October 24, 2010

IT WOULD SEEM A HANDY RULE OF POLITICS...:

Radical Shriek: Lefty academics convene in Berkeley to try to make sense of the Tea Party movement. (David Weigel, Oct. 23, 2010, Slate)

On Friday morning we file in for the conference. Just outside are giant tubs of coffee and tea, and abstracts for papers that are in progress or completed.

Prospects for an American Neofascism. Initially the project would consist of a review of recent research on American right wing groups (including the Tea Party movement, the Minutemen, and the Christian right); and of trends in national and transnational political economy that bear on our subject (such as cyclical and structural economic crises, corporate/government interpenetration, and the explosive growth of the military/industrial/security complex).

A Macro-Micro Model of Participation in Political Action: The Tea Party and Cognitive Biases in Information Consumption and Processing. Hypotheses were tested using qualitative data obtained from interviews with two groups: protest participants from various Tea Party protests (protesting group, N-15) and non-protesting Tea Party "supporters" (supporting group, N=3). Results show that strongly held pre-existing beliefs (particularly economic and political individualist ideology) heavily impacted levels of dissatisfaction with government policy and choices of information consumed.

The research and analysis from the panelists is along those same lines. Why are people joining the Tea Party? Perlstein kicks off the conference with an analysis of conservative anger, tracing its history and discussing the "sluicing" that conservatives do to keep people angry by giving them stories that reinforce their fears. The audience, mostly academics and activists but some students, respond to quotes from Newt Gingrich and other Republicans with nervous laughter and gasps, the air-rushing-through-teeth kind that you only hear from audiences reacting to speeches. The plaintive questions start in.

"How is it that [the Tea Party has] read the Saul Alinsky handbook and progressives haven't?" gripes one activist. "It seems like a natural thing for progressives to take the lead here and say, look, this is in your interest. Especially when jobs and homes are being lost, that seems like a cakewalk." [...]

[Rick] Perlstein moves around the question. "The thing that makes America different, and this is a very dialectical, paradoxical concept, is that we have a lot of democracy," he says. "The idea that everyone has an opinion of about what they're hearing is both the glory and the tragedy of American democracy."

But the social scientists are more ready than the historians to crunch numbers and prove that racial animosity is key to the Tea Party. It's cold comfort for people like Hardy Frye, but it does suggest that Obama's ability to form some grand populist coalition was always limited.


...that only the party advancing popular positions can be populist, no?

If Friend Perlstein and company paid any attention to the world beyond their own neuroses, they might notice that in Britain the Liberal Democrats are celebrating their unusual moment of popularity by advancing massive cuts in government too. Presumably none of these academics connect Nicholas Clegg to John Birch and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

MORE:
What America might learn from the British austerity model (David S. Broder, October 24, 2010, Washington Post)

The most important political news last week came from across the Atlantic, where the coalition government of British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an austerity budget that radically reduces government spending on the welfare state. Both the policy and the political circumstances that brought it about have profound implications for the United States.

This country has wandered far -- not quite as far as Britain has -- toward the pending fiasco that threatens leftist regimes worldwide, and the reaction here in the Nov. 2 midterm elections is likely to be as painful for President Obama and the Democrats as the May 6 election was for Labor's Gordon Brown.

George Osborne, Cameron's chancellor of the exchequer, did not mince words. He told Parliament, "Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink, when we confront the bills from a decade of debt." Britain's budget deficit, now 11.4 percent of the size of its overall economy, is not that much larger than the United States' -- 8.9 percent -- but the debate has been similar in both countries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2010 7:38 AM
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