In Search of a Strong Progressive Response to Tea Parties

During the dark days of the Bush Administration, the collective mood on the Left could not have been more pessimistic and discouraged.  Believing ourselves to be utterly ignored and summarily discounted, our anger was palpable and copious.  I wonder why we on the Left didn’t form a series of spontaneous demonstrations, venting our frustration at a government we saw as illegitimate and destructive.  While it is true that protests were plentiful then, no self-proclaimed movement sprung up, one then dutifully covered exhaustively by the media.  That we did not resort to Teabagging tactics was itself a very good thing, but I think also that many of us placed complete faith in the mechanization of the system itself.  When things began to turn around at long last in 2006 and then, two years later when a compelling candidate articulated our desire for change, we believed that working tirelessly to secure his election was wholly sufficient.

But to return briefly to the dismal days of 2000-2008, it speaks well of us that we didn’t resort to barbarism or the politics of rage.  It speaks somewhat less well of us that our organizational strategies were scattered and far from coordinated.  One can’t help but imagine if a whole movement of frustrated Progressives had come together to peacefully protest a tyrannical regime.  Would the media have overlooked it, given it not much in the way of airtime and ink, or would we have gotten our greater point across in dramatic fashion?  Recently I have wondered if merely working the inside game is enough.  Though I recognize that counter-protests have been held to push back against Tea Party demonstration, they appear to be limited in impact for the most part, or at least in how the mainstream media is covering it.    

I haven’t forgotten the paralyzing cynicism of the Bush days, of course, which led some to throw their hands up and others to become bloggers.  There was much in the way of unity in the face of a common enemy, so it wasn’t as though our own reaction was negligible or unmeasurable.  We, however, decided to act in a more mannerly fashion, though if one surveyed the comments made amongst ourselves, civility and maturity were sometimes in short supply.  It would have been interesting, for sure, if we ourselves had been the movement, not the then-Minority Party or candidate himself.  Our priorities might have been given additional heft if politicians from a Party out of power had come to us in an effort to court our vote and harness our energy.  Certainly there would have been an appalling degree of mutual parasitism involved, but this is true for politics as a whole.  In 2006 and 2008 we conducted ourselves with devotion and reverence towards good government following step-by-step all the rules upon which the system is supposed to work, and one could make a strong case that this very same system has now completely failed everyone.

When government proves unable to meet our basic needs, as we believe them to be, to whom do we turn?  Our conservative opponents have created Tea Parties.  As for us, the establishment of groups like the Coffee Party are a step in the right direction, but they as yet have not proved to be an effective oppositional force to the Teabaggers.  If we established our own highly unified and coordinated movement that prodded and nudged Democratic politicians towards the Left, that might be a start.  As yet, only the Arkansas Democratic primary Senate race currently pitting Blanche Lincoln against Bill Halter neatly fits this pattern.  In it, the base of a Party has attempted to steer a candidate towards the Left instead of the base steering a candidate towards the Right.  Moreover, unlike Tea Partiers, Progressives have not drafted their own candidates with the intention that they would deliberately run to the left of Democrats.  Thus far, we are in damage control mode, hoping to keep Congressional losses to a bare minimum.  I recognize that this comparison does not have uniform application, but it does raise some interesting questions.      

I hope we’ll learn from the Tea Party in one especially important fashion—not in their crudely rendered signs, prominently displayed firearms, hateful rhetoric, and message of fear, but in their desire to hang together no matter what and in so doing make their voices heard.  I find much about the movement loathsome and contemptible, as I’m sure you do too, but one must grant them reluctant kudos that they have staged rally after rally, protest after protest, and have no desire to disband.  There a sort of spontaneity present that leads many to sacrifice their weekends or take time off from work, though I do take into account those attenders who are retired and apparently have nothing better to do with their time.  

Teabagger gatherings remind me of the kind of isolated super cellular thunderstorms often present in the South, especially during the Summer.  They come out of nowhere, rain violently for three or four minutes, and then having expended their energy, dissipate into nothingness.  In the aftermath, everything goes back to the way it was before, making one wonder if his or her eyes were playing tricks on them all along.  It definitely takes a kind of commitment to be at the ready all the time, particularly when the demands of our lives would make many far less likely to go to the trouble.  I think we might consider our own rapid response team, except that instead of catching Republican distortions or policing scurrilous rumors, we might want to let the country, the world, and the Tea Parties know that we are not willing to let them slander our President, our politicians, and the ideals we hold true.        

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    • Edger on April 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    between the president, the politicians, and the ideals we hold true.

    To “slander” or to criticize the first two, because they do not uphold or further the ideals we hold true and in fact work directly against them, is not to “slander” the ideals we hold true.

    Teabaggers are a diversion, a “look over there, and don’t look at what we’re doing”, a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” diversion from the real issues.

    • banger on April 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm
      1. The MSM will not cover the left but loves coverning the right. Why? Because the Tea Party people strike fear into the hearts of moderates and progressives so that they will flock to Obama and fantasize that he is one of them. This is very useful to keep things drifting right
      2. Progressives are not united and do not share much in common in terms of a narrative. Most on the left cleave to the MSM narrative and thus their critique is very tepid based on no theoretical underpinning that I can see.
      3. Despite a lot of noise, I don’t notice that leftist in America have any sense of urgency about the issues they are passionate about nor any sense of a larger vision with very rare exceptions. Nor are there any clear strategies or alteratives to current arrangements. All I can read, see, hear, is complaining about reality.
  1. “they have staged rally after rally, protest after protest, and have no desire to disband.”

    doesn’t mesh with

    “There a sort of spontaneity present that leads many to sacrifice their weekends or take time off from work”

    You have a very positive attitude insofar as you a) recognize the relative effectiveness of the Tea Party’ers in altering Republican electoral dyanamics   and b) you are trying to understand what you can take away from that, in terms of what would be effective for progressives to do the same to the Democratic Pary

    To me, there are 3 keys to the Tea Baggers success that you can take away:

    1) populism  

    2) outspokeness  

    3) eagerness to draw electoral blood. I.e., throw Republican incumbents under the bus. (Obviously, you’re not going to get Fox News to help, and you probably wouldn’t get MSNBC, either. That’s also been a huge factor in their success.)

    2) and 3) are keys that, e.g., you can see missing from an otherwise fine progressive organization, the PDA.

    I don’t know, but I will speculate that readership has dropped off at OpenLeft, dailykos, etc., because the sort of people who followed blogs closely know that those blogs, in the main, don’t amplify voices that have any guts. They won’t throw Democrats under the bus, with rare exceptions.

    Chris Hedges wrote a great (but flawed) piece called “Liberals are useless”. Now, Hedges criteria for uselessness was that the liberals didn’t have the guts to walk out of the Democratic Party when it turned sharply against them.

    However, I think that’s a bit silly, especially in a ‘first past the post’ voting system. It’s smarter, and still takes guts to be outspoken, and stay within the party.

    And when I say “outspoken”, I mean “outspoken”. Obama stabbed us in the back with his healthcare perfidy, but the veal penned lefty organizations are generally mum about that. That’s one of your clues, right there, about why there will be no change if current players continue in their present trajectories.

    Like a former roomate of mine used to say (he was Air Force ROTC) “No guts, no glory”.

    I would challenge you to think more deeply about the problem you pose, and then ask yourself if “slandering” the President is something that you should be concerned about. From my perspective, he is being handled with kid gloves by the Left, and is taking advantage, accordingly.

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