Understanding the TP

I’d meant to cut this one down, and save it for future reference and re-editing, but instead accidentally published the whole thing at Jonathan Bernstein’s (great) “plain blog about politics.”  It’s kind of embarrassing to be caught depositing long, pretentious comments at other people’s blogs.  If I put it here, at least I can re-work the thoughts, possibly with your assistance.

The context is Bernstein’s summary view of Republican House Caucus motivations.  Bernstein’s whole post – “Deliver Us From the Elements” – is worth reading for its analysis of the political dynamics we’ve been discussing under the “brace for disaster” headline item, but the key is the concluding two-part statement:

[M]ainstream conservative Republicans now have a lot of votes on their record which put them far to the right of the median voter, perhaps even in their own districts. But that, by now, is an old story; if there’s one thing that’s clear about the 112th Congress, it’s that Republican Members are far more concerned about re-nomination than about the general election.

Adds commenter “doc” succinctly:  “And far, far more concerned about either of those than about the well-being of the United States”

Yet that’s how the terms ought to translate.  General election ought to equal general welfare in a healthy democratic republican polity in which, to paraphrase Andrew Jackson, the whole of the people will not vote perversely against its own good.  According to Jackson, they/we might make mistakes, but would always get things right in the end.

If, however, you’re convinced that Satan or some reasonable facsimile is the lord of this world, and that the light of freedom can be lost in a generation unless valiant patriots go against the current, etc., etc., then the true national general interest and the minority view are the same:  Getting right with the far right is true patriot love American-style.  It’s the rightwing version of the old joke about revolutionary Marxists–ahem:  All power to the people, all power to the party of the people, all power to the vanguard of the party of the people, all power to the elite of the people’s vanguard, all power to me.

The symmetry is not random accident, but, before we dismiss the Tea Partiers as fanatics, lunatics, power-hungry hypocrites, and admitted enemies of the state, if we want to understand them rather than just deride them, we have to acknowledge that, as marble-mouthed, reality-distant, and downright dumb as many of them seem, there is an alternative, internally consistent political-economic praxis that they are seeking to implement, that many of them believe has been historically tested and proved, that squares with a version of common sense, and that may appeal to even more fundamental, possibly even unconscious needs.  Their economics and their psyches both tell them that punishment must come before progress, indeed before progress itself can be anything other than a false promise, a temporary palliative at best, much more likely vice on the road to the Gulag/perdition.

The final acceptance of necessary punishment is what they believe really happened in, for instance, the Reagan-Volcker Recession, which the historically inclined among them understand as the cathartic end to more than a decade of social-political-economic-moral failure, a great overdue bill finally being paid – if not in full.  Full payment, if “we” can bear it, is what the TP is supposed to be about, even if it can’t quite say so explicitly, but instead has to inch up to the admission (DeMint, Broun) If we can’t bear it, they believe, we’re doomed – so almost anything they do is justified.

At a certain point this viewpoint does or can become insane, or anyway purely ideological, terms which in the American tradition are almost the same thing, but it’s a lot easier (it seems to be all that’s possible) for the left to play defense than to articulate and advance a positive alternative.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

13 comments on “Understanding the TP

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  1. You did have to post something on this subject, and this a good posting. Naturally. It’s a subject begging for CK attention. But you are supposed to be otherwise occupied. That’s why I posted my post. So you wouldn’t feel like the blog was dying for your attention. I do love the “vice on the road to the Gulag” line, though. It’s also cool how you figured out how the TPers think some price has to be paid. It’s a Protestant version of that idea, don’t you think? That’s why they have to tippy-toe up to it. Protestants can’t announce their martyrdom the way other groups can. Too uptight.

  2. @ Scott Miller:
    In my biased opinion, this is turning into one of the better days on this blog. Quick, invite some visitors to come by and feign interest! (Anyway, it’ll all help the screenplay somehow. It has to… then, come the dread shears…)

    Yes and no about the Protestants. There’ve been so many development in Protestant ideology, so many antinomies/contradictions/dialectics… all going back to the big Antinomy on and of the crucifiction. I think that what it feels like for them is they know you can’t sell “this is gonna hurt, but it’s for your own good” in an instant-gratification culture… yet at the same time, in typical contradiction, there’s a river of glorification-of-sacrifice running right through American ideology, a veritable mighty Mississippi that politicians are as quick to tap. Somehow, it’s all supposed to be fun and easy and difficult and hard at the same time, immediately gratifying and joyful yet adult and deferred-satisfaction in the best and only capitalist manner. That’s the basis of capitalism – invest rather than enjoy for the sake of later greater enjoyment/power/wealth – and yet it’s also quite pleasureful for the capitalist to contemplate, he gets his present satisfaction in anticipation now, now, now, and is desperate for more.

    All very sticky and weird. Helps you understand how Palin inspires such stubbornly ecstatic loyalty, and cannot herself be anything other than totally mad.

  3. @ CK MacLeod:
    Nice answer to the Protestant question. Thanks. It’s kind of perfect that I’m bugging you to get back to work on all fronts and at the same time distracting you. My Protestant ancestors must be perplexed. They think you should be working. I think it’s funny that I’m distracting you. My ancestors don’t know whether to champion my bugging of you, or roll over in their graves because I think distracting you is funny.

  4. @ Scott Miller:
    Not a problem. I am able to write world-historically significant comments at the blog with my left hand while simultaneously writing fun, fun, fun if a bit complicated screenplay sequences with my right hand, even while bathing my dog in medicated veterinary shampoo (using toes and nose), and fixing and eating a turkey sandwich with my penis, watching TV, and surfing political blogs also with my penis, and my heart rate stays around normal the entire time, too, though, if the phone rings, I may start cussing.

  5. Now we just need an arrangement of the best music links fuster’s been saving up… something that would normally require an hour or so to appreciate… and a frog-rantical satire to go with… Mr Frog?

  6. OK so you borrowed Doc Octopus’s robot arms, what is 16 or 18 trillion
    between friends, the ship can withstand impact with the Iceberg.

  7. Mr Frog is shorn of several years worth of the finest in frog hair,out the door as of tomorrow AM and off to DC there to be off-line until there’s no more marrying to be done and he’s allowed to return to sitting in his non-yoga puddle.

  8. @ fuster:
    I’m crestfallen you didn’t assign a substifrog to take your place while you’re off with the mammalians and mammal-likes. If, when you’ve hopped back, there’s no blog at all, but merely a blasted fly-blown ex-blog, you’ll know why.

    Congrats, tho. Is Mrs. Frog bawling away already, or saving it?

  9. she’s managed a bawling-out for me ’bout every day this month as the piles of rejected dresses and shoes mounted.

    since the zipper on one of non-rejected garments mysteriously burst in mid-tryout, there’s been some extra teeth involved.

    I’m fairly sure things will stay steadily stagnant, but if the joint gets a bit fly-blown, can’t say it won’t suit me.

    …and speaking of fly-blown, the guest list, strangely enough, includes one of the fine folks currently employed as a blogger on contentions

  10. @ fuster:
    Actually seems like a pretty great weekend to go to DC and gather together with a bunch of clued-in young politicals. As soon as you can get the mammalian conjuncturation stuff out of the way.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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