Using Extremism to Build a Movement

“After I spent the weekend at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., it has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It’s more John Birch than John Adams. . . .  Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn’t just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.”

So writes Jonathan Kay, the conservative managing editor for comment at the National Post in Canada and author of an upcoming book, Among the Truthers: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them. Writing for Newsweek, Kay reports that last week’s Tea Party convention in Nashville also included a heavy strain of religious-right nuttiness interwoven with political paranoia:

“And then, of course, there is the double-whopper of all anti-Obama conspiracy theories, the ‘birther’ claim that America’s president might actually be an illegal alien who’s constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House. This point was made by birther extraordinaire and Christian warrior Joseph Farah, who told the crowd the circumstances of Obama’s birth were more mysterious than those of Jesus Christ. (Apparently comparing Obama to a messiah is only blasphemous if you’re doing so in a complimentary vein.)”

Read Kay’s revealing essay here.

The Nashville event also had a Texas flavor. One of the keynote speakers was Rick Scarborough, pastor and head of the Texas-based, Christian-right Vision America. Scarborough led the Tea Partiers in prayer, which included the typical anti-gay attacks we have come to expect from him, and made it clear to reporters that one of the many threats he sees to America is immigration:

“America is a country of legal immigrants but the Left has turned it into a country of invaders,” he offered bluntly. “Look at Europe and the rampant invasion of England. They are practising Sharia law and I think this crew is going to fight that.” Mr Scarborough also outlines how the US is a “special country” – more than any other in the world – and that is how God intended it. He adds: “If we are to become 30 per cent Hispanic we will no longer be America.” (And therefore no longer special.) “That would be a bad thing.”

It would be comforting to believe that the Tea Party movement is entirely made up of people orbiting the fringe of American politics. But that’s what most folks thought about the religious right in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the religious right has been alarmingly successful in using misleading, extremist rhetoric and even faith as weapons to divide Americans for political gain. By feeding the genuine fears and anxieties of everyday Americans in difficult economic times, the Tea Party movement is doing much the same today. Moreover, the the religious right is seeking ways to build ties with the Tea Party movement, as writer Michele Goldberg explained in the American Prospect last month.

In fact, we have seen the growing links between the religious right and the Tea Party movement already in Texas, particularly in the debate over new social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools. (One example here.) Whether those ties will become stronger is hard to know. But TFN will be watching closely.

5 thoughts on “Using Extremism to Build a Movement

  1. Kay is right. People have genuine grievances whether we are united in our thinking about why those grievances exist or what can be done to address them. The type of conservatism that is being discussed is based on a fear of the poor and the belief that a Democratic president and Congress re-distributes wealth–to the poorer classes. That works nicely for the super rich, who by far take the lion’s share at the expense of the many whether Dems or Repubs are running the show. No complaints when Republicans re-distribute wealth to war profiteers who have no responsibilities to Congress, taxpayers, troops, or any legal system.

    Sorry. That’s not the kind of morality being discussed. We’re talking about the obsession with controlling the bodies of the poor, “feminists,” and gay people. Concepts of wealth are really behind a lot of this and how different religious ethos co-exist and harbor those concepts.

  2. We have lost this war. Withdraw from the barricades which we foolishly never built. We haven’t taken these lunatics seriously for nearly a century and now they are posed to run the asylum. Reason cannot prvail in an irrational environment.

  3. The Republican Party is playing a public relations “YOU IS US” and “US IS YOU” game with the Tea Partiers and the American people. They are trying desperately to get seen as ONE. “Hear, Oh Israel, the Tea Party and Republican Party are One.” This is what the Republican Party would like to dupe the American people into believing. Even more so, they would like to dupe the Tea Partiers into believing it. Yes, the Tea Party folks are a bit on the looney side, and I do not support them. However, for right now at least, they are actually serving a useful purpose for the Ameerican people, and I can applaud them a little “itty bit.”

    For the American people, they have thrown a huge spotlight on the fact that our constitutional form of government is not functioning the way it should. I speak specifically of the many problems we have as a nation and how our government is totally paralyzed and unable to address those concerns. This is largely because of the extreme polarization that has occurred between a Republican Party that has kicked out moderates like “Tincy” Miller and Howard Baker Jr., leaving behind nothing but right wing extremist ideologues and fruitcakes of every stripe. I suspect that the same is true of the Democratic Party—although they did manage to elect some true moderates in the last election. As the old saying goes, “Sumpins gotta give.” Right now, our two dumb-butt major parties are thinking in totally binary terms (1 or 0), thinking that dissatisfaction with conditions under the Democrats (0) leaves only one other choice, run to the Republicans (1) and vice versa. Worst of all, they think that this bobbing back and forth that they are hoping for means the total acceptance of an extremist party platform. For example, if the Republican Party gets back into power, they will just naturally assume that everyone in the United States elected them to get rid of social security. Right? “No, we just wanted some jobs. Keep your hands off social security, or we will crucify your stupid butt right where you stand.” That’s the real message from the American people, but they don’t want to hear it. That is because the two desires of the people together constitute more of a moderate message, and extremists are unable to recognize and thoughtfully engage moderate messages.

    I don’t know what is going to become of us. I wish Jefferson, Hamilton, and the like could travel through time to 2010 and tell us what they think. That new American Civil War that I have mentioned for the past year is still looming, and I would bet my bottom dollar that eventual dissolution of the United States into several different independent nations is on the horizon. I don’t mean nations that will declare independence, have a war, and then unite again into one country with 50 states. I suspect it will be separate nations that will STAY separate—and often be at bloody war with each other for various reasons. For example, Texas will go to war with Oklahoma because Oklahoma is…well… Oklahoma. You know what I mean.

    So, in summary, the Tea Party folks are shedding light on our paralysis and the frustration of the American people over this palsy. They are too nutty to do any actual healing in and of themselves and may in the end do nothing but make the paralysis more extreme and dangerous in terms of schism and warfare. All we can hope for is that reasonable men and women will see the items in the spotlight and be able to compromise, compromise, compromise to find reasonable solutions to our many national problems. Alistair Cooke said it best “…compromise, compromise, compromise…” Take a look:

  4. “I suspect that the same is true of the Democratic Party—although they did manage to elect some true moderates in the last election.”

    No, they managed to get some Republicans to use the Democrat’s political capital, capital gained because of the Republicans greed and discredited means of governing, slapped a D on their lapels, and sent them in to Congress, where they’ve proven to be as obstructionist as their pedigrees demand.

    As a liberal, I’m getting fed up with being labeled as just as radical and unhinged as teabaggers and the far-right, without anything behind the assertions. It’s getting old, and it’s a lazy excuse for rational thought.