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Taking Tea with the Lizards

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Joe Bageant

The Republican Party will beat the living piss out of anybody for a buck. The Democrats will fly the flag of FDR, even as they pirate the public coffers on behalf of Wall Street. Don't think the American people have not noticed these things. After thirty years of pistol whipping and emptying of their wallets, they've started to figure out there just may be a public robbery underway, with both parties as accomplices.

And so Americans at both ends of the political spectrum are finally wising up to the need for a third party. Even if it is a third party within their own party, which is no third party at all, of course. However, for Americans it's all about branding, what you call a thing, that's important. Call a six-ounce block of corn sugar with sunflower seeds and raisins stuck on the outside an "Organic Energy Bar" and by god, you have natural food right there on the 7-Eleven shelf. What a thing is called is how a nation, a people, carefully bred for consumption will see it, thanks to that advertising arm of American capitalism called the news media.

Presently surfacing from the frothing drek we call our political system is a thing called the Tea Party. Whether advertised as such or not, the Tea Party is viewed by millions as an emerging third party, or the functional equivalent of one. In some dark recess of the American consciousness -- hard to tell which one because it's all darkness and recession -- millions have figured out that nobody is getting what they want or need from Congress, except the corporations that own Congress. Actually, dedicated voters on the far right are getting exactly what they have voted for -- a police state -- but do not recognize it yet. No matter. Millions are unhappy and one way or another, think a third party, or the threat of one at least, offers a solution. And how could you go wrong with a brand evoking hallowed images from Ms. Jenkins fourth grade history class of the Boston Tea Party?

The Tea Party is the latest neoconservative end run around the possibility of a real third party emerging to threaten the status quo. To be honest, it's a brilliant political move, absorbing any energies that might have propelled a real third party. And, in true neocon fashion, it capitalizes on the working class' inchoate anger at the ongoing screwjob they've been getting from both parties for thirty years. The one escalated by Clinton's NAFTA, institutionalized as corporate theft by G.W. Bush, and polished to a high sheen by Obama's bailouts, as he brings home the bacon for those Wall Street syndicates running the economy.

Mobilizing the masses into a movement was never easy, and never harder than in America where moving the ever-expanding national ass toward anything other than the refrigerator is a job for a fork lift. Another way to do it is to adapt the national consciousness through installation of some new hot button by the state media. At the same time, installing a hot button in a significant portion of the national brain is mostly about simple repetition.

When it comes to watching the effect of simple repetition on simple minds, you could not do better than my native stomping grounds of Virginia and West Virginia, and the packed "town hall meetings" there during the health care reform initiative. In Southwest Virginia's Voting District 9, the Town Hall meetings' sponsoring congressman was 14-term Democrat Rick Boucher."¨"Slick Rick," is one of those rightist Democrats never examined by our simplistic, cartoonish media, which treat both parties as if they were uniform in their makeup. Slick Rick is pro Iraq and Afghan war. He is bought and paid for by the utilities and communications companies, and is the tenth most powerful person in Congress.

During the so-called health care debate, a crowd was rounded up to fill his town hall meetings with the sort of screaming, red-faced heartland white folks so loved by news cameras, reviled and therefore watched by urban liberals, both white and several shades darker, and upon which the nightly news depends for ratings and ad revenue. Ruddy overweight working people with neck veins bulging, fists shaking, they made gripping footage for the news hour, even with the sound turned off.

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In glaring contrast to to this display of the flow of Aryan blood in the face, sat a lone older black woman. She had come to tell the congressman about her Down syndrome grandchild. The child cannot get the physical and mental care he needs, she said, "because our family can't afford any kind of health care at all ... We are just too poor," she concluded, near tears.

Her touching plea, as ground zero an illustration of our health care non-system as you could hope for, was interrupted by a sheer burst of redneck compassion. A young white man jumped up and screamed, "It's a wonder they didn't abort him!" An angry chorus of mob agreement goes up.

Between that entire sorry assemblage there was not enough combined brainpower to piss, much less ask: Who didn't abort the child? Just whom are we talking about here? And what in the name of heaven does abortion have to have to do with fixing the health care system for 300 million other Americans, at least three-quarters of whom are incapable of ever getting pregnant, either by virtue of age or their plumbing.

The implied villains were -- who else? -- those dirty liberal baby killers. Instantly, abortion rights had become the meeting's main theme. All it took was one well-inculcated hot button word -- abortion. My people, white working class Virginians, had responded right on cue."¨Few of them could be called political types by any stretch -- most of whom would normally have been home stuffing their pie holes and waiting for the winning lottery number on TV. However, they had shown up at the behest of local Republican businessmen, the Chamber of Commerce and fundamentalist pastors, who in turn were orchestrated by health care industry lobbyists and public relations firms. And so by golly, tonight America was gonna hear the genuine, bona fide, straight-from-the-horse's-mouth unadulterated opinion of the common man! Just as soon as they were all instructed as to that opinion.

"¨Many attendees at Town Hall meetings are sufferers of the agitated inchoate anxiety and frustration of the working class. But as many more at the staged health care rallies, and now the staged "Tea Party" anti-tax rallies, are retired or just plain bored people to whom the free bus ride, or the cheap buffet dinner that often comes with the faux protests looks pretty good. Not to mention the spiffs, the free tote bag of goodies -- chocolates, coupons, a neat little pen light key ring. You can dig through this nickel-dime loot while the group's organizer gives you the "orientation" during the bus ride -- dividing up the planted questions among the alphas in the group, giving tips on how to short circuit the opposing side's speaking opportunities, booing on cue, and so on. And sometimes there is even a free trip to Washington D.C. later to do more of the same, if you show enough talent for the cameras. Boucher's attendees had little talent, and not even a gnat's ass worth of understanding of the issue. But they knew the Devil's mark, and the Devil's mark is abortion. So they responded for the cameras just as they have been conditioned to do.

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"¨I know a slew of these people all over the nation and I can tell you this: they honestly do not give a tinker's damn about abortion. They really don't. Not one in a hundred. You will never hear any of them mention the word abortion, except when their preachers and self-designated spokespersons or news reporters urge them to. Or when they are expected to offer some kind of political opinion, or show verbal credentials they are one of their crowd. The term abortion is tucked away somewhere in their heads in a file holding the vague lexicon of "stuff I understand that I should oppose." There it remains, a stale unexamined little brain fart until the appropriate hot button word is pressed, until summonsed up by those who instruct them directly or indirectly as to what they should believe."¨And then right on cue, like serially wired blasting caps they are detonated at the Town Hall meetings or Tea Party protests, setting off a chain blasts of "citizen anger."

The sad truth is that the pent up emotion has little to do with feelings about health care, or taxes (when the hell has any working American not been against any kind of taxes?) but a helluva lot to do with all the shitty breaks, insult and degradation that come with being an underclass citizen of the empire. We are conditioned in much the same way a dog is trained to bite on command. It doesn't matter who gets bitten, just that the dog gets the satisfaction of biting somebody for a change, and that his master looks pleased when he does."¨

Widely televised, these anti-reform screamers provide the necessary theatrics for media consumption in an ideological theater state. Hopped up by anti-reform forces, they do what millions in PR money cannot do, but what only word of mouth misinformation can accomplish with unnerving swiftness -- sew lies and misinformation, let it spread virally until it can no longer be ignored, then give the lies credibility by plastering "citizen outrage" across the nation's television screens day after day.

It's effective. How many people now remember that real health care reform had seventy percent support when it began? After a few weeks of orchestrated slap-downs of its proponents at Town Hall meetings, and staged citizen revolts, public opinion of health care reform went down the toilet. Ordinary people, quiet folks who never much discuss politics, started to have doubts when they saw folks like themselves on television rising up in what was touted by blonde meat puppet anchorpersons and jowly self-important male pundits as "a nationwide protest by the common man." The Tea Party is the latest version of a tried and proven neocon tactic."¨

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Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for Spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class (more...)
 

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