Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Party, neither tea nor a party.

I did something unusual today. Since it was tax day I went to the big metro-wide Tea Party rally. I was there from 2 pm until 10 pm. I talked to dozens of people, listened in on dozens of conversations and heard many speakers. They also had a booth area for organizations, and I checked out every single booth at the event, probably around 50 or 60 of them in total.

First, the big news: the Tea Party is not libertarian oriented. Not in any way, any shape, or any form. What I saw was the worst of the conservative movement, which these days is pretty bad since even main stream conservatives have become repulsive to all decent people.

First, even though today was tax day, taxes weren't the issue that motivated this crowd. I saw few signs protesting high taxes, few protesting Obamacare and none referring to the bailouts of Wall Street and corporate America. Two things drove these people to frenzied disgust: Obama and immigrants.

The Obama hatred was pervasive. I'm no fan of Obama, but I dislike the man because I dislike the policies he promotes. I consider him another George Bush, just one who can finish a complete sentence. But the worst Bush policies are pretty much the same as the worst Obama policies. I see Bush and Obama much like I see Hoover and FDR. The one started the bad policies that the other completed, but they aren't opposites just horrifyingly similar.

That the Tea Party movement didn't protest the big government policies of Bush, but are rabid about Obama, tells me that there is more here than a love for liberty. Actually I saw little indication for a love for liberty among these people.

What they wanted was Big Brother government using all its power to root out and find illegal immigrants looking for jobs. These were people who would applaud government monitoring work places, setting up ID check points, having the police randomly stop people in the streets to check their "papers" to make sure they are "legal" residents. These are the type of people who as children, thought the hall monitors were good guys making sure everyone had a "pass" from teacher. I would call them closet authoritarians except I don't think they're in the closet.

One woman was lecturing a camera about "my country is like my house." She thought that silly analogy valid."And I have the right to say who comes into my house." I couldn't stand it any more and from where I was seated yelled to her: "It's my house too." Not being too bright she smiled, pointed at me and yelled, "EXACTLY!" To that I replied: "And I don't care who comes in." She was not thrilled with that reply.

My point was that this is as much my country as it is her own. The idea that the country is a big version of her house is absurd unless she thinks that my house is somehow just a room in her house and that I have to live under her thumb. There are plenty of people who welcome anyone who wants to work, and are willing to hire them, willing to rent to them, and willing to be friends with them. The country as "private property" scenario is absurd, mainly because everyone I know who makes that assumption also assumes that all of us are as xenophobic as they are. Actually some of them aren't xenophobic in general, at least not if the immigrants are white.

One t-shirt that was being sold had Uncle Sam pointing his figure at the reader, in the old "I want you" motif. But this time the slogan was: "I want YOU to speak English." Think about that for a second. Uncle Sam is supposed to be a benevolent stand-in for the government. When Uncle Sam says something, it is the federal government saying it. So these "small government" conservatives were hawking t-shirts that make what language people are speaking a matter of federal concern. I am not saying the t-shirt is the equivalent to policy but that they thought it worth hawking indicated their mentality.

My view is libertarian, of course. The government doesn't have any business telling any private citizen what language they should speak. Talk in ancient Aramaic for all I care. One thing studies show is that the fastest way for new residents of a country to learn the local language is for them to get a job—something these people are trying to prevent for Mexicans, while still demanding they learn English. I know how hard it is to not speak the main language of a country—I've been there. I've also lived in multi-lingual countries and spent 10 years listening to my other half chatting in Afrikaans on the phone. It's no big deal except to xenophobes.

I did not think that the Tea Party movement was inspired by racism. And I don't think the racism is overt. But what I saw today did cause me to believe that a large percentage of the protest is racist inspired. The focus on Obama the man, with some rather crude caricatures, and not on the policies, only fed into that. And you know when these people talk about "illegal aliens" they don't mean Canadians.

The politicians who showed up, with on exception, were the worst sort from the Republican Party. I won't go into names since most are only locally known. But we are talking hard-core, law and order authoritarians. These are the kind of politicians who want stricter state control of people's sex lives, want the police to have few restraints because of the pesky Bill of Rights, who think the 2nd amendment is important but the 1st amendment is a myth. These are the politicians who think the number one issue in America is not runaway government but Mexicans wanting to bus tables and clean yards.

One person told me Ayn Rand was a genius. I am not one to disagree with that since I have some idea what her IQ was, and it was impressive. And I'm generally sympathetic to Rand with some areas of disagreement. But another was equally as quick to tell me she was evil because she was an atheist. He was unhappy when I responded, "So was Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises." He clearly had no idea who Hayek and Mises were but said, "Oh, well Friedman was good." The only thing he knew about Rand was she was a non-theist but that was all he needed to know.

But isn't that the conservative creature in a nutshell? An atheist must be bad because he or she is an atheist. Nothing else need be known. A homosexual is bad because he/she is a homosexual. A "illegal" immigrant is bad because they don't a permission slip from a politician to be here .

I have a tendency to find libertarians where I go and I found very few today. A few spotted me and came over to speak. But out of the thousands of people there today I got a sense that less than 10% could be remotely described as libertarians. Even one alleged libertarian group was handing out flyers headlined: "Stop Illegal Immigration. Yes!"

When I attended the American Humanist Association convention, with a much smaller audience, I found far more libertarians than I expected. I was surprised and would have estimated that 20% of the audience was libertarian. At the Atheist International conference with Richard Dawkins I again got the sense that around a quarter of the audience was libertarian oriented. Michael Shermer and I were discussing the matter and he said his sense of such events were that one-quarter to one-third were libertarian.

When I last saw Carol Ruth Silver, Harvey Milk's good friend and ally on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I felt nothing but respect from her for libertarians. And she really did seem to understand where libertarians were coming from and while she disagreed on some important matters she was respectful and sympathetic. But when I talk to conservative leaders I don't feel the same respect, but a dislike. To them a libertarian is merely a conservative who wants to take drugs, or is gay.

Carol Ruth told me that libertarians interest her because they take ideas seriously. Conservatives, don't take ideas seriously and dislike libertarians because they do. But more than anything the conservative has this haunting suspicion that a libertarian is merely an immoral conservative. They don't get us. Sure, some on the Left don't get us either. But many do.

I can talk to friends on the Left. They are willing to debate based on evidence, facts, information, etc. They have some sense of being reality-based. But what I get from the Right today is a disdain for the facts and reality. They don't need such pesky things since they speak for God, and they know what God wants—God, to their great fortune, happens to agree completely with them. And since God said it, that settles it, and evidence is immaterial.

Look at the Right-wing debate on marriage equality. They are against it because God is against it. Because their God is the only God, and their God thinks they are 100% correct. Anyone who says God disagrees has a false God since God hates fags. Hey, they won't be as honest as the Westboro Baptist crowd but in their hearts that is what they believe.

One old libertarian friend of mine was there. When I saw him I said: "I'm so glad to see you. You are an island of sanity is a sea of crazy." He found it amusing, saying he thought I always saw him as touched himself. But he had the same reaction I did. He was really disgusted by the tone and tenor of the participants. He was sick of the Godly preaching at him, pushing religion on him, and claiming that everything is based on the Bible. He couldn't stomach the event as long as I did and left with his wife, telling me he was looking forward to the upcoming gay festival instead. If anything his few hours among the tea party crowd made him more anxious to attend the festival.

There is a great line in the remake of Hairspray (2007). One actress I've always enjoyed, Queen Latiffah, plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her son is dating a white girl, this in the late 50s, or early 60s. When Maybelle realizes it she tells the couple: "Well, love is a gift. A lot of people don't remember that, so you two better brace yourselves for a whole lot of ugly comin' at you from a never ending parade of stupid." Listening to the Tea Party crowd here today I thought of that quote repeatedly. What I saw was a " whole lot of ugly coming from a never ending parade of stupid."

I certainly hope the mood wasn't the same at other Tea Party events. But I know the other major local rally, held earlier in the day, which I didn't attend, was similarly ugly—with a lot of immigrant bashing going on there as well, and the two thousand attendees applauded a well known law enforcement figure who likes to find excuses to stop anyone who looks Hispanic as an pretense to search them for a green card. He was considered a hero at that rally.

What I got out of this rally, other than some nasty sun burn, is a sense of despair, not on the part of these people, but on my part. What was made clear to me is that the Tea Party people are not the great hope for America that they think they are. They are no more freed0m-oriented than President Obama. These activists struck me as angry people, looking for scapegoats. These were the people who see anyone who disagrees with them as purely evil in nature. I got no sense that there were libertarian sentiments amongst these people. They are NOT libertarians but conservative authoritarians. They are driven by a law & order mentality and a fear of the different. They are more likely to see people as evil than wrong and less accepting of the choice of others. For them, to choice other than they do, threatens them. They want a world where they are surrounded by pale versions of themselves.

They are not my kind of people. This Tea Party reminded me more of the one thrown by the Mad Hatter and not the one thrown by the Founders at Boston harbor.

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