Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tea Party America

Although there is some time until the November mid-terms tell us what is in store for the nation politically, and even more time before anything remotely resembling a tea party hegemony emerges, I believe we can extrapolate what a tea party America might look like based on the signs that its candidates have given us thus far. It bears stating what follows here are not merely predictions borne of the fevered imaginings of an over-active liberal mind, but conclusions based on a well documented succession of eye-opening, which is to say flat out bizarre words and actions of tea party candidates and supporters over the past year or so.

When the tea party burst onto the scene with its seething, angrily disruptive performance during the first days of the healthcare debate, it was a faceless mass of people howling from the fringes of our politics. Now that leaders have stepped forward to claim the mantles of various elected offices, a clear picture is beginning to take shape.

First up, Nevada tea party candidate, Sharron Angle. At the outset of Angle’s campaign, she remarked "What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability of sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock...That tells me the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of their government? They are afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment ways. And that’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?"

Buried in this gibberish is the patently un-American idea that if the outcomes of elections which are carried out legally and fairly are not to our liking, then its okay to take up arms and begin threatening the body politic with deadly force. Presumably, if this is a fine and dandy way for tea party members and ultra-conservatives to behave, it should be equally condoned if liberals follow suit in the event that any given election cycle leaves their noses out of joint.

Next is Carl Paladino, seeking the governorship of the state of New York under the aegis of the tea party. Paladino recently upbraided his Democrat opponent as a poor example of parenthood for marching with his gay daughter in a gay pride parade to demonstrate his acceptance of her and indeed of all gay Americans. We can reasonably suspect that we are through the looking glass when we are forced to endure lectures on morality from a man who has been known to routinely send bestial, pornographic, and racist e-mails to his friends, which Paladino has admitted doing.

Christine O’Donnell certainly stunned the citizens of Maryland by trouncing a well established, long-time Republican politician in that state’s primaries. More stunning have been the revelations that have subsequently emerged regarding her one-time status as a witch, her bogus claims to academic achievement, and her strange involvement in campaigns to "cure" gay people and to abolish masturbation. As a liberal, I don’t think I could write a fictional narrative that could compete with the whacked out, lurid plot points of this woman’s actual life
Which may pale in comparison to the exploits of Ohio tea party candidate, Rich Iott. In a move that defies everything heretofore known about political optics, this man entered a high profile race even though he has been photographed gamboling through the Ohio countryside in full Nazi storm trooper regalia. He was once (but no longer) a WWII re-enactor who, sad to say, chose to align himself with the losing side of that conflict. One would assume this could only bode ill for his campaign, but in this year of the rise of the tea party, who can say?

I began this column with the intention of bringing to light all of the strange candidates that the surging tea party has deemed acceptable to lead our country, but neither time nor space will allow me to insert them all. I must leave for another day Rand Paul, who after winning the Kentucky primary opined that restaurant owners should be allowed to discriminate, on the basis of race, who may and may not patronize their places of business. And Ken Buck who, as a Colorado DA five years ago, refused to take an alleged rape victim’s case because her charges might be seen as a case of "buyer’s remorse."

But I think the point is made. Based on the examples above, the country that tea party candidates would bestow upon us would be a place awash in a fair amount of callousness, hypocrisy, racism, violence and a tenuous grasp on reality. I realize that if a majority of the voting public sees no problem with the above, then the joke could be on me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Liberal-Land vs Flyover Country

Longview News Journal commentator Michael Schwartz's column in the Saturday June 12 edition was stunning for its hostility and bitterness in spite of his attempts at humor. Schwartz, after presumably much consideration and soul-searching, has come to the conclusion that America should be divided down the middle on purely ideological grounds. In his vision, the country no longer would be "one nation, under God," but should henceforth be balkanized into Liberal and Conservative ghettos which he thinks of respectively (and simplistically) as Liberal-Land and Flyover Country. He advocates a "Divorce" between these parties which he believes have irreconcilable differences.

One friend upon considering Schwartz's ideas told me she'd rather think of it as an annulment, since she couldn't  conceive of consummating a marriage with the vicious know-nothing tea party whack-jobs who are the self-proclaimed leaders of of the conservative movement nowadays. Another friend trenchantly added that Schwartz's historical antecedents had tried his idea before. They lost.

Schwartz's imprecations and maledictions seem to have their source in Barack Obama's assumption of the office of President in 2008. He acknowledges that liberals and conservatives have "tolerated" each other for 230 years, but in a raging pique of the classic sore loser, is willing to disband us into the "Divided States of America" on the basis of barely half of one presidential term. Whither perspective? Whither respect for the legal, measured transition of power in our country? Clearly they've gone missing from Schwartz's political reality.

Thus in lieu of political reality, we get political fantasy. Utopias spun by the impressionable minds of those who've grown weary of the work of Democracy. You know, old fashioned ideas such as the debate and compromise that leads to effective governance, bothersome notions like that. Don't care for people of differing opinions and viewpoints? Well then banish them forthwith to those areas of the country perceived as being beneath the standards of your group. That would include all those urban centers of crime, welfare, diversity and, one assumes other horrors like culture, higher learning, and cross-cultural friendship and dialog.

Don't care for media that strives for straightforward fairness in reporting? Then choose media that unremittingly spews extremist views under the guise of "balance," poisoning the well of civil discourse in the process. Only an extremist like Schwartz would identify the FOX News echo-chamber with integrity, even though well documented studies have shown FOX viewers to be among the most poorly served and misinformed in the nation when it comes to the plain facts of any given story.

Schwartz strives mightily to claim God in the divorce proceedings, but I am a religious liberal who says, "not so fast buddy." If he means the harsh, punitive, God who dominates the Old Testament, you know the one who was big on smiting folks, taking sides in internecine human conflicts, and was given to ethical lapses that wouldn't pass muster in a high school civics class, well he can have that God. But it seems to me that Jesus was a liberal who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant. And he espoused an ethical program of giving to the poor and needy that should make welfare opponents choke on their self righteous bromides regarding work, bootstraps, and self reliance.

Presumably, in Flyover country, all  the political and cultural advances brought to bear by Liberalism in America would have to be weeded out. You can't let that stuff linger because people might once again become inured to such things as a safe food supply, clean air and water, protected wilderness areas, Medicare and Social Security, a forty hour work week, safe working conditions for employees, voting rights for women and blacks, collective bargaining for workers, and access to public spaces for the disabled. You'll want to restore the Gilded Age mentality that led to the Great Depression in the 1930's, and nearly brought about another one in 2007. You'll be glad no doubt to say goodbye to all that wretched diversity that has blighted the American scene with art, jazz, dance, theater, intellect, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian and alas, even French cuisine. In Flyover Country, prepare to consume a whole lot of corn.

Couldn't care less for diversity? Well get ready for a bland, homogenized world in which everyone looks acts and thinks just like you. Seems to me that for centuries people from across the globe have been leaving such places in order to make it to a diverse, friendly place called America. Clearly, Schwartz and those of his ilk no longer have use for such childish dreams.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tea Party Stealth

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." The following (with apologies to Dickens) is the tale of two demonstrations. I had the opportunity to attend both within the span of a week, and the differences couldn't have been more apparent.

On Tuesday, April 17, I was present at the Tyler Civic Theatre to show support for their planned performance of "The Laramie Project" which explores the effects on the town of Laramie, Wyoming of the murder of Matthew Sheppard. The play, which the company had chosen and cast for presentation in the upcoming season, had hit a snag in the form of a few complaints by controversy-phobic citizens. In a momentary loss of nerve, the board of the theater considered pulling the play in an effort to head off an unpleasant showdown with area conservatives. They lost sight of the necessity of challenging those who would deny them the right to free speech.

Of course when they attempted to quietly step back from the brink, area liberals were stirred to action. That's where the demonstration sponsored by TAG (Tyler Area Gays) came in. This was a clear and clarion First Amendment action in which those who showed up to defend free speech did so in the face of potentially overwhelming opposition given the cultural makeup of the region. Pro free speech demonstrators numbered close to two hundred. The opposition only managed a paltry three or four individuals.

The spirit of the larger group was friendly and positive, but determined. When a counter demonstrator shouted, bible in hand, from his designated side of the street, we drowned him out with the children's hymn, "Jesus Loves Me This I Know," giving great emphasis to the phrase "For The Bible Tells Me So!" After a couple of hours of singing, chanting slogans, and speeches, board members emerged from their closed door conference with the news that the show would go on! It was an important victory for liberal values in East Texas. Tickets go on sale in May.

Four days later I attended a Tea Party gathering at the Gregg County courthouse in Longview, sponsored by the local chapter of We The People. As an unapologetic, incorrigible liberal, I would have liked nothing more than to report the same kinds of violence-drenched language and antics by Tea Partiers that we've been treated to in the national press of late, but let me say here and now that it just didn't happen. What I saw on Saturday seemed as wholesome a slice of Americana as you could hope to see. Precisely therein lies the story.

The scenes of the day had all the brooding menace of a Norman Rockwell painting. Unfortunately for the Tea Party (and the GOP), they had all the vitality and passion of one as well. It raises the fascinating question that if the Tea Party is forced to put restraints on its more violent, racist wing, must it also say goodbye to the energy that wing brings to the table? It's a dilemma that we will no doubt see played out over the next couple of political seasons, and the conclusion is not clear. To my mind, Richard Hofstadter's 1963 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" has never been more relevant.

State Legislative candidate David Simpson and local Republican operative Keith Rothra did a passable "good preacher/bad preacher" routine peppering standard political rhetoric with the religious pandering and dog whistles that East Texas conservatives have come to expect from their politicians. Simpson's speech veered from politics to maudlin visions of a halcyon time when government and taxes weren't needed because "sin did not exist." Rothra roused the crowd with the stentorian intonations of an Old Testament prophet or a fire and brimstone preacher by repeating Sarah Palin's exhortation to "reload" rather than retreat.

But the man of the hour was Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, who prefaced his remarks by thanking God for the "favor" of cloud cover to ward off the afternoon sun. What followed was a rambling, disjointed mixture of conservative pablum, red meat, and congressional anecdotes that were clearly not composed by or for deep thinkers. I personally heard Gohmert repeat one such yarn from another speech he gave in Tyler a year ago about how administration hacks had stolen and ruined his idea for a "Tax Holiday" which consequently never saw the light of day. The crowd, on cue, groaned sympathetically. Gohmert's best pronouncement of the day was his fervent wish that the Tea Party movement would one day absorb the Republican Party, and I couldn't have agreed more.

As he really warmed to his crowd and threatened to carry it late into the afternoon on the wings of his oratory, the clouds burst forth with a considerable downpour which sent the fair-weather Tea Partiers and the rest of us scurrying to our cars. Apparently, God had had his fill.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


In a follow-up to my last post, it was gratifying to read in this morning's Longview News Journal an AP story noting that the brouhaha on the right over the so called "Climategate" controversy has been revealed to be largely unfounded. Why the paper chose to bury such a significant story on page 4A is anyone's guess, but I hope many noticed it nonetheless. The thrust of the piece is that the science backing up the twin claims that global warming is happening and that it is caused in large degree by human activity now stands vindicated. Doubtless this in no way will dampen the passions of the eco-belligerent, who have demonstrated a strong aversion to matters of science and fact. Nor will it staunch the flow of conspiracy drenched agitprop coming from the regressive right. But the reality based world in which the rest of us exist can move ahead with policies that at least have a chance of averting disaster.

That's the Wednesday, March 31 edition....Just sayin'.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010


"Root, stem, limb, leaf,
the glow and hue of flower and fruit-
one rain extends to them
and all are able to become fresh and glossy."~The Lotus Sutra

While the motivations of advocates for eco-friendly policies and practices seem fairly straightforward - being "friendly" toward earth's often fragile ecologies - those of their opponents appear murky at best. What, we might reasonably ask, could be the harm in looking after this, our only planet, our only home? Increasingly, it is difficult to come to anything but the unfortunate conclusion that the goal most highly prized among the "eco-belligerent" or the "eco-indifferent" is the immense pleasure derived from obstructing those with the unmitigated temerity to care for the planet which sustains our life.

The conflict between the aforementioned camps stretches back at least to the 1970's when it centered on high profile issues such as the detrimental effects of pesticides like DDT. Lately the issue serving as a lightening rod for liberals and conservatives is global warming, or under it's more technical name, anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The bone of contention between the opponents being the extent to which human activity may be leading the planet down the road to ruin. In other words, emphasis is placed on the predictability (or lack thereof) of an imminent ecological catastrophe.

I'll resist adding my voice to the armies of scientists, politicos, and hangers on parroting the talking points of their respective sides. For me, obssessing on the future is too speculative to be of practical help, and throws little useful light on our situation. More relevant is the track record of our species on this planet which is documented and thus is not in doubt. I am more concerned with what might be called anthropogenic trashing (AGT), which has caused, and is causing degradation, illness and ecological strain on our still beautiful planet. In this light, microcosm is macrocosm. Past is prologue. Greenhouse gases and garbage may be different in magnitude, but not in kind. Trashing the air arises from the same mentality as littering the streets.

One facile argument on the right regarding human activity and ecological degradation is the idea that we haven't been around long enough to do any serious damage. Such obtuseness dangerously underestimates the human capacity for exponential population growth and its predictable strain on resources. Such a notion ignores the many ecological disasters already on record which have threatened or destroyed natural habitats like coastal wetlands, and even claimed human lives. To listen to the minions of the eco-unfriendly these days is to witness a variant of mass selective memory. Its as though history has been expunged from their minds.

But in the reality based community, we know that the Great Pacific Trash Gyre exists. One estimate puts the size of this floating trash island caused by vortex-like currents in the ocean at around that of the United States. With a ratio of plastic to plankton of 48 to 1 this buoyant dump site is quite a testament to the proliferation of waste carelessly discarded by humans the world over. Do the eco-belligerent consider this to be a good thing for the oceans?

Another ecological nightmare seemingly forgotten by know nothing commentators on all things environmental is the October 2000 Coal Sludge Spill in which some 300 billion gallons of arsenic laced coal slurry deluged a significant portion of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. In classic right wing form, the lone official who attempted to investigate the incident was silenced. The Massey Energy Company whose breached reservoir was responsible for the spill, received a slap on the wrist by the Bush administration. Much of the slurry still lines the streams that feed the Ohio River.

Nor do the eco-indifferent recall the spectacular disasters of the distant and recent past which must be laid squarely at the feet of our species: The Libby Montana Asbestos contamination, Union Carbide's 1984 Bhopal India gas disaster (20,000 dead), Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Love Canal,  Picher Oklahoma's lead contamination incident, The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. In light of our well documented tendency to foul our lands and waterways, can anyone seriously doubt our capacity for visiting environmental armaggedon upon the atmosphere?

In the end this is not about dire predictions of the future of global warming, but remaining cognizant of humankind's environmentally dubious past and present. The question becomes is it possible to care too much for the tiny raft of the earth set adrift in the vast infinitude of the cosmos. A helpful hint in answering the question: It has nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and everything to do with survival.