Michael Lind’s Tea Party

According to Michael Lind’s recent Salon article “Tea Party is an anti-populist elite tool. And it has progressives fooled,” people think the Tea Party is a populist movement. Lind explains that this is because of Adorno’s 1950 essays on the rise of fascism in Europe and Hoftstadter’s mid-century analysis of post-civil war America. This seems a rather unlikely place to put the blame for a problem that I’m not even sure exists. If there are any progressives that were fooled to think that the Tea Party is a populist movement, the more obvious place to look would be the recent profusion of 527s and 501(c)(4)s buying TV ads.

The article is part of a series of articles Lind has written on the Tea Party for Salon in the recent weeks. Lind, founder of the New America Foundation, is an odd one and I’m never completely sure what to make of him.

To me, the article is a red herring (who in their right mind could possibly confuse the Tea Party with “a new movement that sprang up as a result of spontaneous populist anger against Wall Street bailouts in the Great Recession”?) blamed on a straw man (Hoftstadter & Adorno). Seriously, if you go to Amazon and search under Adorno, The Authoritarian Question comes up 77th and is not even in the top million of Amazon sales. This is not a book with widespread influence on popular American culture and thinking.

It all feels like a bit of sleight of hand and I wonder what he is up to. It reminds me of his book The Radical Center where he attempts to pass off free market libertarianism as moderate, or even populist. In this case he seems to want to get everyone emotionally distracted by bashing the radical lunatic fringe so he can then discredit the real left (or at least the real old left) without anyone noticing of thinking too hard about it.

Still, I admire his ability to think beyond the standard partisan talking points. He comes up with some very good ideas in his recent books The American Way of Strategy and Land of Promise (although I’m not sure giving credit for the New Deal to Hoover, Eisenhower & Nixon is one of them).

He does not seem to be a particularly careful thinker but at least he is a creative one. In the end that may be more useful at a time when our national politics has calcified into opposing dogmas.

Yet, for all his attempts to think beyond dogmatic party politics, I find his article disturbing. By reframing the issues and making comparisons with exaggerated false anchors, “mainstream” discussion has gradually shifted to positions that only benefit the wealthy. While these distinctions may appear small, theoretical and inconsequential, they add up over time.

What progressives opposed a half-dozen years ago as Romney’s hand out to big insurance companies we now vigorously defend as Obama’s “liberal health care reform.” We gave up privacy and civil rights to alleviate the imagined threat of “Islamofascist” bogeymen.

We use the word “entitlement,” not to describe the billions in handouts and exemptions granted to companies like Monsanto, but rather the table scraps left to the working poor so they don’t outright starve and can keep on working for ultra-low wages—essentially providing a government subsidized workforce for companies like Walmart and McDonalds.

We move from the manufactured theater of a government shutdown crisis to the debt-ceiling crisis to the deficit crisis. This absurd spectacle keeps us distracted from the real crisis of jobs, wages, and widening inequality. We are so relieved that the government shut down is over that we will negotiate cuts to Social Security.

We have traveled so far from where we were a few decades ago that a careful comparison of actual policies might conceivably place paranoid, anti-communist, arch-conservative Nixon to the political left of “socialist” Obama.

All these shifts have been gradual and incremental, but the end result precipitous. That’s why I get disgruntled when I am asked to give up thoughtful progressive ideas as my price to avoid phony Tea Party populism. I don’t disagree that we need to get people to pay attention to basics. I just don’t think we should give up the future in the exchange.


~ by severalfourmany on October 23, 2013.

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