Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tea Partiers are petulant anti-intellectuals living a fantasy of self-sufficiency.

Mark Lilla is Professor of Humanities at Columbia. His latest book is The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. Lilla has written an excellent article about the Tea Party movement in the current issue of The New York Review of Books (May 27, 2010 issue, pp. 53-56.). I encourage you to read the entire article but here are some excerpts:

Mark says the Tea Party folks have been “galvanized by three things: a financial collapse that robbed millions of their homes, jobs, and savings; the Obama administration’s decision to pursue health care reform despite the crisis; and personal animosity toward the President himself (racially tinged in some regions) stoked by the right-wing media.” I would disagree with Mark only to the extent that I believe the personal animosity toward the president is racially tinged throughout the entire movement although the majority of those in the movement will vehemently deny that their opposition has any racial component.

Tea Party people are almost universally anti-intellectual. Mark writes that they “have now convinced themselves that educated elites—politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, but also doctors, scientists, even schoolteachers—are controlling our lives. And they want them to stop.” Tea Partiers, he goes on, “prefer the company of anti-intellectuals who know how to exploit nonintellectuals, as Sarah Palin does so masterfully.” I will add that this same anti-intellectual sentiment was behind their attraction to George W. Bush. Certainly, no one could call Bush intelligent.

The Tea Party movement, says Lilla, “appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that… [The have a] blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers…. [Their] political target is an abstract noun, “the government.” They believe that government is inefficient, wasteful, controls too much of their daily lives, gives poor people too much assistance, and does more harm than good when it comes to regulating businesses.

Tea Partiers, writes Lilla, are devoted to Fox News as their only source of news because “the right-wing demagogues at Fox do what demagogues have always done: they scare the living daylights out of people by identifying a hidden enemy, then flatter them until they believe they have only one champion—the demagogue himself.” Fox tells them what they want to hear and they love it for doing so.

Mark concludes with this laundry list of wants from the Tea Party, “I want to be left alone” folks.

They want to be free from the government agencies that protect their health, wealth, and well being in order to enjoy the freedom to eat unhealthy and unsafe food, drive unsafe cars, fly on poorly maintain airplanes operated by poorly trained or untrained pilots, invest their money with crooks, breath polluted air and drink polluted water, and generally live out their fantasy of self-sufficiency.

They want to be free from having to think about difficult problems such as what to do about the skyrocketing cost of health care, how to protect the environment, how to keep the country safe from terrorists, or how to solve the immigration problem. They want to be free to NOT think about anything to complicated or that does not have some magical and easy solution.

They want to be free from intellectuals who have expert opinions and free from politicians like Obama that do not look like or sound like them.

They want to say whatever they want to say and even voice the most outrageously conspiracy theories without fear that someone will contradict them or demonstrate that they are wrong. Instead, they want someone on the radio or TV to tell them they are not only right but damn right.

Finally, says Lilla, Tea Party people “don’t want the rule of the people, though that’s what they say. They want to be people without rules.”

Lilla has a lot more to say. Good article. Do yourself a favor. Read it.

You can access Lilla’s complete article here:


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