Friday, April 17, 2009

Liveblogging White America's Inconvenience Tantrum, Part I: A Tea Party Overview

Click here to jump to Part II.
"It's a one-day protest aimed at nothing Barack Obama has actually done. It is aimed at the tax code imposed on this country by a republican congress and a republican president who was previously the champion of exactly these protestors. And so it is a completely wrongheaded approach to what's going on. They've picked April 15 as Rage Day for taxpayers, and there's not a single taxpayer out there who is paying a new Barack Obama tax rate. That doesn't exist."
— Lawrence O'Donnell, former Democratic Chief of Staff of the United States Senate Committee on Finance from 1993-5, HuffPo Contributor
Despite being surrounded and born free yet taxed to death, I had sort of a great tax day because of the tea party protests. Never has there been such a perfect storm of bad current events, bad history, bad English and bad taste. Then I remembered that it exemplified bad citizenship and even worse humanity and fell, unavoidably, into a bad mood.

I'll get to the liveblogging in Part II, but there are so many things wrong here that the most pressing question is which aspect to talk about first. Besides, of course, wondering whether "Finding the Black Person at the Tea Party" manages to shatter the futility scale for racial-equality parlor games.

The quote above neatly handles most of the current events issues. The predatory tax policy to which these people allude is the same nightmare to which they've gladly been subject for the previous eight years, and the increase in the highest marginal tax rate to which they refer with great foreboding is both lower than the highest marginal tax rates under Nixon and Reagan and also the same stygian tax horror Bill Clinton visited on the country in 1993, only to see it plunge into material prosperity for the next seven years. Nevermind that most of the people at the protest will never earn enough to ever be subject to such a tax rate, while Barack Obama is cutting the rates to which they are subject. That doesn't even fully cover it, and to get a better sense of it, you should enjoy an MSNBC video.

The first two minutes not only neatly explicate much of what's going on, they're also a seemingly endless succession of oral sex and teabagging jokes. All deserved. The remaining six minutes (Ed. note: the full video was taken down, the jokes are all that remain), if you want to stick around, feature the above quote and decent analysis:

There are so many other current-events observations one could make, and they all nicely slide into historical issues. First, despite promises of "surrounding" LIBRUL MURKA, perhaps 200,000 people showed up today to make their voices heard. That's 4,000 people per state. FOX News proclaimed this, during their nearly all-day coverage, a powerful evocation of American concerns that could not be ignored. This, remember, was the same network that echoed President Bush when he dismissed over 35 million people worldwide, and hundreds of thousands in Washington alone as part of the largest anti-war protest in human history as a "focus group."

Then just look at the organization. Despite a month of FOX, the #1 cable news network, flogging this as a transformative and historic American event (as well as faux-grassroots online promotion; more on this later), many tea parties never bothered to obtain the permits necessary to protest. Maybe that'd make sense as nose-thumbing at big government if protest permits weren't obtainable at the local-government level and so ridiculously easy to get that even godless, lawless hippies manage to line them up without even breaking a pot-haze degree of effort. Instead, what we saw was the party of Law AND Order ignoring the former and failing to preserve the latter for some feckless display of dumping leaves into local waterways.

Which brings us to the history. In Boston in 1773, tea meant something. Now, it's just inexpensive. This protest means nothing. It's symbolically empty. It's like wearing an ankh to piss off your ex-goth parents or getting a tattoo or listening to loud music. Basically, it's the same sort of useless gesture that only means anything if you're a child.

If any of these people wanted to say something about taxes, they might have thrown something expensive into a river. Like smokes; they're taxed to hell. In some states, you can spend $6.50 on a single pack of Marlboros that probably only cost about $0.15 to make and need only be sold at $0.35 to make a profit. But a carton of those would run $65.00. And throwing a shipping palette of them into the river would probably run about $65,000.00 — which would demonstrate a disgust at $61,500.00 worth of taxation. But none of these symbolically catalyzing populist agitators engaged in that meaningful gesture because, like, that's expensive, maaaaaan.

The obvious response to that, of course, is: "Get a fucking job, hippie."

Either that, or: "Man up, make like the founding fathers and steal the stuff that you dump into the river. Come on, it'll be fun. The best place to get smokes is at a convenience store anyway. You could probably beat the shit out of some immigrant Paki to subdue him while you cart out the stolen wares. Don't worry, if he tries to get up, just yell, 'We Surround You'!"

Then, of course, we again run into historical stumbling blocks because a pack of smokes would still amount to not all that much conceptually. Sure, you're talking about a cheap and overtaxed product, but the taxes were levied by our own government. They represented us and produced a tax. This is taxation by our own representation. Still, this concept is the sort of thing that many teapartiers obviously failed to understand long before the party ever got planned:
In fairness, I've read that this "No Representation Without Taxation" slogan also expresses the view that people who don't pay income tax or own property and pay property taxes shouldn't be able to affect representative government. In short: fuck poor people; they're not allowed to vote. While this at least shows some passing familiarity with the historical principles of ownership and suffrage, it ignores that those ideas were espoused at a time when K-through-12 schooling wasn't universal and free, and it was assumed that the average citizen would never understand his civic obligations.

Naturally, their historical understanding of taxation isn't just out of whack with current conditions: it's also out of whack with the past too. It's probably not worth it to mention to these people that the same colonists who were protesting taxation without representation and melodramatically suggesting they were being strangled to death suffered the least onerous tax burden of any British citizens. The disparity between what colonists owed and what the average Londoner owed neared a livable wage for a single person in the colonies. That this ignorance parallels a group of people screaming bloody murder about paying the same taxes as last year while feeling victimized by the coming marginal rate increase of a tax quintile of which they themselves will never be members probably isn't worth mentioning either.

But the bad history doesn't stop there. Sometimes it comes in the form of smug tautology while someone is being baited for hours by a crowd. For example, CNN reporter Susan Roesgen stood in a crowd of teabaggers who hurled abuse at her, and she eventually got snippy with a person holding a definitively loathsome sign. True to form, FOX News reported on this event in an article with the headline "CNN Accosts Teaparty Protester" and then, in a flawless one-two punch to their own faces, made the body of the article merely an embedded Youtube link prominently labeled: "CNN Reporter Harassed at Chicago 'Tea-Party." (Link goes to image only).

Still the video is worth watching, if only for one exchange:

In case your mind is still reeling, the exchange is basically (paraphrased):
Teabagger: Obama is a fascist.
Roesgen: Why?
Teabagger: Because he is, he's a fascist.
Roesgen: In what way?
Teabagger: They are all pirates, the people in Washington.
Roesgen: How?
Teabagger: They are fascists.
First of all, the reason the guy repeats the same point over and over and resorts to tautology stems from the fact that, despite their billing from FOX, these weren't even remotely grassroots events. They were organized by FreedomWorks, a centralized, top-down right-wing copy of with all the grassroots elements stripped from it.

FreedomWorks was founded by noted homosexual hater and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. These protests were also extensively promoted on the radio show of noted adulterer and sick-wife divorcer, former republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Meanwhile, FOX personalities like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Neil Cavuto — as well as other members of the network — have aggressively pimped the tea party phenomenon over the last month.

Moreover, even cursory glances at the screen during FOX coverage showed how the televised tea parties had obviously been arranged by television producers. Protestors were cordoned into tighter areas to make their on-the-ground presence appear more dense, while FOX cameras filmed them from crane shots, at a down angle, to make sure that the frame was filled with people instead of appearing as they were: loosely organized and sparsely populated. FOX put up printed banner ads for their own network and strung them across the metal rigging near staging areas or atop the back curtain. They had the time and presence of mind to promote themselves while promoting something they'd generated as a "phenomenon" themselves. Even more importantly, FOX News aired over $500,000 in free ads for tea parties over the month of April. This wasn't grassroots. It was astroturf.

Which, again, explains why the guy interviewed by Roesgen keeps saying "Fascists" "Pirates" "Fascists": because FreedomWorks sent out emails suggesting talking points for signs. If you don't believe me, go to Flickr and pick random photostreams from protests at points across the nation and thousands of miles away from each other. You will see the same signs, down to the exact phrasing, similar sign shape and print layout. And even if that hadn't been enough, the poor devil Roesgen interviewed was probably getting similar content from FOX personalities, like longhaired jackoff Cody Willard, who drops the word fascist/fascism three times in less than ten seconds.

What would have been a more interesting question for Roesgen to ask the poor bastard with the Hitlerbama sign would have been, "Why do you think you're comfortable using the word 'fascism' to describe Barack Obama when you clearly don't know what the word means?"

It's an interesting question because a proper definition of fascism is of a populist and right-wing movement that is anti-science, anti-reason, anti-socialist and anti-liberal, that defines the nation's life through a vision of glorious palingenesis (basically, "Self-Rebirth"; think of the myth of the phoenix). Traditionally, these groups harness the disaffection of a specific ethnic or economic group and blame their economic suffering on non-native ethnic or "non-patriotic" groups, who they view as being supported by predatory liberal or socialist organizations that have tacitly declared war on the nation and nation's history. Historically, fascist groups do not achieve power on their own. Instead, a bedeviled conservative elite, fearing the erosion of their power at the hands of socialist or leftist elements, appeals to the fascists to take action against them and join in a pact of mutual interest, seeing eye to eye on the need for the elimination of leftist political power and an alliance of government and corporate interests for the regeneration of the state. (Hitler and Mussolini were both invited into government by existing conservative leadership, remember: neither of them ever "won" anything significant.)

The reason this question would have been fantastic to ask is because it might have accidentally led to this definition of fascism being voiced. At which point, Roesgen could have followed up with a far more substantive question, one that should be asked of every tea-party attendee proudly holding up pictures of Obama and Hitler or just Obama and a Hitler mustache:
Given that that is the actual definition of fascism, what do you think about what you're doing in the midst of an all-white crowd — organized by the corporate interests of the FOX News channel and two former republican leaders who have witnessed the erosion of their power at the hands of the left — blaming your suffering on socialists and communists, joining others who are calling for the elimination of "foreign people" from the land, and suggesting the need for armed insurrection and action! action! action! in order to achieve national "rebirth"?
Of course, nothing so good as asking someone about fascism when they're acting just like a fascist will ever happen on national TV. The left's stubborn adherence to objective journalism even while under attack leaves it incapable of response to proto-fascistic aggression and condemnation of "socialist/liberal" elites, because that condemnation invariably includes "the media" (all ratings facts notwithstanding).

Those depressing thoughts aside, once you eliminate the bad current events and the bad sense of history, pretty much all you're left with of any substance is bad English. Easily one in four placards at any of these tea parties was written in such a way that made anyone reading wonder, "If avoiding hearing the Spanish voice-mail greeting requires that I press 1 for English, what number do I have to press to make sure whatever you call this shit doesn't come out?" Words don't do them justice, so here's a gallery of English being butchered in defense of it:

If I didn't hold so much reverence for our gun control laws — which would be completely effective if they were only policed properly! — I'd eat a bullet after looking at that. Or, at least, after hearing Glenn Beck talk, which was the worst part of tax day.

To get to the liveblog of Glenn Beck's show and more pictures, please scroll down or click here for Part II.