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In 2009, the University of California at Berkeley established the Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements (CCSRWM) “to encourage and nurture comparative scholarship on right-wing movements in the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and other regions of the world over the past hundred years.” They also initiated a Tea Party Working Group to study a movement “espousing fierce antipathy toward American liberalism in the name of ‘tradition American values’ while claiming as well dissatisfaction with the direction of the Republican Party.” In June of 2010, the progressive advocacy group, People for the American Way, donated its “vast and unique” collection of studies on the American Right to the center. A CCSRWM conference — more accurately described as a bash-fest — took place on October 22, 2010. Entitled “Fractures, Alliances, and Mobilizations: Emerging Analyses of the Tea Party Movement,” it included a cast of characters dedicated to one over-riding idea: the Tea Party movement is a seething cauldron of hatred, racism and paranoia, legitimizing the worst elements of right-wing excess.
CCSRWM founder Lawrence Rosenthal, author of “America’s Insurgent Right,” which compares American conservatism since the ’80s to radical right-wing movements in Europe (presumably Fascism and Nazism), opened the conference. He contended much of the Tea Party’s appeal stemmed from the idea that both the elections of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were “deemed illegitimate by much of the right.” That’s a rather curious assertion, considering the only modern election which gained national prominence as being “illegitimate” was the left’s insistence (to this day) that George W. Bush “stole” the presidency in 2000.
Rosenthal also claimed the Tea Party movement did not spring up from the usual sources, i.e. churches, civil movements, or unions, but that it grew “in collaboration with a television network,” that is, Fox News. (If Rosenthal is searching for collaboration between the media and a political movement, perhaps he should study the Journolist scandal, an effort by left-wing media members and political operatives to “coordinate” their talking points during the 2008 election.) Rosenthal concluded his remarks with a theme that was one of the evening’s recurring motifs: the Tea Party movement was energized by a “sense of dispossession–that something that belonged to them, call it America, is being taken away.”
Next up was Rick Perlstein. For Perlstein, the Tea Party arose as a “Yang” backlash to the “Yin” of the ’60s civil rights movement. He contended that the “tree of crazy” (read: conservatism), is “an ever-present aspect of America’s flora.” The Tea Party’s rise is largely attributable to “media devolution” (read: Fox News and talk radio) which occurred as a result of “anxiety about appearing liberal and not understanding the heartland.” A heartland which remains susceptible to “rage, scapegoating, demagoguery and the idea that they are being dispossessed” due to “the psychoanalytic trauma that comes from being dependent on government when being dependent on government is shameful.”
That the same “angry” heartland less than two years earlier helped elect America’s first non-white president and a solid Democrat majority in Congress, is apparently lost on Mr. Perlstein. He seemingly believes that their subsequent rejection of progressivism is based on irrationality–as opposed to their first-hand experience with “hope and change.”
Moderator Jack Citrin then introduced the speakers and read their biographies. The rest of the conference was divided into three panels, followed by question and answer segments. (Q&A was omitted from this column, but can be accessed, along with every detail of the conference, using the hyperlink in the first paragraph.)
Panel One was entitled, “New Forms of Activism on the Right.”
Christopher Parker explained he was working on a theory about the Tea Party that is “not ready for prime time.” Most of Parker’s focus was on Tea Party polling data, which unsurprisingly revealed a movement centered around an “ideology, conformity, and Eurocentrism” that promotes racism, xenophobia, anger, fear and anxiety.
Apparently Mr. Parker’s Tea Party theory is still not ready for prime time. In June 2011, he once again contended that the “more racially resentful you are, the more likely you are to support the Tea Party.”
Ruth Rosen opined that women might be drawn to the Tea Party and its “incoherent” ideology due to the conservative Christian feminism publicized by Sarah Palin, a prophet of the movement. Rosen went on to reiterate much of the evening’s prevailing themes through the lens of feminism, contending that without its grassroot female supporters “the Tea Party would have far less appeal to voters who are frightened by economic insecurity, threats to moral purity and the gradual disappearance of a national white Christian culture.”
Perhaps Ms. Rosen may not have noticed, but such threats have a substantial basis in fact. Economics aside, America now has a culture in which the out-of-wedlock birth rate is now 40 percent nationally and 72 percent among black Americans. And that’s when black babies are carried to term. In New York City, 60 percent of black pregnancies ended in abortion in 2009. The wholesale destruction of the nuclear family is a direct outgrowth of progressive ideology, not conservatism.
Clarence Lo, co-author of “Recent Developments in Marxist Theories of the Capitalist State” saw the Tea party as a “program of economic conservatism that primarily benefits the wealthy, supported by a relatively broad section of the population.” Once again social conservatism equals “opposition to civil rights” and economic conservatism equals “supply side economics.” He views the movement through conflicting hypotheses: it is either “an artificial grassroots movement directly controlled, funded, etc. by elite, national groups,” (he cites the Koch brothers), or a “genuine social movement that is broadly based[.]”
Mr. Lo fails to mention that Democrats have also been well-funded by elite national groups, most notably Wall Street, who contributed more to Democrats than Republicans in 2010, the year this conference took place.
Debra Saunders provided the most enlightening moment of the conference when she opened with a question “How many people here are Tea Party members or supporters?” One or two people reportedly raised their hands. Saunders, ostensibly a conservative, contended that the Tea Party is “talked about in a condescending way.” Yet she also described Tea Partiers as “unsophisticated,” reiterating the tiresome elitist meme that many ordinary Americans are stupid.
Dave Weigel, contended the Tea Party has a “closed-loop silo of information about why things are the way they are,” much of which is “inchoate anger,” adding that they “haven’t quite figured out how government works, but they’re for whatever side is loudest.” He also blamed a lack of trust in the media for the success of conservatism in general. Ironically, Weigel was fired as the Washington Post’s conservative blogger “after leaked online emails showed him disparaging some Republicans and commentators in highly personal terms.” So much for cultivating trust in the media.
Panel Two was entitled, “The Tea Party and the Right.”
Marty Cohen contended that the Tea Party is the third wave of conservatives to enter the Republican party since the ’70s, noting they resemble “first wave of the Religious Right” and are driven in part by the idea that “the country is going in the wrong direction morally” which “arises out of a reaction to threats to various forms of status.” He then cited the “racial status posed by an African American president, ethnic status posed by a majority-minority future, and economic status fueled by the current crisis.”
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