A pink taxi

A pink taxi

October 6, 2010

French Reductionism

There are many reasons for me to enjoy my favorite French daily, Le Monde. The complex coverage of world affairs is impressive. Also, I enjoy comparing the viewpoints of each article, most of which are unbiased.  Many of its articles push me to want to travel, visit a museum, read a book. I learn so much from many of the Le Monde articles I read every day.

Because their national news is often too detailed or too complicated, I tend to skim through those articles.  I would much rather read about them in the New York Times, which would explain them to me as a foreigner. However, I love reading about American politics in Le Monde. I recently found an outdated article dated September 3rd, 2010, entitled "the Tea Party Mouvement or the Revolted of the County" by an old timer LeMonde editorialist Alain Frachon. I will make a truly approximate translation here, so that I may share with the non francophone readers, the minute explanations of the French journalist and his very subtle cynicism.

"Beware of American conservatives: they want to change everything. In the late 70s, who paid attention to the right wing Christians? They were a subversive team nonetheless. Their rise in power would accompany the Ronald Reagan presidency, and impose the theme of "values" into the political debate, while joining the Republican party to the Right, whereas uptil that time, the party had remained rather centrist.

A little later, who paid attention to another small group, these intellectuals, united under the neoconservative banner? "Shakers" is what we could call them. The day after Sept 11 2001, they would in part shape US foreign policy and be the inspiration for the intervention in Irak.

Today, should we take the gang of  the Tea Party Mouvement seriously, these nostalgics of the American Revolution that saw the British colonies of America pull out their independence from the British crown? The movement's animators voluntarily wear the black tricorn and the red coat in memory of the founding fathers of that revolution: the Tea Party of December 6, 1773. That day, members of the Massachusetts Colony denounced British imposed taxes and threw a cargo of  Indian Company tea into the Boston port, declaring this sane principle: no taxation without representation.

Fast forward to Saturday August 28th, 2010,  in Washington. The Tea Party Movement, inaugurated in the summer of 2009, more than  100 000 protesters strong,  assembled in the heart of the capital. Who are these middle class Americans who are so angry at the unexpected enemy: their government, a government they accuse of oppressing them the way the British had oppressed the first settlers? History buffs without a future? The new avant-guard of the Republican Right? The light weights of a large populist movement? There are three points of view on them.

The first viewpoint sees the Tea Party Mouvement as the last avatar of the militant right, which intends to incarnate the Republican Party, take over Congress at the November 2nd elections, and chase the Democrat Barack Obama out of the White House. After all, the themes talked about during the Tea Party meetings are those that unite the Republicans and the Independent Rights: drastic reduction of the budgetary deficit, qualified as a generational hold-up; refusal of any new taxation; denouncement of  social assistance programs; defense of a foreign policy that is "less than accommodating" to the enemies of the USA -. All of these discussions were orchestrated in a highly religious and patriotic discourse. The tenants of this purely political interpretation of the Tea Party Mouvement don't lack arguments in their favor. They point to the movements' heroes who are from the Republican family: Glenn Beck, a TV animator on Fox News and Sarah Palin[...]. There is less and less place for moderation within the Republican party.

The second school does not contest that the Tea Party advocates are the new militants of the Republican Right. But it considers this school as reflective of a larger phenomenon that doesn't spare Europe: the rise of the conspiracy theories. The typical lecture heard at Tea Party meetings enumerates a number of scapegoats to explain the misfortunes of America. The first one of course is, in the words of Glenn Beck, of Obama "the Kenyan impostor", a hidden Muslim, who "is animated in deep hatred against the White", and " taking the country in the direction of "socialism".

In the Tea Party's universe, the democratic president is not the only one plotting against America. There are the G7, the G20, the UN, the Federal Reserve, the progressive university graduates....which brings some in the Left to call upon the American historian Richard Hofstadter (1916-1972) to explain the Tea Party movement. They cite an article that was published by Harper's by this Columbia professor; "the Paranoid Style of American Politics" (November 1964). The Tea Party movement may be the latest manifestation of a  regular tendency of obsessive delirium in the public debate in the USA. Richard Bernstein says in the New York Times (10/03) that would be giving them too much credit.

More original is the third interpretation, that  is developed by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books (May 2010). The Tea Party advocates go beyond the obsessive anti-government feelings that characterize the American Right. In their hatred for the elite,  for academics, and for the members of Congress, in one word for those who pretend to monopolize power, there is a libertarian craze that surpasses the populism of the traditional Right. It would be the manifestation of an immense disgust for a society that is more and more regulated, where the academic elite command what we must think of global warning, when to wear your seat belt, where to smoke, how to use your cell phone. The Tea Party Mouvement embodies the  collective "revolted of the county" -the American base- against what they would call the "society of experts". There could be imitators in Europe."

This article was replete with historical details and political explanations. Many may say they know about this: that it is all over the international press. But nowhere has it been explained and analyzed in such simplified terms!

We can call this posting "Tea Party 101" or "Tea Party for Dummies"!

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