First as Tragedy, Then as Farce—Why Tea Party and OWS Can’t Just Get Along

First as Tragedy, Then as FarceA reader suggested that I check out Slavoj Žižek. So I grabbed a copy of First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, his attack on modern liberalism from a leftist persepctive. These are my kinds of books. Part of it is just that I’m an iconoclast. I’ve already researched libertarian theory about as far as one can. As regular readers know, I find it intellectually interesting but a practical disaster—the kind of thing that eggheads love because it has a kind of deductive perfection but with all kinds of hidden (and ridiculous) assumptions.

So even though I consider myself something like a social democrat, I find hard left critiques very useful. Plus they are welcome relief from a country with such a narrow, extreme right-shifted Overton Window that classical liberalism is considered “far left.”

Žižek is worth checking out. The book is very interesting. But right now, I want to discuss something he writes early on:

[Republican Senator Jim] Bunning was the first to publicly outline the contours of the reasoning behind the Republican Party revolt against the [2008 TARP] bail-out plan, which climaxed in the rejection of the Fed’s proposal on September 29. The argument deserves a closer look. Note how Republican resistance to the bail-out project was formulated in “class warfare” terms: Wall Street versus Main Street. Why should we help those on “Wall Street” responsible for the crisis, while asking ordinary mortgageholders on “Main Street” to pay the price? Is this not a clear case of what economic theory calls “moral hazard,” defined as “the risk that somebody will behave immorally because insurance, the law, or some other agency with protect them against any loss that his or her behavior might cause”—if I am insured against fire, say, I will take fewer fire precautions (or, in extremes, even set fire to my fully insured but loss-generating premises)? The same goes for the big banks: are they not protected against big losses and able to keep their profits? No wonder that Michael Moore wrote a letter to the public decrying the bail-out plan as the robbery of the century.

What I want to discuss does not relate directly to Žižek’s book. Instead, it is this issue of the overlap between (for lack of better terms) the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

If you listen to what people in the two groups say, they are often shockingly similar. The way they talk about the issues is different, but the core issues are the same: justice. The TP people, being older, often show off their ossification: the whole “You kids get off my lawn!” thing, with the repulsive (but understandable) acceptance of welfare that I get and rejection of welfare that “they” get. And the OWS people, being younger, tend to be more idealistic and sometimes say silly things. But on the whole, there is a lot of agreement, so why don’t the movements agree on anything?

In particular, I wonder why it is that the TP people did such a good job of organizing for the 2010 elections only to vote entirely against their own interests. Who did they elect? A bunch of people determined to destroy government except when it comes to abortion rights. Did any of the people they elected stand up against corporate welfare? Not that I’ve seen. They elected people who talk populist but govern corporate.

I think the main problem is with their leadership. First, they wedded themselves to the Republican Party whose ideology over the last 40 years has been whittled down to: power for power’s sake. Second, the leaders inside the Tea Party itself seem to be the same old social conservatives that took over the local Republican Party offices over this same time period. Thus, when it came time to get people elected, the most important thing was that the candidates be radically anti-choice. For example, Sharron Angle’s advice to a 13-year-old girl who is pregnant because her father raped her:

I think that two wrongs don’t make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade.

Lemons: daddy rape. Lemonade: unwanted deformed children! Get rid of corporate welfare? Just as soon as you stop abortion everywhere—especially all those depriving us of such delicious lemonade!

What I’ve seen is that populism on the right always leads fanaticism on the part of its adherents. And this always leads to plutocracy and autocracy. The same thing has happened on the left, but I think the history of communism tends to keep the modern left on a pragmatic footing. Certainly fascism should do the same for the right, but it doesn’t. For whatever reason, most people today think the fascists were bad because of their antisemitism alone. Thus, any form of fascism that isn’t antisemitic is okay, as long as you don’t call it fascism.

Where the two movements stand today is telling. The OWS movement is buzzing with activity. They have presented a lot of really thoughtful policy critiques and proposals. The TP movement, on the other hand, has been reduced to nothing but slogans because in the end, all they stood for was the Republican Party platform—but more so!

There is the potential for the movements to interact. The problem, I think, is the ossification of the old. I listened to a Richard Carrier lecture recently and he explained that humans take long-held opinions that have not been challenged as evidence that those opinions are right. Given the media landscape in the United States and the ability to get all of one’s “news” from Fox, it will be hard to get the TP members to even admit that they don’t necessarily have all the answers. (Except in theory, because everyone will admit this in theory.)

Our only hope is with the young. And they are as likely to get things wrong as right. Remember, one of Hitler’s earliest coalitions were the university students. But OWS seems to be headed in the right direction.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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