Politics without Politics

In a defense of the upcoming tax-day tea party protests against liberal critics, Donald Douglas writes at American Power:
Probably the best explanation for Krugman and Hamsher's frustration is pure jealousy, even panic. Leftists were the opposition for the last eight years. They had their run at power. What's interesting to me is that today's grassroots activism is not particularly partisan. Over and over again, on blogs and message boards, I see folks saying "we are not political." Many folks confess that this is the first time they've gotten involved politically. (Emphasis added.)
How can we explain the contradiction embedded in the logic of this passage? On the one hand, there is the claim that organizers and participants of the protests "are not political," while on the other hand there is the admission that such organization and participation is highly political in nature. Douglas provides a hint in his observation that the current form of grassroots tea party activism is "not particularly partisan." Of course, at face value, this is demonstrably false. A political movement galvanized by its opposition to government policy, organized and executed by motivated adherents to the cause falls squarely under the definition of political partisanship. However, when activists claim that they are not engaging in partisanship, or even politics, in this fashion, they mean that they are not motivated by party politics, which, in the case of US politics, means two-party politics, duopoly politics. Obviously, in the present case, this is not entirely true either, since many who are involved in the tea party movement explicitly argue that it should be diverted into an effort to "take back" the Republican Party.

Tea party organizers and enthusiasts flatter themselves if they believe that their actions are virtually unprecedented in the recent history of the United States. Douglas, for instance, writes, "I can't really recall quite the phenomenon as this buildup for the April 15th Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party Rallies." He should remind himself of the buildup to the protests against the Iraq war held in countries all over the world and cities and towns across the United States on February 15, 2003, a month before the war even began. That campaign led, of course, to a sustained anti-war movement in the United States and across the world, the message and momentum of which was, of course, eventually co-opted by the Democrats when it was deemed politically safe to do so, and helped propel Obama into the White House, where he has begun to systematically backtrack from his pledges and promises on issues dear to many people involved in those efforts, leaving many with a sinking feeling of buyer's remorse, as Cynthia McKinney recently put it.

While a number of tea party organizers have rejected the overtures of Republican politicians to speak at their events, not all have proven capable of resisting the temptation to book a big name. Newt Gingrich, for instance, is slated to speak at the events in New York, and Fox News spokes-mouths will be broadcasting directly from actions in other cities. In a post on why he won't be tea-bagging at Delaware Libertarian, Steve Newton, writes, "Because the participants in this tea party movement are, unknowingly, helping to cement the two-party system even more firmly into place." The latter is all the more likely the more people convince themselves that their activism is non-political and non-partisan. The duopoly feeds off such self-delusion.


Samuel Wilson said...

It's important to sort out all the categories that might apply to the TP phenomenon. You're right to distinguish politics from partisanship, and while they seem to converge on a small-government ideology, they diverge to the extent that the original organizers wish to distance themselves from electoral politics, which partisanship can never do. The question is whether the Tea Partiers can find a way to influence politics directly rather than subject themselves to the electoral interests of the Republican party.

d.eris said...

Conservative Republicans have made a strong push to capture the TP movement for themselves, and liberal Dems have only sought to cement the relation. It's good to see the Libertarians finally pushing back, but it may already be too late.