on Brooks’ article says “I can hardly see where Sarah Palin or Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader can do worse than you have done.” That’s scary, because he basically says that their best credentials for governance are the lack of credentials. Yeah, because our government with enough checks and balances to outweigh an imbecile with his finger on the proverbial button. That line of reasoning ends up with appointing the least credentialed person possible into elected positions.

    If the Teabaggers have their way, then, I better clean off my calendar. I’m getting a bigger desk!

  2. Recently I flew 18,000 miles in nine days on an international trip as a volunteer entertaining the troops (whose boss is The Commander in Chief President Obama). I re-entered the USA in Baltimore where I was greeted by a Teabagger with a table set up outside the TSA security check. His table was loaded with those Obama Hitler images and I could not help myself, I had to confront him about this sick, offensive, unpatriotic imagery. All he did was smile proudly, with not a thought to offer or apology, hiding behind the first amendment.

    Personally I feel this kind of free speech is poisoning America and is akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. It is responsible for enraging vulnerable, mentally ill people with guns. Look at all the American on American Christian against Christian ‘terrorism’ in this country. Forget the Muslims, the Tea Baggers are the real terrorist and they use insurgent style propaganda to make people fearful, mad, treasonous, and ultimately violent.

    Although the government must allow first Amendment free speech I do not. I suggest you and your readers start standing up to these people face to face. We elected Obama, and we can’t just let him get thrown under the bus by these Tea Baggers any longer. They are destroying the political process here and making the US look stupid and sophomoric over seas. We should no longer tolerate Tea Baggers or simply write about their idiocracy on the internet. Now is the time for action, stand up to a Tea Bagger today!

  3. That probably was a LaRouche supporter. “Tea Bagger” may become shorthand for everyone not Dem/Rep. Or everyone who doesn’t feel compelled to compose a rational argument.

  4. We have the first amendment to protect free speech. We have laws regarding sedition to protect us from it.

    Architects of societal devolution through class war, such as Karl Rove, WANT us to have fist fights in airports.
    Distraction is the handmaiden of “rich plutocrats”.

  5. It seems to me that the Tea Party movement, despite it’s air of ridiculousness, has a somewhat sturdier ideological foundation than simply “against everything.” They’re drawing on the populist, libertarian strain that’s fairly strong in both parties, and which people like Ross Perot and Ron Paul also draw upon. It is interesting that the libertarian party itself doesn’t get more support–and why third parties in general languish so horribly in the US. They all would conceivably benefit just as powerfully from what Tim G identifies as the Tea Partiers’ strong suit–not having had to actually govern (something, incidentally, that the current President, with his slim national legislative record, also benefited from during the election).

    The fact that these people HAVE broken through, at least in terms of name recognition, while the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and countless others never make a blip, IS significant. The question is why. It shows that their anger, however incoherent, is resonating, and that’s something to take note of. If the first wave of Tea Partiers does win elections, that’ll be a pretty seismic event itself given the American two party landscape.

  6. Dan, before you anoint it the best comment ever, make sure you caught the reference to your fictional girlfriend.

    I wish I could claim “first” on calling them Teabaggers. It’s actually pretty politically profound, linking them to the exploitive rotters who were dubbed “carpetbaggers” during Reconstruction.

  7. Since when do arguments for smaller government and lower taxes lack rationality? Or am I missing something that distinguishes this movement from libertarians?

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  11. Finally! While I surmise that being a persuasive speaker is fine, but at some point you have to perform.

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