Don't Ridicule the Tea-Partyers -- Recruit Them
The Crisis Papers
January 20, 2010
Along with the rest of you, I am amused and entertained when
Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, et al, lampoon the tea
bag brigades. It is so easy to target those poor souls, with their stupid
signs, their incoherent slogans, and their appalling ignorance of
fundamental political and historical facts.
Ridicule the Tea Partyers? A cheap thrill, to be sure.
But also lousy political strategy!
News flash! Most people react negatively to insults, and turn against
those who make fun of them. Moreover, those who are insulted are likely to
respond with renewed and enhanced convictions. That’s how I respond. You
too, I dare say. It’s simple human nature.
To be sure, Schultz’s “Psycho Talk” and Olbermann’s “Worst Persons” and
other such attacks on right-wing crazies are worthy exercises. So too the
clever antics of “Billionaires for Wealthfare” and “The Yes Men.” But no one
expects such attacks to persuade Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, O’Reilly, Backman,
deMint, et al to forsake their wicked ways. Instead, such well
deserved ridicule is designed to discredit these sources of tea-bag
delusions. Accordingly, they are appropriate targets of derision.
But not the tea-bag movement, en masse, and most assuredly, not each
of those who identify with it.
So how should the strategically savvy progressive deal with the tea-Partyers,
both collectively and face-to-face?
Above all, one should acknowledge that many, and perhaps most, tea-Partyers
are not the right-wing enemy, they are the victims of the right-wing along
with the vast majority of the rest of us.
Face it: Dick Armey, Glenn Beck, FAUX News, and the billionaires that are
funding the tea-bag movement have accomplished a truly astonishing feat.
They have persuaded millions of the victims of the banksters, big pharma,
insurance, energy conglomerates, etc. to protest in behalf of their
oppressors, and against their potential liberators and their own
self-interest. One could almost admire the well-funded geniuses who pulled
this off, but for the fact that they are greedy, unprincipled and ruthless
Progressives and tea-Partyers share two fundamental complaints against the
corporate oligarchy: economic injustice and disenfranchisement.
The “powers-that-be” have effectively deprived the vast majority of American
citizens of their fair share of the national wealth, and they have excluded
“We the People” from the political process. Progressives are well aware of
these injustices, and their political programs are directed to the
alleviation of these abuses.. On the other hand, Dick Armey’s “Freedom
Works” and the other puppet-masters behind the tea-bag movement hide these
just grievances behind a smoke screen of epithets, irrelevancies and empty
slogans: “socialists!,” “communists!,” “fascism,” “liberal elites,”
“ACORN,” “big government.”
When dealing with a tea-partyer, perhaps the most effective tactical maneuver
is to “parry” these accusations gently and, if possible, with an affirmative
response and then to move on to economic issues.
Case-in-point: if you are asked “are you for abortion?,” answer directly,
“no I am not.” The question is ambiguous, and in one interpretation it is
doubtful that anyone ever needs to answer otherwise. In a strict sense,
absolutely no one believes that abortion, per se, is a good thing. No
woman ever attempted to get pregnant for no other reason than to enjoy the
ordeal of having an abortion. At the very least, abortion is an
inconvenience, and at worse, murder. Therein lies the controversy. Advice:
move on before you get bogged down in that controversy. It is not relevant
to the essential political issues now before us.
Likewise for the issues of “God, guns and gays.”
In conversation with a tea-partyer, remember that “A soft answer turneth away
wrath.” Don't try to engage in an academic discussion. Evidence and rules of
inference mean little to a typical tea-partyer, who regards science and
intellect as an elitist conspiracy of “eggheads.” In such an encounter, what
you are dealing with is not a coherent world-view, but with incoherent yet
justifiable rage, skillfully re-directed toward the innocent. In Nazi
Germany, it was the Jews. In the post-confederate South, it was the blacks.
At the time of Senator Joe McCarthy, it was “pinkos” and “com-symps”
(“communist sympathizers”), and now it is “liberal elites.” It is a familiar
and effective tactic known as “scapegoating.”
Faced with such an attitude, I have found that questions are much more
effective than assertions. Given the simplistic, exaggerated, and
ill-defined notions behind the slogans and labels, it can be rather easy to
come to some vague sort of agreement and then move on to the essential
issues: the restoration of economic justice and responsive government “of,
by, and for the people.”
Because the tea-bag phenomenon issues from the gut and not from the head,
most attempts to talk plain common sense to these true believers will be
futile – like trying to persuade a “young earth” creationist to accept
evolution. While most will be unmoved by evidence and well-directed
questions, a few might. After all, it should not be all that difficult to
articulate a few shared political convictions or to identify the culprits
who are exploiting us and who have captured our government. The typical tea-partyer is a follower, not an original or independent thinker. Thus, once
a few of them come to recognize the manipulative corporate “men behind the
curtain,” others may join them. It is just possible that a significant
minority of the puppets might cut their strings and turn upon the
So how does one talk to a tea-partyer? Let’s try this out with an imaginary
Progressive: Please explain to me, just what is your complaint against the
liberals and the Obama administration.
Tea-Partyer They are a bunch of socialists and fascists who are taxing us to
death, want to take away our guns, give our jobs to illegal aliens, and tear
up our Constitution.
P: Let’s take these one at a time. First, guns. Clearly, the Second
Amendment says that we have the right to own guns. I agree. So if you can
show my any instances of a law or government activity involved in seizing
the guns of a law-abiding citizen I will join you in opposing it. Are you
aware of any such law or activity supported by the federal government?
I am also opposed to illegal immigration. But do you believe that immigrants
would cross our borders illegally if there were no jobs available to them?
If not, then isn't this a problem of illegal employers as much as illegal
immigrants? So will you join me in demanding strict enforcement of
T: Surely you must agree that we are paying too much in taxes, and that
much of our tax money is thrown away on waste, fraud and abuse.
P: Yes, I agree. And if we had a fair tax system, you and I would pay less
in federal taxes – unless you are much richer than I believe you are. Did
you know that most millionaires and billionaires pay a smaller percentage of
their incomes to taxes than average Joes like us? And most corporations
evade their taxes through loopholes or by incorporating offshore in foreign
countries? Yet these corporations and rich folks use the public roads,
benefit from public police and fire protection, are protected by the
military, and hire workers educated at public expense. Shouldn't they pay a
fair share for these benefits? As for waste, fraud and abuse of government
funds, who approves except, of course, the scoundrels who benefit? And
clearly that’s neither of us. So if you want to crack down on those
scoundrels, I am completely with you.
T: Now look , everybody knows that Obama is a socialist, or maybe even a
P: Help me out here. What do you mean by “socialist”?
T: Socialism is when the government runs everything. No private enterprise.
P: Well, unless I am mistaken, you’re not describing the Obama program. Can
you cite any Obama proposal to abolish private businesses? I can't think of
any. Seems to me that the federal government is, if anything, too much under
the control of private business – big business, I mean. Big drug companies,
big insurance, big energy, Wall Street, the six corporations that control
90% of the mass media. Meanwhile, small business is being squeezed. Family
businesses on Main Street, perhaps yours, can’t compete with Wal-Mart, Home
Depot, etc. If your complaint is that the government in Washington, under
the Bushes, Clinton and now Obama, are not looking after the little guy, I’m
with you. But is this because of creeping socialism, or is it instead,
because of unregulated national and international corporations?
T: About fascism?
P: Well, “fascism” as a political movement originated with Mussolini in
Italy, who defined it as the merging of corporate and government interests.
And yes, as we just noted, so defined, it is a genuine threat. But are the
Republicans, and the sponsors of the Tea Bag movement such as Freedom Works,
a solution to corporate control of government, or in fact a large part of
the problem? Which party in the Congress is responsive more to the corporate
contributors than to the voters?
T: Both are.
P: Sadly, that is true. But which party is more responsive? Show me a
politician of either party that ignores the interests of the voters and is
“bought” by corporate contributors, and we will both do our best to separate
that politician from his office. Agreed?
T: When I say “fascism,” I mean that Obama and the liberals are taking away
P: So who set aside trial by jury, habeas corpus, the Fourth
Amendment guarantees against search and seizure, the prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishment? Not Obama. True, he hasn’t restored all of
these and other violations of the Constitution that were put in place by the
Bush administration, and I am damned angry that he hasn’t. But can you cite
for me one instance of an attempt by the Obama administration to take away
our Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms? If you can, then I will
join you in protesting such an outrage.
T: Now look, you are just playing with my mind. I am a conservative, and I
want to take our country back from you liberal elites.
P: “Liberal?” “Conservative?” I’m not sure I understand what these words
mean any more. So let me tell you what I do believe, and I will leave it to
you to decide what label to pin on me. Most fundamentally, I endorse the
founding documents of our republic: the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution. Thus I believe that it is the function of government to secure
the rights of each citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, in the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, it is the
function of government to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the
Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." With the late Barbara
Jordan, I affirm that “my faith in the Constitution is whole, it is
complete, it is total.”
Now isn’t that what you would call
“conservative” point of view? And if some wealthy and powerful
individuals and trans-national corporations attempt to “buy out” our
Congress, our courts, and yes, our Chief Executive, then, with Barbara
Jordan, “I am not going to ... be an idle spectator to the diminution, the
subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”
You want your country back? So do I. But “back” from whom and from what?
Sure, we have our differences, but these are distractions from the central
political issues of our time
about which, I
submit, we agree. We both support and defend the Constitution of
the United States. We both agree that the wealth produced cooperatively by
workers, investors, educators and government in the national economy should
be fairly distributed. We both agree that the government of the United
States, in particular the Congress, belongs to the people, not to
corporations and most assuredly not to trans-national corporations. And we
both believe in free markets and open competition, both of which are
subverted by the concentration of political and economic power in the hands
of the very wealthy.
We have come a long way from the ideals of the founding of our republic, and
it will be a long and arduous struggle to get our country back.
Will you join me and other so-called “liberals” in this effort? And if not,
please explain to me why not?
Copyright 2010, by Ernest Partridge
Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications
Conscience of a Progressive:
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field
of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at
the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, "The Online
Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website,
"The Crisis Papers".
Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: