Posted tagged ‘Tea Baggers’

Tea Party Animals

April 25, 2010

In 2004, you’ll recall, I jumped up and down and railed about how “stupid” people were who couldn’t see George W. Bush for the lying, snickering warmonger and enabler of cronyism and incompetence he so obviously, obviously was. Then, in 2008, who could forget the sight of me jumping up and down and decrying the “stupidity” of people unable to see Sarah Palin for the lying, ignorant grifter-demagogue she so obviously was (and is)?

It was all jolly good fun, and semi-aerobically beneficial to my cardio-pulmonary systems, what with the jumping and the yelling.

Now I have, as a public service, subjected myself to this –that nice young man from New Left Media interviewing Tea Party demonstrators at the Washington Monument this past Tax Day. And, again, I find myself jumping up and down and railing about the sheer, radiant, diamond-hard stupidity of the people on display.

True, it’s easy to interview anyone and, through the magic of perfidious editing, make them look ill-informed and inarticulate. But I don’t think that’s what on view here. I think what’s on view here is world-class, A-game stupid.

When asked, “What are your concerns with the present administration?” a woman answers, “Uh…socialist agenda. Tyranny.” This is the conversation of a Speak & Spell.

“They’re trying to get control of the country, so that they can run every business and every person in this country, and tell them what they can do and when they can do it,” says a sweet, no-nonsense, all-nonsense-all-the-time old lady. “We’re senior citizens, and now they’re telling us that we can’t even get medical care, ’cause they’re gonna give us a pill.” Idn at cute? The way believes every crackpot word of it, bless her heart?

Time and again we get variations on one of two themes: Indignation about things that are demonstrably not true, or open and defiant disbelief at things that demonstrably are true.
“Do you know that President Obama is considering banning fishing in America?” one woman provokingly asks, and the interviewer deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for resisting the temptation to answer, “No, but if you hum a few bars I can fake it.” (Or, better: “Know it? I wrote it!”)

As a group of my email friends ask each other every day without hope of an answer: What is wrong with people?

Plus, what’s with the costumes? Revolutionary War costumes. Captain America costumes. Betsy Ross costumes. Guys–who, it is safe to say, would with zest and enthusiasm beat up any hippie wearing the American flag as, e.g., a vest–wearing the American flag as a bandanna or a jacket.

And yet therein may lie the answer. Or, at any rate, therein lies my newest and most exciting, if wrong, theory:

The Tea Party gatherings of today are like rock concerts used to be in the Sixties. Back then, we congregated by the thousands, not only to listen to music, but to be with each other, to obtain validation from strangers that our vague perception (“adulthood as it has been represented to us is fucked up”) was correct. People came in costumes and cheered loudly for idiotic nonsense (“What’s going down with, like, the government, man, is a serious bummer and we have got to get it together“).

Actually, though, this analogy isn’t quite accurate. Because in the Sixties, a gathering of, say, ten thousand people would include many who really did have an informed political analysis, and could present a cogent argument for it. You could disagree with it, but it had some rigor and heft.

I don’t detect any of that at the Tea Parties or in their pronouncements. “Obama is a socialist” is not an analysis, it’s a playground taunt. “Taxed Enough Already” would at least constitute a political position, if it were not made risible by the wrongheaded misconceptions of the people who advance it. “No More Bailouts” is an appealing idea, but first I want to hear what its proponents think would have happened if the major financial institutions in this country had been allowed to go bankrupt. And then, how they would have dealt with it.

Which brings us to “I Want My Country Back.” Most readers are too young to remember the similar “I want my Maypo!,” (the slogan, on tv and radio commercials, for a brand of maple-flavored oatmeal), so let’s just say that this isn’t a political position. It’s a Country-Western sob story combining self-pity and the most desperate kind of nostalgia.

(And which country would that be? The one under Bush? The one of unjustified war, rampant lies, secret torture, domestic spying, tax cuts for the rich, government-by-crony, and utter economic stagnation for the middle class? You got it. Shall I wrap it or will you eat it here?)

In the end, though, perhaps it doesn’t matter what they say. It doesn’t matter to us, because it’s impossible to take it seriously. And obviously they don’t really care what they say, either.

What they care about is expressing their emotions. They’re mad, they’re frustrated, they’re anxious or frightened or depressed. And they’re entitled to be. The world most of them voted for (twice) when Bush ran for office, has collapsed. Americans are still getting killed in countries full of ingrate tribal nutbars and religious fanatics, unemployment is over ten percent, and the same rich scumbags who caused this disaster are giving each other millions in (how’s this for a galling word) “bonuses.” Then they tune into Rush or Beck or Fox News, demagogues whose sole aim is to convert their listeners’ anger, indignation, and fear into cash.

At one point in that New Left Media video, the inimitable Victoria Jackson chants, three times, “There’s a communistliving…in the White House!” Then she cries, “What are we gonna do about it!?” and, as one, the fervent crowd roars, “KWHMNR-lkhewropb…!”

They don’t know what to do about it. (Among other things, they don’t know what a Communist is.) But it doesn’t matter. Anger is, or at least feels, empowering. And so they’re outside, surrounded by people just as pissed off and inarticulate as they, and it makes them feel patriotic–which is to say, noble, brave, and important.

Just don’t ask them anything.

An Open Letter to Victoria Jackson

March 29, 2010

Dear Ms. Jackson,

I know you’ll forgive me when I say that, because of my age (I’ll be 112 years young next October), I wasn’t watching Saturday Night Live much when you were on it. But I did see you in a few sketches back then, and I thought you were terrific: cute, sexy, and faux-dumb in the classic Judy Holiday/Goldie Hawn mold.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when you re-emerged recently as a spokesperson (or should I say, a “mis-spokesperson”!) for the Tea Party, or Tea Bagger, or Tea Cosy, or whatever they are, Movement. You would be the one to pull off this absolutely brilliant piece of political theater.

You’ve nailed it perfectly. Your character (whom you cannily call “Victoria Jackson”) displays exactly the right combination of confusion, desperation, and outright stupidity.

Take your recent interview by that genial idiot, Steve Doocy, on Fox News. There you were, not only insisting that Barack Obama “is a communist,” but doing so in the persona of someone who obviously wouldn’t know a real communist if he came up and seized her means of production. Doocy, whose job it is to present to advantage cretins and psychos, wasted no time in correcting you like a 10th grade civics teacher (“Well, he isn’t a communist”) and waited–in vain, thanks to your sharp sense of timing–for you to say, “Oh, sorry, Steve, you’re right. He’s a socialist.”

Obama isn’t a socialist, either, but it’s all one to “Victoria Jackson,” and you played the scene perfectly. Of course, you’d had time to rehearse the character, both at other gatherings of frothing right-wing nutbars and on your must-see You Tube performance, where “Victoria Jackson” plays guitar, expresses herself, and acts for all the world like a person recovering from general anesthesia with minimal brain damage and maximal “heart.”

Like all first-rate performers (actors, musicians, athletes, etc.) you do something very difficult and make it look easy. Of course, the qualities we see on display at these Tea Bag rallies are anything but subtle. Still, you have a shrewd sense of how to reveal them in all their multiplicity. They include (as if you didn’t know) —

* Passion – These people, uh, experience strong emotions. They shout. They wave their fists. They yell. And, okay, sometimes they spit on people. (Because who doesn’t?) They have feelings about stuff, and they don’t care who knows it.

* Anger – And not just feelings. These folks are mad. At whom? You name it. Obama. Reid-Pelosi-Emanuel-Michelle-Sean Penn-Lady Gaga-Avatar. Democrats. Liberals. The administration. The media. Immigrants. Hippies. “Health care.” “The public option.” Saul Freaking Alinsky, as if any of them have the slightest idea of who he was and whose interests he defended.

* Self-righteousness – This is what they’re taught by Rush and Hannity: If something bad happens to you, or even if you just don’t like something (Obama winning the election; Democrats passing laws; etc.), then your “liberty” has been hijacked, your “freedom” has been stolen, and you have been forced to submit to “tyranny.” The merits, the facts, the actual history of the past ten (let alone hundred) years–that’s not their responsibility, which is to scream and then feel ennobled by it. Ask them one question about an issue, and they retreat into “I’m not an expert” and anti-intellectualist sneering about “elites.”

There are other qualities, of course, including ignorance (they don’t know what communism or socialism are any more than “Victoria Jackson” does), gullibility (they actually think that Sarah Palin, a woman who literally cannot answer a question without lying, is “a truth teller”), and sheer obliviousness of reality.

And all this comes wrapped in the shiny, red-white-and-blue gift paper of “patriotism.” This is the best (i.e., the worst) part. These people whom you so astutely lampoon use patriotism as pornography. The idea that, by attending a rally and waving a sign and screaming things that make absolutely no sense (e.g., “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”), you can feel like you have something in common with “our Founding Fathers”…well. It gets them hot and bothered and stimulated and aroused. Some of them even dress up in “Revolutionary attire,” which is their equivalent of leather and studs.

But look at me, telling you this while you obviously have a deeper grasp of it all than I ever could. You, after all, in a master-stroke of character development, have said more than once, “Glenn Beck has taught me well,” knowing (as anyone with half a brain knows) that claiming Glenn Beck as your teacher is about as wise as claiming Dr. Mengele as your primary care physician. Please, as a favor to a fan: keep that in the act. It’s priceless.

Then again, in the end it’s not funny. Even when their grievances are legitimate–because who isn’t worried about the future?–all they’re doing to address them is shouting, spitting, and cheering patent demagogues like Palin and Beck (who, it need hardly be added, are sympathizing with them all the way to the bank).

It’s hard to know what will satisfy these people. Certainly not a Republican victory in November or in 2012. It was Republicans who lay the groundwork for this mess that’s causing them to suffer. The Bush tax cuts, the unfunded wars, the de-regulation of Wall Street–disasters all, and the GOP would do it all again in an instant if they could. Then they, and Fox News, and Limbaugh, and Hannity would, as befits members of “the party of personal responsibility,” blame the next collapse on Obama.

Maybe all they need is some job security, health care they can afford, college tuition that doesn’t provoke an aneurysm, decent treatment by the banks that hold their mortgages, and some unpanicked expectation of the future.

That may be coming, although maybe not soon enough. So be careful, Ms. Jackson. You know and I know you’re just goofing on them, and no one could possibly really be as silly, oblivious, and ignorant as the character you’re portraying. But those around you aren’t in any mood for jokes. Angry mobs never, ever do good things. In fact they usually end up doing terrible things.

So get in, do your shtick, and get out. But keep up the great work!

Best,
E.W.