One of the satisfactions of writing in the 1990s for Creative Loafing, the alternative weekly in Charlotte, was that I was able to pick up the paper every week and see my words on the same pages with syndicated columnists Hal Crowther. Crowther is a good southern boy, America's premier progressive essayist and winner of more journalism and literary awards than I am going to list here. You would do well to google him and read his books and essays. He makes more sense of the American scene than perhaps any living writer. In this May 5 column he takes on the Teabaggers in all their ignorance, anger, fear and superstition. I've excerpted a few paragraphs here. The full column may be found at www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-tea-party/Content?oid=1409591.
... There's no national conscience and damn little national memory, but there's a furious national movement they call the "Tea Party," which rapidly backtracking historians describe as the first right-wing street-protest movement in the modern history of the United States. Just when you thought the Republican Party had camped as far to the right as the laws of physics allow, here was a voice, a howling from way beyond its right perimeter—and were those gunshots? The Tea Party is depressing, embarrassing, most of all mystifying. It's also considerably smaller than the media might lead you to believe. Of the roughly one-fifth of Americans who claim to support Tea Party principles, only one-fifth, or 4 percent of the general public, have ever sent money or attended a party event. And only half of them, it seems, think party poster girl Sarah Palin is fit to be president.
The Party is small but unaccountably rabid, in the fullest sense of the illness known as rabies and the violent, irrational behavior of its victims. Though 98 percent of Tea Party supporters are white, though 92 percent identify President Obama as a socialist (a harder core also identifies him as a closet Muslim or as the Antichrist, and a Tea Party website calls him "the reincarnation of Pol Pot" (?)) and a third subscribe to the wishful-thinking myth that he was not born in the United States—I won't take the wide, easy road and dismiss the whole movement as a racist renaissance provoked by a non-white president.
This may prove to be too generous; we've already seen cringe-making, flagrantly racist anti-Obama signs at Tea Party rallies. Xenophobia is an obvious factor, and demographics are disturbing. Old white men (like me) are dramatically over-represented among Party zealots. Their movement bears a strong resemblance to the far-right parties that poison the political well in European countries like France and Germany, where immigrants and guest workers are reweaving the cultural fabric so rapidly that native conservatives have panicked. That's not so different from the current situation in Arizona, where the white majority is so threatened by a fast-growing Hispanic minority that it has just passed America's most reactionary legislation against illegal immigrants—along with a bill requiring President Obama to present a valid birth certificate before he can appear again on Arizona ballots.
It smells funny for sure, and if I were black or Hispanic I guess I'd be groaning, "Here we go again." But for the sake of argument and civil engagement, set bigotry to one side and take a close look at the way this bitter tea is brewed. Begin with the merely puzzling, the rage against health care reform: The cause that sent the Tea Party into the streets, and has kept it in the headlines, is thoroughly bogus. The anger seems real, yet the provocation is nonexistent. There isn't a single intelligent, well-informed individual in the United States who honestly believes that the health care legislation passed by Congress and endorsed by President Obama is a dangerous step on the road toward socialism. Among reasonable people, many believe it's over-compromised and inadequate, some think it might create ruinous deficits, some quarrel with many or all of its provisions and predict that it will fail. Not one sees the shadow of Karl Marx.
We've been running the most overpriced and wasteful health care system in the civilized world, one so riddled with inconsistencies, injustices and plain outrages that you must be very young, healthy or lucky, or all three, if you've never had to deal with one yourself. It was satisfactory only to the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations who erected it, and perhaps to the carelessly rich.
Any half-responsible president would have tried to reform it. Presented with the facts that the radical Richard Nixon supported a more sweeping reform, and that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney installed a more "socialized" system as governor of Massachusetts—and asked if they are also prepared to give up other "big government" benefits like Medicare and Social Security—many Tea Party protesters become defensive and confused. At least one changed her mind on "Obamacare" while a reporter was interviewing her. These are frustrating times for many Americans, but there is no rational link between the burning passion, in this case, and its designated target. So who is it that we have to thank for putting them together? One of the great blind spots of the befuddled Right is that no one seems to have taught them the first principle a baby journalist learns at his editor's knee: Follow the money.
Wherever there's anger and ignorance, there's a great opportunity for the grasping and unscrupulous, which unfortunately describes many of the drug and insurance companies that flourished under the world's most expensive health care system. Rather than cutting exorbitant prices or disputing fewer claims, they found it more profitable to spend billions on advertising, campaign contributions and lobbying legislators to maintain the status quo. But in recent years cynical corporations developed a cheaper, more efficient vehicle for delivering their message and manipulating public opinion. We charitably call them media, but right-wing talk radio and its TV offspring, Fox News, are primarily a message board for what economist Paul Krugman calls "free-market fundamentalism." Rush Limbaugh likes to describe himself as "a capitalist tool." "News" was never his business. A rough mix of propaganda, provocation and raw attitude, right-wing broadcasting sells corporate evangelism crudely disguised as grassroots populism, where big government is everyone's enemy and Goldman Sachs and the Tea Party fight for liberty side by side....