There is a common narrative surrounding the Tea Parties which goes something like this: Obama was elected and now a bunch of angry, ignorant white folk afraid of the fact that they are being displaced by immigrants and liberal elites are making a whole lot of noise and calling it a Tea Party.
There may be some truth to this notion. There are some angry white people in America, even a few very racist ones – but I think this particular narrative is mostly wrong and is based largely on a sort of trendy prejudice. I call it a “trendy” prejudice, because it’s exactly that – a prejudice that is very in vogue among critics of the Tea Parties or critics of those awful, no-good Republican obstructionists. It’s also trendy in that nobody in the political-correctness crowd really sees it as a prejudice. It’s just fine to think of the Tea Partiers as “teabaggers” and snicker at them because, well, look at them! They are surely deserving of mockery and disdain….
It’s very much the sort of arrogant opinion you might find Bill Maher espousing as he derides Christians for their nonsensical faith or those stupid, ignorant rubes clinging to their guns when – if they were of the enlightened class – they could be wondering about the carbon footprint their assault rifles were leaving instead.
Naturally many of the more vocal components of the Tea Parties or the American right do themselves no favors in disabusing us of these notions. The Michele Bachmanns of the world lend some hint of truth to accusations of paranoia. Glenn Beck is a little wild-eyed at times.
But I wonder, have rural whites (i.e. angry rednecks) really been in power for decades? And what do we mean by “in power” anyways? Is it possible that people in general have simply been more in control over their own destinies in the past, making most of their decisions at a local or state level? Then, as the federal government becomes increasingly stronger and more pervasive, that local and community control becomes more and more diminished? This isn’t a question of power over others, then, but one of power over ourselves.
This may or may not translate into feelings of rage or impotence or resentment toward immigrants, but it is certainly a valid concern. Maybe you just don’t want the feds to come up with your kids’ school curriculum. I know I don’t. And while I have a certain disdain for populism, I’m loathe to write off populists as simpletons filled with unquenchable anger who are only doing it because they’re ignorant saps. Populism may not be the right approach, but that doesn’t make populists themselves unworthy of basic respect.
Take healthcare reform, for instance, which has raised many a heckle. There is something sort of frightening about it when you think about it for a while. People are hearing that they may be forced – mandated – by the federal government to purchase with their own money (and possibly some federal subsidies) insurance from a private company. They may be forced to spend several hundred dollars a month on something that previously they would not have purchased. They will have to do this on a government-regulated exchange. They will be fined if they choose not to.
People are just supposed to like this and shut up about it? Those who gripe or protest must want millions of people to die. Or maybe those who oppose big spending aren’t allowed to (ever again!) because Bush spent like a drunken sailor. Obama just inherited his penchant for spending when he inherited all that other bad stuff from his predecessor.
Look, just because the wonks and the central planning committee think that forcing people to purchase insurance with their own money in order to not be fined for living in the country of their birth is a good idea, doesn’t mean that the entire country will leap for joy at the thought.
Same goes for climate change advocates. Even if you’re right, that doesn’t mean your solution to the problem is the only one or that it will even work. Science may show that warming is happening and it may point to mankind’s involvement in that – and it may even help predict what that means for our future – but it doesn’t predict policy results. Simply because some people disagree with that solution does not make them “traitors of the earth” or enemies of the state. Nor do skeptics of a relatively young scientific hypothesis with inevitably limited data (if widespread consensus) deserve those labels.
Indeed, all of this disparaging talk is awfully reminiscent of the way anti-war protestors were treated during the run-up to the Iraq War.