Sunday, October 11, 2009

Street Fighting Years

Via Fabius Maximus comes this silly Michael Tomasky essay in the New York Review of Books which seeks to "understand" - from a professorial progressive point of view - the protesters who have been going to town hall meetings and carrying signs unflattering to The One: Something New On The Mall

We have never seen, at least in the modern history of the United States, a right-wing street-protest movement. Conservatives who oppose Roe v. Wade march on Washington every January 22, the anniversary of that 1973 decision; but aside from that single issue and that single day, the American right over recent decades has, until this summer, carried out its organizing in a comparatively quiet fashion, via mimeograph machine and pamphlet and book and e-mail and text message, and left the streets to the left.

So we have something new in our political life—the summer's apoplectic and bordering-on-violent town-hall meetings, and the large "9/12" rally on Washington's National Mall that drew tens of thousands of people to protest America's descent into "socialism" (or "communism," or, occasionally, "Nazism"). How extreme is this movement, and how seriously should we take it?

A "right wing street protest movement?" Horrors! God forbid voters would organize to protest government policy! How much easier it was when "right wingers" would just stay home and allow the media to caricature them as racist idiots. Of course, they are still characterized as racist idiots, but now they're doing it as part of a group.

As for how seriously "we" (meaning the Sophisticated Left) should take the new movement, well Tomasky would just as soon not take it seriously at all. In tracing the development of the movement, he begins with the famous "Santelli rant" on CNBC where that network's Rick Santelli ranted about middle class people having to pay for someone else's mortgage and suggested the best way to protest this was through a "Chicago Tea Party." Clearly, Santelli got caught up in a wave of rhetoric, but Tomasky hints that Santelli "planned" it, and that other elements of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy were ready to fan the flames. Fox News, Grover Norquist, Freedom Works and others are all yoked together in the great Chain of Aspersion. The most absurd is surely Tomasky's dark mutterings regarding ... Koch Industries!:
With respect to the Tea Parties and especially the summer's town-hall meetings, a key corporate titan appears to be Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas. Fred Koch (pronounced "coke") founded the company in 1940 as an oil business but it has expanded into natural gas, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, and many other areas. He helped create the John Birch Society in the late 1950s and died in 1967. His two sons who run the business now, David and Charles, have foundations that donate millions to conservative and libertarian causes and groups, including notably the Cato Institute. One Koch-funded group used to be called Citizens for a Sound Economy. It became Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in 2003, a group that has advocated limited government and opposed climate change legislation. Earlier this year, Americans for Prosperity launched a Web site called Patients United Now, which ran frightening television ads opposing health care reform (showing, for example, a Canadian woman who supposedly couldn't get treatment for a brain tumor in her native country[4]). According to the liberal Web site ThinkProgress, the AFP helped distribute signs and talking points at a town-hall event hosted by Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello.

Among other things, Koch manufactures paper products. I just love the idea of an evil member of the Koch clan (or "Klan") twirling his mustache, swirling his scotch, and growling "No one buys paper products when the liberals are in charge! Get Dick Armey on the phone!" Or, the boring truth might be that the Kochs are concerned citizens using their economic power to blunt an ascendant Left

The situation today is not that there is a "right wing" movement finally willing to engage in street fights with a left-wing one that has made a career of Street Protest Theater since the Sixties. It's that there is a large segment of the public that has become so disgusted with the political class in general that they are literally unable to stay at home anymore and watch Congress play act at representative government; passing bills they don't read or which are passed despite their being overwhelmingly unpopular. I don't think much of leftists like Michael Moore but I do agree with their outrage over the TARP bailouts and all that came after, as expressed in this this review of Capitalism: A Love Story:
Readers will likely enjoy his treatment of the TARP and its aftermath. Moore provides evidence well known to finance blog readers, such as Goldman penetration of key policy positions, an obligatory Phil Gramm saying something heinous shot, and the role of financial services contributions (he managed to interview the fellow at Countrywide in charge of the “Friends of Angelo” cheap mortgage as bribe program, who sees nothing wrong in what he did). He also makes good use of Bill Black and Elizabeth Warren. Congressmen and women, agitated even now, describe how the process of getting the TARP through despite overwhelming popular opposition was masterfully orchestrated, carefully timed to prey on re-election fears “like an intelligence operation”. The clips are simply damning, and dispel any doubts of who is really in charge in DC.
For all those complaining about a financial coup d'etat, the "legacy" of George Bush, etc, I think it is time - once again - to point out that the TARP bills passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and a few dozen Republicans. The original House TARP bill failed to pass because conservative Republicans and the Congressional Black Caucus wouldn't go along with Nancy Pelosi's cramdown. All those cool loudmouthed progressives up to and including Barack Obama signed on to the bailouts without hesitating. Why wouldn't they? They are the government, and their idea of good governance depends on the sort of debt financing and risk socialization that lies at the heart of Obamanomics. Is it any wonder that some voters - after being assured that the US almost fell into Great Depression II because of too much debt - might object to the piling on even more debt?

Tomasky would desperately love to believe that the "right wing street protest movement" is some know-nothing racist mob being deluded by talk radio charlatans. He simply doesn't want to grapple with the fact that these are citizens who have literally risen up seemingly out of nowhere and are actively protesting the progressive government. He's welcome to deny them their free will and humanity by calling them "right wingers," but that simply proves how little he knows his fellow Americans.

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