Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Political Bigotry and The Tea Party



[caption id="attachment_2700" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="By Aaron Johnson"][/caption]

As an upstanding business man and as a Freemason I have a lot of friends who are very vocally conservative. As an artist and as a would-be counterculture revolutionary I have a lot of friends who are very vocally liberal. As a sane and rational human being I find all of these people annoying.


See, I have a big problem with rhetoric and doctrine that falls along party lines. To me, it is just as disconcerting and nauseating to hear someone say “Republicans are...” or “Liberals always...” as it is to hear someone say “Black people are...” or “Mexicans always...” Especially since the predicates to these sorts of sentences are invariably vial and demeaning.

Political bigotry, like all bigotry, is especially destructive when it dehumanizes the “other,” and this kind of mindset seems to be as contagious as that weird strep throat thing that everybody was getting that I caught three times over the summer. Groups of people just seem to love labeling and compartmentalizing other groups of people, when in reality individual humans are amazingly complex and seldom as horrible as they seem en masse.

If there's one thing that spreads around the germs of hatred and loathing it's a political election cycle, and this last one has been a doozey. What's been particularly polarizing and disgusting is the cesspool of rhetoric surrounding the Tea Party movement, and that's something I'd like to take the opportunity to address. Both sides have demonstrated more than their share of ugliness over the past few months, but the Tea Party won and liberals have suddenly become the underdogs.


Keep in mind throughout this article: I don't have a pony in this race. I dislike the Republican and Democrat platforms with equal intensity. But I do happen to like underdogs, so I'm going to give you lefties a free dose of bitter medicine.


Now, if your brain turned off and your eyes glazed over and you started seeing red after reading the words “tea party,” you're exactly who I'm talking to so I need you to calm down, think about kittens and universal health care for a little while and relax. Now focus.


Okay, ya with me?

You're all a bunch of freaking hypocrites and the fact that you've been spinning your wheels for so long complaining about how intolerant and backwards and stupid the Tea Party movement is is the same reason you all got your butts kicked so thoroughly in this election. In two years you've forgotten entirely the power of the message of inclusion and tolerance that Barack Obama engineered into an astounding victory.


Don't get me wrong – I think the Hope and Change crap was hollow marketing hype. But at least it was positive. At least, at the time, Mr. Obama stood up and said he was going to be your president whether you're Republican or Democrat. It kind of ticks me off that he has since jumped from that lofty platform into the mire of smug Big-D Democrat partisanship in the past few months, but on the other hand I think that's what pushed a lot of independents away from his message and into the arms of the Tea Party Republicans.


Never mind the fact that the Tea Party put more minorities into office than the Democrats this year. Never mind that the Tea Party was founded on the idea that we are spending ourselves into oblivion – which we are. Never mind the fact that most “Tea Baggers” are just grumpy old people who like going to things where you get to sit in lawn chairs.


Let's just focus on the seedy, racist, intolerant underbelly of the movement. The folks who bring the ugly misspelled signs to rallies and who are obsessed with Davinci Codesque conspiracy theories about Barack Obama.


How the Hell are you any different, with your violent Facebook posts about how much you'd like to do bodily injury to the “Tea Baggers?” What makes your rhetoric any more sophisticated or open-minded? When have you ever used the same intense lens to inspect yourself and your own values and behavior? And what good are you going to do in the world with your hatred of the Tea Party? Will hating them make them go away? Will patting your friends on the back and trading around smug Salon.com articles around on Facebook solve any of our problems? In a word: No. It's just going to drive the wedge farther, divide us further and eat away the fabric that has held together our Grand Experiment for so long.


How's this for heresy? I think you should be inspired by the Tea Party. Who cares if you disagree with them? They've done something incredible. You can debate all day about whether the Tea Party is sincerely a spontaneous movement or whether it was orchestrated by the Powers that Be. None of that matters.


What does matter is that the Tea Party Movement has managed to develop a message that has energized people – not just to go out and party in Washington for a weekend, but to turn back the tide of the elections midterm, just two years into the term of a president who held all the right cards, just two years after nearly a decade of one of the most unpopular Conservative presidencies in history.


I get so angry when I hear my liberal friends tell me they're thinking about leaving this state because “we lost the election.” Are we really going to let the government define who we are as a people? Are we really going to let politicians make all of the decisions that affect our daily lives? One of the biggest problems with this country is the way we only pay attention during election cycles. If you give up and walk away the moment you lose an election, how will you ever build anything at all?


If you really hate the Tea Party, I challenge you to build your own. Start something bigger, better, and especially more inclusive. The sooner we can move past ideology and start fixing this f'ed up country the better. And most importantly of all, why not try opening your ears just a teeny bit? You might just find that there are some things the Tea Party has a right to be upset about. And you might even find that once you start listening, you'll begin engaging in these things called “dialogues” and suddenly your frustration will blossom into real life progress with a lower case p.

I've come to learn that we're not so different from one another. We all want the same things for the future. Safety, security, freedom to do as we please (even if sometimes it's hard to swallow the idea of allowing other people freedom to do as they please). I think, more than anything, we all just have different ideas about how to get there. Maybe we should spend more time treading the common ground, ideas like “politicians suck” and “baby otters are cute.”


In the words of “Mr.” Fred Rogers: “It's very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It's easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”


It has to start somewhere. Jack ass.

3 comments:

  1. You make a great point about how obnoxious it is when people make generalizations about liberals or conservatives - you then proceed to make generalizations about liberals that caste them in the most unfavorable light - whether it's what your liberal friends "post on facebook" or, the always nebulous, "what they say" kind of rhetoric which gets thrown around on msnbc and fox - you've done little more than portray your image of what a liberal is - ("you're all a bunch of hypocrites!) - I heard that line on Bill O'reilly - verbatim - just the other night. I think you should trade in the smug equivocation of values for an investigation of the issues - Let me be quite clear, don't tell me to think about "universal healthcare" in order to pacify my rage - 1) we don't have universal health care 2) poor people die because they don't have access to healthcare - in our society - that is a travesty and I think it is sad that you find that material ripe for condescension. I, for one, am a socialist, and I am very proud of it - a socialist in the tradition of Betrand Russel and Rosa Luxemburg - and I pay no heed to pretentious ramblings which ask us to ignore our values in favor of "civility" - whatever that means - I, frankly, don't care how many tea bags you have had to swallow to buy this crap

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  2. The universal health care thing was a joke, Reid. I think universal health care is a good idea, especially compared to the monstrosity they've managed to cobble together this year.

    The free market would also be a better alternative, as is evidenced in places like the Dominican Republic where I could go and get heart surgery for about $150.00 because it's a pure free market/competition based system.

    What doesn't work is a monstrous "compromise" rooted in political corruption and favor trading with lobbyists, which is what we have now.

    At any rate, I wasn't talking about "liberals." I was talking about political bigots. I thought dedicating half the article to a disclaimer to that effect would get that point across but apparently I should have belabored the point even more.

    Just take a deep breath. I love you, you socialist SOB!

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  3. My article is an opinion column and a satirical one at that. It was simply intended to spur on some self-reflection and discussion about the issue. In terms of real, pragmatic solution I offered mine: I really do think the Democrat party needs to reinvent itself the same way the Republicans did through the tea party. Love them or hate them, the tea party movement "found the voice" of the republican party and ushered in several key victories in congress. The Democrats had their voice, through Obama, in '08, but that image has been completely shot and I think it's going to take a lot of salvaging and reinvention to regain a foothold. It seems to me like the Democrats have placed themselves in a reactionary position, selecting to throw rocks at the enemy instead of trying to build something of their own.

    I disagree strongly with many of the positions of the tea party, and I do find some of their weird policy ideas downright scary, so my column was intended as a (hopefully humorous, at least to some folks) wake-up call and analysis of what I see wrong with the Democrat mindset right now.

    When it comes to research and analysis - I don't know that my opinion about the public image requires much research, but if you want a data set then look at the elections. The democrats lost heavily for *some reason,* this is my hypothesis as to why.

    As far as your feeling that I can't make a humorous aside about universal healthcare, I think comedy is a powerful tool for social change and psychological influence, and I didn't even really "make fun of" universal health care, I just created a would-be humorous conceit that puppies and universal health care would be calming and soothing for liberals. That's hardly a hardline stance against the idea of universal healthcare.

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