Don’t Ridicule the Tea-Baggers — Recruit Them

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 baggers? 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-baggers, both collectively and face-to-face?

Above all, one should acknowledge that many, and perhaps most, tea-baggers 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 bastards.

Progressives and tea-baggers 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-bagger, 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-bagger, 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-bagger, 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 goverment. The typical tea-bagger 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 puppet-masters.

So how does one talk to a tea-bagger? Let’s try this out with an imaginary conversation:

Progressive: Please explain to me, just what is your complaint against the liberals and the Obama administration.

Tea-Bagger: 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 employment laws?

TB: 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.

TB: Now look , everybody knows that Obama is a socialist, or maybe even a fascist!

P: Help me out here. What do you mean by “socialist”?

TB: 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?

TB: 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?

TB: 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?

TB: When I say “fascism,” I mean that Obama and the liberals are taking away our freedoms.

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.

TB: 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 a “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?

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 and is the co-editor of The Crisis Papers. His e-mail is: Read other articles by Ernest, or visit Ernest's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Danny Ray said on January 22nd, 2010 at 9:39pm #

    Ernest, you have written a very interesting article, but as my grand daddy used to say “ain’t it funny how the best horse is always your favorite color”. Your article reminded me of that in that you always seem to win the argument when you get to script the answers.

    First, no one on the left is ever going to have any kind of meaningful conversation with someone from a tea party. And I think that’s a good thing due to the fact that you can’t have a meaningful dialogue with someone, while in your heart you think that someone is a moron because he believes differently than you do. The left, as witnessed by the worthies who post here, don’t want to believe that anyone to the right has ever had an independent thought. You yourself have perpetuated the idea in that you firmly believe that the tea parties are funded by corporate interest. We in the panhandle have a fairly successful tea party and we are as poor as church mice. We have to pass the hat for coffee money, so if corporate America is funding this tell them to send us a check.

    Secondly, I have read ever article and every post on this site for two years and your is only the second article to recommend talking to the right, several times I have stated that the left can find common cause with the right only to be either ignored or outright scoffed at. The left is like the Baptist church in that you have to believe everything they do or you are going to hell. Except in the case of the left there is no hell so they think you are going to Des Moines and to the urban left that’s the same thing.

    Thirdly, no one on the left has the slightest idea what the average working American cares about, and worse than that, they do not seem to care. If we on the right do not support something, the automatic reaction is listen to those poor deluded bastards. The rich have them fooled. I do not know if you have read the book What’s Wrong With Kansas. That person wrote 300 pages and I do not believe he ever asked anyone in Kansas what they think. As I said above, I have been on here for two years and no one ever cared to ask what I believe or why.

    This is running a little long. But I would love to dialogue with you.


  2. Deadbeat said on January 23rd, 2010 at 12:56am #

    Danny Ray writes …

    The left, as witnessed by the worthies who post here, don’t want to believe that anyone to the right has ever had an independent thought.

    Danny you are the pot calling the kettle black. You create your own strawman arguments that you accuse the author and engage in the same fallacy. There is the left and the “Left”. If you’ve been reading the post here for the past two years you’ll notice that there is a huge divide on the left. One major reason is that the left has been dominated by the “Left” which do not adhere to leftist values.

    The Right unfortunately are deeply wedded to Capitalism and as dan-e pointed out one of the reason is that the Right is determined to maintain their “privilege” and in many cases its xenophobia.

    As I pointed out the Libertarians distort all manner of the political and economic dialogue in order to present Capitalism as benign when in fact it is what is at the root of the problems. Going back to the “Left”, Zionism or more technically — ethnic loyalties — is deeply rooted.

    If you consider the left to include Liberals (which I do not) then you are correct regarding Liberals attitudes towards the right. Liberals come off as elitist and with a disregard to the day-to-day plight of ordinary folks. But that is primarily because Liberal adhere to the maintenance of Capitalism rather than its overthrow.

    The irony is that the Right complaints are grounded in the problems of Capitalism but their ideological, privilege and xenophobic blinders causes them to react based on the anti-Communist indoctrination of the Cold War years and the Libertarian indoctrination especially during the hi-tech boom years.

    It will probably take more hurt and pain before members of the Right become real radical revolutionaries.

  3. Danny Ray said on January 23rd, 2010 at 4:53am #

    OMG! Deadbeat, thank you for the best laugh I have had all night, you chastise me for saying that the left does not think the right ever had an independent thought and four paragraphs down state:

    The irony is that the Right complaints are grounded in the problems of Capitalism but their ideological, privilege and xenophobic blinders causes them to react based on the anti-Communist indoctrination of the Cold War years and the Libertarian indoctrination especially during the hi-tech boom years

    I would write more but I need to wipe up the coffee I blew out my nose when I read your post, Have a great weekend.

  4. Don Hawkins said on January 23rd, 2010 at 5:26am #

    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 bastards. Ernest Partridge

    That is amazing how they did this and very true. On Friday Beck did a little film on Communism and Fascism, socialism these people at Fox are playing a very strange game with people’s heads. I guess they want drill baby drill no tax’s forget about health care a somewhat more just system and cap and trade I think not. To make a real try at saving life on Earth tax carbon and return 100% of the tax back to the people could these people get there heads around that? Well no and do they know how serious climate change is of course they do but seem to have other plans. Armey will problem sail off with Steve Forbes and Beck will move to Hawaii and the people at Flax News probably think Rupert will save them there on the list. I don’t think that is exactly how it will work just on the off chance climate change is happening and happening faster than first thought. You see they experience themselves, there thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for them restricting them to there personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to them. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison they the few think is a good idea to keep us in by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Trust me they don’t like that idea at all. Take that mountain top off drill baby drill fight that war you don’t need health care get a self help book watch Fox New’s and believe in us look how over dressed we are we are the maters of the Universe, please. I admit it is a bit of a problem that whole money and power thing. To use the knowledge we have gained and use reason and work together they would have to think in a new way and take a pay cut. I don’t think they like that idea. We should have the knowledge to try and design a system that could just work. Will Capitalism do the trick no kind of got us to this point is there a system that could work? Good question and like changing party’s every few years with not much difference we seem to be stuck on stupid you know what would George Washington do? That’s the best we can do as I don’t think George could have seen climate change and nuclear weapons. Corporate American is one hell of a group and to keep ignorance is strength moving forward seems to take up most of there time. Oh well.

  5. Danny Ray said on January 23rd, 2010 at 5:43am #

    Well Ernest, if you have read the post from Deadbeat and Don, Well need I say any more?

  6. ronalda mcraygun said on January 23rd, 2010 at 5:52am #

    Danny Ray, you said, “[N]o one on the left has the slightest idea what the average working American cares about, . . .”

    Danny, I *am* an average working American, and I’m definitely left of the current center. Although, if the Republican party was really all about “limited government” and small businesses and all the other bullshit they CLAIM to be about, I’d probably support them, because I think I’m more libertarian than democrat.

    What the average working American ought to get through their thick skulls is that BOTH parties SUCK ASS and this left/right black/white dichotomy is bullshit.

  7. Ron Jacobs said on January 23rd, 2010 at 7:25am #

    I’m not convinced that the majority of the Tea Partiers are inclined to signon to a progressive/left endeavor. They may be disgruntled and they may feel disenfranchised, but in almost every conversation I have had with someone who identifies with that movement, they see the so-called leftism of Obama and the Dems as the problem. There is a reason this phenomenon began after Obama was elected and not during Bush time. If one looks at the backers of the movement, they will discover the standard right wing members of the GOP standing there along with various groups that hate their taxes going to social services but seem to have little problem with them going to the war industry and the insurance companies. The anger at the bank bailout is one possible point of agreement between progressives and the Tea Partiers, but it seems to more or less end there. If one studies US populist movements, the TP phenomenon fits in nicely. Anger at the banks and the government with a hint of nativism. Some tea partiers oppose the war in Afghanistan–mostly because they see the military being prevented from doing what it wants by the politicians. Others genuinely oppose it.
    I guess what I’m saying is that no one should ignore the complaints of the tea partiers, but if we truly want to organize a left-leaning third party (not just a third party), then we should be looking at those who are disenfranchised no matter which party is in power. As I said before, phenomena like the tea partiers only seem to rise up when the Dems are in power. Of course, there are grassroots members that don’t fit this general profile, but if you go to one of their rallies (or read their websites/chat groups/facebook pages, you’ll see that the underlying current is to energize the GOP, not create a third party that will end war, end unemployment, institute universal affordable healthcare, legalize immigrants, and rein in Wall Street–all of which should be the minimum platform of any third party most progressives and leftists would sign on to.

  8. Melissa said on January 23rd, 2010 at 10:00am #

    When I first began hearing of the organization of the TParties, it was not at all associated with the established right wing. It was a coalition of folks from any and all parties, before the election of Obama, and it was rooted in common sense regarding the corruption of politicians and the anti-human, anti-dignity of the monetary system.

    The fledgling movement was not tied to political parties, it relied upon citizen to citizen communication and cooperation and had the atmosphere of real unity -bringing those that had formerly identified with the right and left together in opposition to the owners of the US gov. This must have scared the shit outta the monopoly, for they quickly co-opted the movement, funded and advertised, inserted rightest views and the unity disintegrated to become the right-flavored movement that it is today.

    It is the unity that is the most frightening and possibly devastating to the monoploy, so they quickly played the “divide in order to conquer” plan. It worked. Helpful also for driving unity back to the ground, were interviews with the craziest, least informed, and offensive attendees. It snowballed from there, and yes, the focus does seem to have shifted to energizing the GOP, not addressing the issues themselves.

    I think if you listen to the comments that Danny Ray offers, as well as plenty of others, you’ll see that the people that media likes to portray as the voices and energy behind the Tparty, do not reflect a very accurate picture. They really are not all nuts and racists. Plenty are misinformed, some are indeed racist, but those traits are not exclusive to the right, nor the TPartiests. The generalizations are pretty out of hand, and the idea that it is only those that identify with the right that need gentle coaxing and “re-education” at the superior hands of the lefties is oh so telling.

    Imagine what could happen if the TParties had remained the all-inclusive coalitions that they had started as . . . perhaps Goldman Sachs would not be our masters.

    Peace, Resistance, Hope,