You Say You Want a Revolution
Written by Stephen W. Potts, Editor
At the end of March, my adult son and I took a road trip to the Grand Canyon for a few days of camping and hiking. On the drive from Nevada to Arizona we crossed Hoover Dam, where we stopped to take some photos. Although not a fan of dams myself, I remained impressed by the Art Deco-style public architecture surrounding it. It is all so 1930s: the elegantly geometric towers behind the dam like something out of Star Wars (because science fiction architecture was birthed in the Art Deco era), the stylized statues seated on the Nevada side with sleek, massive wings pointing skyward, symbols of human transcendence, the public-spirited mottos over the entrances of the public buildings — all reminding visitors of the power of collective effort. It’s almost enough to make one forget that the powerline towers angling over the gorge are carrying electricity away to the wasteful sprawl of Las Vegas, whence also goeth the water.
On that drive we saw other evidence of the public sector at work: a highway bypass currently being constructed in the sky above the dam, more highway construction on the Arizona side, funded by the stimulus money passed in Congress last year over the objection of the NOP, and of course Grand Canyon National Park itself, attracting visitors from around the world not only as a testament to the sublime grandeur of nature but to the foresight of progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
Our trip began shortly after health care legislation finally passed through Congress. On March 20, the day of the final vote, teabaggers outside the Capitol shouted racial epithets at Georgia Congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis, and spat on Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, also black. They shouted “faggot” at Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. When wingnut protestors disrupted the proceedings inside, forcing officers to remove them, Republican lawmakers applauded the disrupters. The week after the vote, offices of Democratic representatives were vandalized in New York, Ohio, and elsewhere; many others received death threats serious enough to engage the FBI. The weekend after the health care vote, the FBI arrested nine members of a group calling itself “the Hutaree Militia,” who were planning terrorist-style attacks against local police.
About that time Governor McConnell of Virginia announced that April would be “Confederate History Month,” just before the Southern Republican Leadership Conference met to attack the Democratic administration in Washington for being radically outside the American mainstream. Newt Gingrich, who led Republicans into the congressional majority in 1994, only to end that decade The Biggest Loser, stood upon his credentials as a historian to proclaim the Obama presidency the most socialist and secular in American history, which is true only if you spell “history” HORSESHIT.
At a time when the American public is upset that the Obama administration has not done enough to stimulate the economy, the NOP continues to promise a government that does nothing. It was thus fitting that the SRLC met in New Orleans, George Bush’s Waterloo, which represents everything one needs to know about do-nothing government. They sold T-shirts there with a picture of W. and the rubric, “Do you miss me yet?” Given the setting, the answer was of course “NO.” Considering all their hidebound hostility to democratic (and especially Democratic) governance, the Right’s ideal state must be Somalia, where organized government has ceased to exist and where mobs with guns rule.
The wingnut Right is still married to the worldview of the Bush years: that they are not subject to reality; they create it. Thus, they would have you believe that the Mad Tea Parties and their Mad GOP cheerleaders mirror the general public’s violent opposition to Obama’s agenda. They point to polls showing Obama’s support sinking below 50%. And yet — a similar poll that appeared in USA Today at the end of March also reported that only 28% supported the Mad Tea Party movement. Other polls place the number at no more than 20%. Furthermore, the April 4 issue of the Los Angeles Times suggested that Democrats who voted for the health care bill are doing well in the nation’s most populous state: supported by 46% of voters, opposed by only 29%. This must be the same 28-29% who still regarded George W. as a great president at the end of his ignominious reign.
If the teabaggers were principled populists and not mere partisans, where were their cries for fiscal responsibility when Bush ballooned deficits by cutting taxes and then going to war? Where were they and their demands to preserve constitutional liberties when Bush shoved the Patriot Act down the nation’s throat? Where were they and their concerns about presidential totalitarianism when the Bush thugocracy, through Godfather Cheney and Consigliere John Yoo, argued for the unquestionable sovereignty of the White House? If they were principled populists, and not just partisans, they would embrace with vigor the Obama administration’s proposed finance reform, which would break up banks that are too big to fail instead of bailing them out as Bush did, and which would set up an independent consumer protection agency to defend the little guy against the fat cat. But don’t hold your breath unless you have good health coverage.
Don’t get me wrong: genuine populism deserves a place in American politics. The populist uprisings of the 1960s helped propel the causes of racial equality, feminism, and gay rights — among others. In those days it was the radical Left that called for the violent overthrow of the government in Washington, and the Right was uniform in its rabid hostility to this revolutionary agenda. Indeed, the Right continues to hate the revolutionaries of the 60s. Recall that Obama’s incidental association with former Weatherman William Ayres was used, absurdly, against the candidate during the 2008 campaign.
So what is the difference between the radical Left and the radical Right? For one thing, the Left aspires to a future we have never seen, while the Right seeks to restore a past that never was. To some extent, I understand their fetish for carrying guns; I liked to play cowboy too when I was seven years old. When today’s revolutionaries hark back to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, however, they demonstrate how limited is their understanding of American history. The original tea party was organized by the Sons of Liberty, an alliance of colonial populists and Boston merchants whose most famous founder was Samuel Adams. Two centuries before he became a beer label, Samuel Adams helped foment the rebellion in Massachusetts against British rule through acts that were then regarded by the Crown, and would undoubtedly be regarded in the post-9/11 U.S., as acts of terrorism.
Lost in today’s debate is the fact that populism and conservatism are diametrically opposed political philosophies. Sam’s younger cousin John Adams, although also an advocate of colonial independence, was not a populist at heart but a conservative. A decade after the Revolution he would be one of the federalist advocates for forming a more perfect union through the Constitution. As such, he was up against the rural populists of his own state, like the anti-constitutional delegate who complained, “these lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men [want to] make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill . . . of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands.” These historic populists opposed what they saw as an educational elite ramming constitutional government down their throats. Thus, it is historically ironic (histrionic?) that the modern teabaggers claim the Constitution as theirs. In fact, the Constitution was created to reduce the power of the angry mob.
Another difference between the revolutionaries of the Right and those of the Left is their bloody efficiency. The Weather Underground bombed draft offices and university labs, but killed only themselves — save for a single collateral innocent at the University of Wisconsin, for whose death they apologized. When Militiaman Timothy McVeigh targeted the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, he set off his bomb in the middle of day, to kill as many men, women, and children as possible.
A third difference between extremists of the Right and Left is that only the former get the support of a major political party. Self-proclaimed right-wing terrorists get praised as patriots by Republican congressmen. Sarah Palin, among others, encourages the crazies to “reload” and “take aim at Democrats.” No wonder that death threats against Obama and other Democratic politicians have tripled in recent months, as have anti-government, white supremacist militia groups.
Despite the rightward thrust of American politics since the Reagan 80s, despite the chipping away at civil rights by the increasing activism of a revanchist Supreme Court, social progress has crept forward in the U.S. — for women, for minorities, for gays, for the environment. In fact, even if the Right makes electoral headway in 2010 and thereafter, the teabaggers won’t get what they say they want, because a bloated country with a bloated military can’t do without a bloated government. Tax cuts just mean even greater deficits, and Republicans can’t resist throwing money at anything with “war” in the title: the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, the War on Illegal Immigration.
With their guns and misspelled signs and racist slurs, today’s teabaggers represent history’s losers. That is why so many embrace the Confederate flag, the flag of losers, and that is why they are so angry.