The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Tea Party: political paradox

I am fascinated by the neo-conservative movement. There, I said it. The rallies, the blatant misuse of political labels and terminology, the strong television personalities, really the whole bit. Admittedly, my own fascination arises not so much out of an interest in politics, but more so from a concern for how ideology and rhetoric work in America.

We’re all subject to the influences of these two forces, whether it’s concerning political allegiances, religious affiliations or even the type of music we listen to. What I find interesting, puzzling and even disturbing is this question: how, in the realm of politics, do we get to a point where all views are represented fairly, and can we ever “play nice” when it comes to serious debates and discussions while still getting to an appropriate answer?

Particularly with groups such as the Tea Party and media figures like Fox News pundit Glenn Beck, it seems the liberal intelligentsia has felt comfortable turning their noses up and scoffing at the incredulity of the claims of these groups.

The reasoning behind these responses goes something like this. 1) Neo-conservative groups and figures hold a set of views so misguided that most average citizens would never seriously consider supporting them. 2) This being the case, these groups will not gain the power they need in order to effect the changes they seek. 3) Since these groups are not a threat, to engage in serious debate with them would have the effect of focusing attention on them and providing a sense of legitimacy for their causes. 4) Better, then, to simply express disapproval with the movement as a whole than to grant legitimacy to a group composed of “crazy people.”

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In some ways, I have to say, I sympathize with the “liberal response” to such groups. I was fairly comfortable with this response, until very recently. After all, what is the appropriate response to a group that deliberately lumps terms such as “socialist,” “communist,” “fascist” and “tyranny” into an unorganized pile to signify the negative sentiment of “stuff that’s un-American”? How can we take a group seriously that purposefully constructs a new language to express frustrations with events that aren’t really happening?

While not technically a liberal himself, I think Andrew Sullivan, a blogger at The Atlantic, sums up the response from the left. He states in his article “Why I’m Passing On Tea” that “the abstract slogans against government, the childish reduction of necessary trade-offs as an apocalyptic battle between freedom and slavery, and the silly ranting at all things Washington: these are not a political movement.” According to Sullivan, groups such as the Tea Party don’t even constitute a political movement, and he seems to characterize them as somewhat annoying, but essentially harmless.

I think this sums up a presumptuousness about the ineffectiveness of groups like the Tea Party. In short, while I do think the Tea Party is a group that fundamentally misrepresents the facts and plays on political jargon for the sake of evoking largely emotional responses against the left, I think it is precisely these characteristics that make the party formidable and even dangerous.

In his article for Slate titled “Don’t Ignore the Tea Party’s Toxic Take on History,” Ron Rosenbaum attempts to draw attention to the dangers of letting a group such as the Tea Party rewrite history. Rosenbaum states, “historical ignorance is dangerous and … it can have tragic consequences, however laughable it may initially seem. And thus the media, liberals and others are misguided in laughing it off.” I think he’s largely right, and part of the problem in dismissing the Tea Partiers’ position is that it never gets around to correcting anything. Sure, liberals and intellectuals can try to deal with the problem by firmly stating, “this is right, this is wrong.” But this is a guaranteed way to increase resentment from conservatives and further entrench them in an ideology based on fictions, rather than facts.

Founding any movement or party on pseudo-history isn’t a problem; it’s a disservice to the ideals of democracy. And in the case of the neo-conservative movement, it has developed into a potentially dangerous situation. The Tea Party, in particular, is indicative of many of the social problems still present in our country – racism, religious discrimination and other forms of essentialist thinking that skirt around subtleties in favor of a catchy message.

What may be most important about examining the Tea Party is to question what exactly it is reacting against. To quote Sullivan again, “More and more, this feels to me like an essentially cultural revolt against what America is becoming: a multi-racial, multi-faith, gay-inclusive, women-friendly, majority-minority country.” And while this isn’t a solution, finding out what any group is really reacting against is integral to starting a civilized conversation.

Shaffer is a senior philosophy major and guest columnist for The Spectator.

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Tea Party: political paradox